"Slow and steady wins the race" is the moral of one of Aesop's classic fables, "The Tortoise and the Hare." I'll never forget the year that I led a class of second-graders in a simple enactment of this fable. We read the story, retold it, then the class collaborated to write the lines for an original play. One group of kids was assigned to act it out. (Other kids in the class enacted other fables.) We created all the props and scenery, and we practiced our lines until they were letter-perfect, or nearly so. We invited parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and siblings to watch our plays. And the principal. Always invite the principal.
After the audience went home, we celebrated our achievement and talked about the whole experience. My co-teacher asked the class, "What is the lesson we should learn from the story?" The whole class promptly recited the last line of the play, "Slow and steady wins the race!" Then we saw a look of puzzlement come over the face of one Hmong student who was still in the process of learning to speak English, and the boy raised his hand. When my co-teacher called on him to ask his question, he said, "Wait, I thought the tortoise won. Who's "Slow and Steady"?
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Who is slow and steady, indeed? I would submit all of us should be that way. Confucius wrote, "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." The point is to keep on moving forward. It doesn't matter how fast we accomplish our goals, or whether we reach some milestone in life before someone else. What matters is that we stay focused on our goals, and avoid becoming bogged down in despair and discouragement when things don't go as we had expected. When life presents us with obstacles or alternative paths, it's fine to pause a moment to decide what to do next, but it's ultimately to our advantage to keep moving, even if we are only treading water for a while.
Jeff Dauler, radio personality, blogger and entrepreneur, wrote about his experience participating in a triathlon at a time when he was overweight and out of shape. The triathlon involved swimming, biking and running. Dauler's coach told him that one of the most important things to manage was the transition time between the different sports. "Keep moving forward, especially during the transition," advised the coach, "because that's when it's easiest to stop. Don't let that happen. Keep moving forward." Dauler says that advice has become a guiding principle in his life.
Transitions are hard. When we are trying to make improvements in our lives, when we are in the process of learning something new, when we are engaged in replacing our old negative habits with new positive ones, that transition time is the point at which it's easiest to give up. When we are trying to lose weight or grow our hair past our shoulder blades, when we are struggling to learn to play an instrument or master the multiplication tables, when we are working hard to finish a project or meet a sales goal, that's when we have to remind ourselves to keep moving forward.
When we are unsatisfied with the pace of our progress, let us remind ourselves that haste doesn't always accomplish the job. It's better to proceed carefully, even if that means it will take a little longer to reach our goal. Let us remember to keep moving forward, and that slow and steady really does with the race. Others may get to the goal before us, but winning isn't about comparison with others. It's not a race with others that counts. It's the race with ourselves. It's the process of day-to-day improvement in our own lives that really counts. :-)