Full Speed Ahead, One Step at a Time

February 25, 2001

A few days ago, Bruce Thorn called to see how thing were going. Bruce and I go back about 35 years or so to the days when we grew up together in a small town in northwest Alabama. Among other things, Bruce seems to have an uncanny ability (almost like a prophet) to call me up about once a year and say something that I find myself thinking about after the conversation is over. This time it was a bit of wisdom about how to face the future when you aren’t sure what to do next. Sometimes you just know what needs to be done and you go out and do it. But often we face situations where the choices aren’t clear and the paths you can follow seem to go in seven different directions, and the stakes are very high. What do you do when something (or someone) you care about is in the balance and you don’t want to make a mistake? “Well,” said Bruce, “my philosophy of life is: Full speed ahead, one step at a time.”

I like that because it seems to capture both sides of a great truth. In the Bible we are repeatedly exhorted to choose “this day” whom we will serve. “How long will you halt between two opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah. Sometimes we simply have to make up our minds even when our minds are not ready to be made up. Life doesn’t always give us a second chance to decide. When the music stops playing on Final Jeopardy, you’ve go to reveal your answer whether you’re ready or not. So the time eventually comes when you’ve got to say yes (or no), sign the document (or not), join the new firm (or not), buy the new house (or not), get the surgery (or not), agree to marry that handsome young man (or not). That’s the full speed ahead part.

But we don’t have to do everything at once. Often the only step we can take is a small one. We can read another chapter, we can make another phone call, we can get up tomorrow and work a bit more on the big project that’s due on March 31st, we can pay an extra $100 on our credit card bills, we can decide to exercise for ten extra minutes, and we can clean out the car even if we can’t afford to buy a new one. This is how life presents itself to all of us. It’s a daily series of small, mostly insignificant steps, little things we do routinely that by themselves don’t amount to much. But out of those “little things” done well and faithfully over time, we discover that we have made great progress in the right direction. When you don’t have all the answers to the “big picture,” just do whatever needs to be done next.

It adds up to a good way to live: Full speed ahead, one step at a time.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?