How Would You Eat An Elephant?


Sooner or later, all of us likely will undertake (or be “asked” to undertake) a task that seems bigger than we are – a challenge so monumental in scope or complex in nature that, by all objective measures, seems undoable by mere mortals, let alone achievable in the time that we’ve allotted or, more likely, has been imposed on us by others.  Sometimes, we will have voluntarily chosen to take on the project, perhaps not fully appreciating its magnitude at the time.  Such might be the case, for example, if: (1) having absolutely no prior experience, you were to commit to organizing an event to benefit a local or national charity and to growing and hosting it for years to come; (2) being a proverbial “couch potato,” you were to wake up one morning and set your sights on running a marathon, competing in a triathlon or climbing one of the world’s highest peaks; or (3) on a more serious level, you were to agree to use your newly-acquired education, limited experience, but considerable intuition and gifts, to try assist a young couple desperate to open a line of communication with their autistic son, knowing it’s an uphill battle  and that others, arguably better educated and more experienced, already had tried and “failed”. 

More often than not, however, such challenges are foisted upon us by others or by life circumstances wholly beyond our control – too frequently when we least expect or are prepared to deal with them.  Maybe they come in the form of an illness or addiction afflicting us or a loved one.  Maybe we are born (or are the parents of a child born) with them (e.g., a congenital birth defect, a physical or developmental disability, etc.).  Maybe, despite being highly-skilled and having enjoyed a long and productive professional career (and through absolutely no fault of our own), they emanate from our suddenly finding ourselves out of work, another victim in the downturn in the economy.  Maybe they arise in the wake of our having lost a parent, a child or a loved one too young.  Maybe we’ve simply made a mistake or hurt someone we love profoundly and, despite our best efforts, we just can’t see a way to “correct” it or fully put it in the past.  Or maybe the challenges are not nearly that personal and arise instead from a boss or employer who has delegated a task to us and established a deadline that a small army couldn’t meet.

Regardless of whether the mountain is one we’ve chosen or one that has been unceremoniously dumped in our lap, the initial reaction is almost always the same: sheer panic, followed by an anxiety attack, occasionally, if the surroundings will permit, a cascade of tears and then, inevitably, paralysis.  I know – because I’ve been there a time or two in my now (dare I utter the words?!?) 55 years on the planet!  Simply put, the road from start to finish seems too long, too treacherous, too steep, too lots of things to successfully navigate.  And, perhaps, viewed in its entirety (i.e., as an undivided whole), it is all of those things – and more, which is precisely why you can’t view such challenges in their entirety.  Instead, you have to search for ways to deconstruct them, to break them down into manageable pieces, to discipline yourself to start down the path, even if it’s by baby steps, pausing along the way to acknowledge your progress, re-evaluate your course, if necessary, and re-commit to taking the next step and then the one after that.  It’s a journey that requires a considerable amount of discipline, patience and, at times, a willingness to tread a little water.

Interestingly, experts in the field will tell you that this concept is particularly important in battling eating disorders and addictive illnesses – where recovery can often seem like a destination that is “far away” and unattainable, which, in turn, can lead to an even greater sense  of hopelessness than the sufferer already is experiencing. If, however, recovery can be re-defined as a way of living that begins in the next 5 minutes, rather than a distant destination to be arrived at some day in the future, choices that are both realistic and achievable can be made in the moment (i.e., where relationships, addictive behaviors, sharing, asking for help, honesty, accountability, facing fears, etc. are concerned) that can make a meaningful difference and foster hope. My friend, Michael Berrett, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on such matters, will tell you that, over time, these incremental “recovery moments” add up to real progress, until eventually “recovery time” begins to overtake “illness time.” Significantly, as it does, those afflicted can more clearly see the reality of options, choices, progress, and recovery in their lives – and they can see it NOW, which, in an age of instant gratification/fulfillment, can make all the difference in the world!

All of which brings me back to where I started:  How would you eat an elephant?  Of course, you wouldn’t – at least not voluntarily.  But, I’m willing to bet that if you absolutely had to, if your life or the life of someone you loved required it, you would and could find a way – one bite at a time!

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