I was speaking in Reno about one of the most controversial “rules” I wrote about in Penguins Can’t Fly, which is “Thou shalt not swap sides of the bed.” Just the mention of it can give people who have been in long-term relationships the heebie-jeebies.
Shortly thereafter, an attendee named Laura emailed me to tell me she had tried it with her husband. “He was hilarious,” she wrote, “and he did not like it at all. We were laughing so hard through the whole thing!”
That same day, I got a note from Jeff, who heard me speak in New Orleans the week before. He reported that my talk really hit home, especially the idea of tinkering. He said, “I fall into the trap of telling my daughter how to do things far too often, rather than letting her tinker and figure out the way that works best for her. Thank you for helping me to take a step back and let people around me figure things out on their own.”
These are my favorite kind of emails to get.
On the surface, they don’t appear to be all that life-changing. Just a shared laugh and a slightly new perspective. But I love hearing stories like these because they represent a start. A spark. Maybe that couple from Reno hadn’t laughed that long in a while, and this silly exercise reminded them just how good it felt, and inspired them to work on recapturing that facet of their relationship.
Maybe thanks to some newly granted freedom, Jeff’s daughter will blossom in unexpected ways, and their relationship will grow stronger than he ever imagined.
In a related note, I got another email from someone who had just been laid off for the third time in an industry she’d worked in for over 30 years. She said, “You seem to have a job you like. How did you get there? How did you make it happen?”
I’m not sure what she was expecting, but I wondered if she was hoping for some magic formula that could leapfrog over all the years of trial and error, pain, and persistence in one fell swoop.
I am reminded of how backwards our programming can be.
We disregard the small steps, the incremental improvements, and the tiny sparks that can transform everything, in our search for the headline-grabbing sea change. The mantra is, “Go big or go home!”
But life is a game of inches.
The kind of relationship you’ve been looking for can start with a shared laugh. You can make great strides as a parent or leader by making one small change in your approach. The life or business you’ve always dreamed of can begin with signing up for one class, making one phone call, or reading one book.
Of course, these little things can only do so much in and of themselves. They need to be followed up with more little steps. But they are the start, and starting is often the hardest part.
You can waste time believing in fairy tales about magic formulas if you’d like. But the best relationships, teams, and businesses are the culmination of progress made one inch at a time.
The good news? If you start right now, you’ll be one inch closer to your goal today than you were yesterday.