87. Keeping Pace

I’ve never been physically fit, but I came close during my senior year of high school. Those were the days I spent in the class of Mr. Socrates, a Physical Education teacher of whose legendary exploits I’ve already written.

Mr. Socrates made every one of his classes run a mile to warm up. This was in the Andes, remember, at an elevation of more than nine thousand feet. Running a mile at a high altitude is tough. After his students had finished the mile, they began whatever activity he had planned for the day.

I hated that mile.

I always had a strong start, passing most of the other students while running the first lap around the soccer field. Then I realized I had five laps left to run, and gradually slowed to a walk.

I was always one of the last to finish the mile.

Perhaps, I mused at last, Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare may have some truth in it. Instead of running the first lap, I jogged. Pretty soon I was jogging all six laps and sprinting the final stretch. After a few months, I finished the mile in less than six and a half minutes—a laughable time for an athlete, but not bad for a bookish student.

I learned to keep the pace. Slow and steady is better than quick and sporadic. It was discouraging to be passed by almost every other runner on the first lap, but I finished the final lap ahead of many of them.

I think we sometimes approach things the way I approached the mile. We throw ourselves into things, wear ourselves out and quit.

My catalysts for personal growth haven’t been emotional experiences. Emotions wear off quickly. The biggest advances have been when I’ve learned something and applied it consistently to my life. I haven’t changed overnight, but a little at a time.

If you experience a rush of spiritual fervor at a church revival, or feel a burst of enthusiasm as you finish the first chapter of your novel, or plunge into some other endeavor with wild optimism, don’t take things too quickly. Set realistic goals, and stick to them. When you’ve mastered one step, move on to the next.

A slow, permanent change is infinitely better than an instantaneous, temporary one.

Keep the pace.

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