Eating an Elephant

huge-elephantQuestion: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

We’ve all heard the riddle before, but how many of us have dismissed it as a children’s joke and not the insightful piece of wisdom that it is. Our grandest goals and most daring dreams can seem so distant and daunting that, too often, we fall victim to overwhelming thoughts and fail to even make an attempt to accomplish them. Somewhere deep down inside we feel the emptiness and disappointment of knowing we are neither living up to our potential, nor fulfilling our true purpose and destiny.

But the elephant is just so BIG!

Where can we possibly start?

How about at the beginning?

Almost exactly one year ago, my dream of writing a book seemed completely unattainable and absolutely overwhelming. I was paralyzed and intimidated by the sheer size of the project. Where do I start? In what program do I write it? Do I have enough material? Who will publish it? How will it be printed? How can I find the right editor? Do I really think I can do this? Will anyone want to read it? Will it be good enough if they do? I’m already too busy; how will I find the time?

Rather than letting obstacles and self-doubt stand in the way, I vowed I would start writing on January 1st, 2012. My goal was simple: sit down at the computer and write a page each day. That’s it…just one page a day! Rather than focus on the enormity of the elephant, I would just take a small bite. I did exactly that for about a month before hitting some stretches where I missed my day. I made up for it on other days by getting on a roll and writing more. I made my final push after school let out in June and submitted the manuscript to my editor, Erin Casey, on July 5th. The number of pages is almost exactly the number of days it took to write! I literally wrote a book one page at a time. In September, nine months after starting, I was holding the finished and printed book in my hand.

After seminars, it’s not uncommon for teachers to say they feel overwhelmed by the number of hooks, costumes, and ideas for engagement I have assembled for my course. I always tell them the same thing: I didn’t start with any of this. I built it one lesson…one idea at a time.

Whether you’re building a new course, implementing new concepts like the Common Core, or just trying to design an absolutely amazing, mind-blowing, life-changing classroom experience for your students, you don’t have to tackle it all at once. How about just worrying about getting through tomorrow and then dealing with the next day when it comes? You’ll be shocked how much you can accomplish when you take on life’s biggest challenges by the spoonful.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

16 thoughts on “Eating an Elephant

  1. One of the major reasons we keep organizing and leading our developing world (odw) Reality
    Tours to “developing countries” is because we’ve found that poor people in poor countries have such a strong community feeling, they’re able to organize and figure out what the first priority is
    and decide on the first step. That success makes them ready to find the second step, and third, etc.
    We’ve found that we give back to them when we describe to our small group what it was like there three and six years ago. They are so close to the work that they don’t always recognize how much they’ve accomplished!
    These encounters energize us for the rest of the year.
    We’re leaving for Burma Jan 2 for the second time, May 6 for the 7th time too CUba and South Africa/Botswana JUly 14 ( Can’t remember how many times!)

    • Barby, I admire the work you’re doing. Great point about the fact that you can get so close to the work you lose sight of how far you’ve come.

  2. I first saw you at a conference and recently purchased your book. What a great motivator!! I read the book and now keep it on my desk at work, I look at it everyday(even if I just look at the cover) and it reminds me of all the wonderful ideas! Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Lisa! I love to hear that my book is having a positive impact. I appreciate you taking the time to comment

  3. It is true that we overestimate what we can do in the short-term and underestimate what we can do in the long-term. Writing a book, overhauling curriculum to CCSS, and even simply building real relationships all bear this out.
    Thanks Dave for your pioneering spirit as an educator. It is encouraging to have seen your enthusiasm up close and personal at my district’s professional development conference last summer. I’m looking forward to getting your book over the break.

    • Thanks, Dustin! Absolutely true…we think if it can’t be done now then it can’t be done. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when we set our sights out a little further but take small consistent steps. Let me know what you think about the book. Thanks for the support.

  4. With the start of the new year upon us, this is exactly the kind of message we all need. Thank you, Dave, for reframing our thinking and recalibrating for a year of goal achievement!

    • Your welcome, Conni! Thank you for taking the time to comment and I’m looking for the continuation of great things from you all in 2013!!

  5. That is what you told after the conference, just one at a time. I am working on being the best me I can be, but I am overwhelmed and just feel like I’m not making the mark, but you are quite a motivator! To educators and students alike.

    • Thanks for commenting, Nicole. Hang in there, I’m sure you are making a far bigger impact than you could ever realize. Thanks for the kind words and your support.

  6. I attended your 1 hour workshop of California League of High Schools this year and was re-motivated to continually engage my students. I purchased your book and read it on the way to Utah over Thanksgiving break and just loved it. I find that there are so many benefits to the engagement piece related to students that it directly relateds to the common core and building critical thinking skills. As a science teacher, I have labs that help me to engage my students but I really am trying to build better ways to engage my students during the lecture portion to build content area understanding. I want my class to hit them in the face with information but not knock them out, instead wake them up, bring passion to a subject, and generate a new perspective of science and the AMAZING things that are happening at the molecular level in their bodies and world everyday.

    • Thanks for comments, Jennifer. I had a blast presenting there (even though the room was tiny!) and I appreciate your support of the book. I completely agree with you about the common core and critical thinking…the need for student engagement will never go away. “Hit them in the face with information but not knock them out, instead wake them up…” Ha! Well put.
      It sounds like you are going to great lengths to build a great class.

  7. I can totally empathize with the sentiment in this post. I feel like I’ve been planning to write for a long time now… research and organizing. Much like your process, I have set a date and have vowed to write for 2 hours every day once my school year ends. Thanks for sharing, Dave. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone.

Comments are closed.