You don’t always have to go big. You don’t always have to have grand plans. And you definitely don’t need to feel as if each and every thing has to be bigger than the last.
Sometimes, you’re better off pulling back, catching your breath, resetting, and only then taking one small step.
Sometimes, life is about rebuilding differently the second time around.
Prior to my amputation, I was approaching 35, and I was anxious about entering a phase of life where one’s body tends toward decline rather than improvement.
With the aim of fighting decline, I wanted a simple and quantifiable goal to serve as both motivation and a pass/fail grade. Being maybe a little basketball-obssessed, I decided that being able to dunk again was a good fit.
It felt like a somewhat silly goal, and, outside of my trainer, I didn’t even want to admit that it was the goal. But it was perfectly quantifiable. Hell. It was boolean.
I trained intensely for several months and committed to not attempting a dunk until the training was complete.
As each week passed, every part of basketball felt easier. Something was clearly happening. I ended up in the best shape of my life playing the best basketball of my life.
The day after I completed the regimen, I went to the gym to play some pick-up games knowing I’d also have to see if I had reached my goal.
I methodically went through my stretching routine to maximize my jumping ability. Then I warmed up with some short jumpers and layups to break a sweat.
Finally, it was time. Either I’d be able to or I wouldn’t, but it was time to try.
I stood a few steps away from the hoop, took a few dribbles for rhythm, one gentle bounce right-to-left behind my back, another gentle left-to-right crossover to start my stride toward the hoop, a couple of steps to reach the right spot, and one all-in push off my left leg to leave the ground.
It was the most effortless dunk of my life.
It would also be the last dunk of my life.
A few minutes later, on the first play of the first game, I sprained my ankle worse than I had in years. The night was over, and I never even left the ground in the game.
That one play set in motion the events that led to a left below-knee amputation. Almost four years and ten surgeries later, I woke up in a hospital bed without my left leg.
It may be difficult to believe, but in that hospital bed, dunking was the last thing on my mind. Maybe because this wasn’t some kind of beyond-all-odds inspirational movie.
So I stayed in bed not thinking about basketball at all. Instead, I thought about my next steps—not the physical kind, of course, since it would be two more months before taking real steps.
And that was enough.
Sometimes you reach a goal and life happens. Sometimes life happens without reaching the goal.
Circumstances change, and you need to change as a result.
Sometimes it’s obvious and unquestionable that you need to reset your expectations—but not always.
Whether it’s rebuilding after an injury, adapting to circumstances, changing jobs, selling a business, or changing a significant relationship, you don’t always have to outdo yourself in the next phase.
Sometimes, you can. And sometimes maybe you should.
Regardless, you certainly shouldn’t expect to outdo yourself—and certainly not right away.
Sometimes you just need to start taking course-adjusted steps.
Ignore any thoughts about the size of your steps or whether they’re even in the same direction. Just take one. Then maybe another.
Sometimes, you should take the easy step. Sometimes the easy step is the right step.
So if all that mattered was taking a step—any step—and feeling good about it, what would it be?