The lobby was a bit dated. But somehow welcoming because it wore its middle-aged wrinkles and weariness well. It wasn’t trying to be anything it was not, and accepted its own slightly tired splendor. It was where we stood when a recently renewed friendship revealed a useful insight.
As we neared the end of a retreat, my feisty Argentine amiga announced her resolve not to get carried away.
She told me:
Un Pasito Mas. Usually by retreat's end, I get preeetty excited. I think I am going to get up at 6:30 everyday and that I am going to go to the heights.
(Crucial side note: this is the type of friend it’s impossible not to love. Going to the heights is an expression of her sense of humor. Tangentially, in Sao Paulo in the aftermath of the retreat, we sang Shoop from Salt-n-Pepa together. We read the lyrics on my phone with the song playing on another friend’s Spotify. She didn’t need the lyrics though. She placed her attention on maximizing artistic interpretation and dramatic expression.)
Going to the heights, I learned, meant more or less a series of perfectly executed days lived one after the other, without any obstacles of fear or resistance. The heights are retreat fueled optimism--an illusion of day-to-day life transformed overnight.
Nowadays, she told me, she catches this enthusiastic, slightly unruly part of herself. She says I love you, I embrace you, now chill. Just chill out a bit. Imagine an unkempt child with one small dreadlock in its formative stages and a bit of mud on her right cheek. She doesn’t need to drive the truck.
II. Deeper Dive
Un Pasito Mas (#UPM), then, is an alternative.
Start small. Build slow. Go steady.
It’s taking a relaxed, realistic approach to growth. It translates as One More Step.
Instead of wanting a comprehensive A - Z and to arrive already (Are we there yet??), it slows us down. It calms us down--an elixir that focuses on the process of A to B. And then B to C.
There’s good reason of course to have a good plan and sense of direction. And at the same time, it’s helpful to not get too attached to those plans. Sometimes when we have A - Z planned out, we forget that life is happening in the meantime. We'll inevitably need to make adjustments. Focus on the next step helps our plans unfold in the most effective ways.
Take habit formation, for example. I could easily imagine 20 new habits I'd love to have. I can imagine the glory of realizing those changes. I can almost imagine a fan blowing my nonexistent long black hair back.
But UPM encourages focus on choosing one simple new habit at a time. Like, try focusing on one for 3 weeks and doing it every single day. For example, even though I want to drink more water and look at my phone less, I focus on singing the Hanuman Chalisa everyday. That's what I have prioritized. The others can come later. I have started to acknowledge that's how change works.
Most of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get somewhere and be something, right away(!). I remember, turning a little red, how many times I have deceived myself. I have thought, habits and daily routines gradually change for other people, but not for moi. I indeed have loads of will power.
And that’s it right there.
I love you. I embrace you. Now just chillax un momentinho. Have a lemonade.
Far too often, with that thinking, I got stuck in the door of the rocketship on my way to the heights. No perfectly executed days. No beautiful buildings without strong foundations. I am learning we develop humility, patience, and self-acceptance while we learn to enjoy the process.
“Going-to-the-heights” is a self-deceptive daydream. Let’s call this spade the ego’s fantasy— a self-aggrandizing tendency to neglect its own limitations. It loves the temptation of a more grandiose vision of itself, without effort, patience, and a price to be paid.
UPM recognizes that a plant doesn’t rush to flower. The growth of the stem brings that sweet moment about in its own sweet time.
Sometimes we don’t trust the flower will blossom as an inevitable natural expression. We don’t trust that we will reap what we sow. Or that what we are sowing is good enough.
Giving our best will always find its just rewards. Nature runs its course with a bit of attention, courage, and healthy attitude. What if we relaxed into this simple premise of self-trust?
One pasito after the next, word. In a culture dominated by vanity, it's easy to feel incentivized away from natural principles and what brings real growth. The antidote is knowing our slow, steady path is more real than the effort to, say, go viral.
Jerry Seinfeld was known to mark his calendar based on whether he worked on jokes or not each day. Not how long or how funny they were. Working up long streaks of days in a row was the key to his success.
If you develop a habit of developing habits, good stuff happens. Habits are the stuff of our daily routines and our lives. The compounding effects can be immense.
And a little secret is that’s where the living and the fulfillment are anyway. The result is only a welcome, fleeting validation of that process. And it’s not in our control. As Gandhi said, full effort is full victory.
That's exactly how we move in the direction of what we all long for--the expression and realization of our own potential.
It's what we want in our society too.
This principle expresses on collective levels, for example, in cities. Furthering the example, bending over backwards with tax breaks to try to lure big corporations is a proven loser. It's the opposite of UPM. It's the Viral rocketship rearing its ugly head again.
Again, the ego loves a top-down solution, a quick fix. It doesn't want the effort of building from the ground up, even if that is a wiser, more effective, and sustainable approach.
Local sustainable, resilient economies always triumph. Economies that draw on a diversity of small local businesses bring 2- 4 times the number of jobs, incomes, multipliers, charitable contributions, taxes, etc. (Source: Tomorrow, a documentary) It’s as simple as that.
But of course the high road less traveled takes effort, planning, and patience. Many politicians can’t stomach waiting for two marshmallows.
And it's also acknowledging that our local communities are a far greater lever for change than our national government. That should be obvious by now. Ground up is the mantra everywhere we want real change.
A growing number of us see better ways of doing things. There are bright spots everywhere, including many dynamic steps being taken in cities around the world. The link is just one small example of probably billions, sans hyperbole even though it seems terribly hyperbolic.
It’s the same natural principle whether it’s about us as individuals, us as businesses and organizations, or us as communities and cities. Fear, conscious or unconscious, calls for instant results and the poorly crafted rocketship to the heights.
Un Pasito Mas is an expression of trust, humility, relaxation, patience, detachment (in one way all ultimately synonyms) and an affirmation of how life and sustainable growth works.