Work takes time: you can achieve less than you think in a year, more than you think in a decade

I heard this quote a while ago but I have no idea where it was from:

You can achieve less than you think in a year, more than you think in a decade.

It is one of those ideas that really stuck with me, and has been worming away in my psyche. Because it applies in so many areas of life. I’ll quickly illustrate with examples from my life and then land the implications as I see them.

I’m coming up to a decade of yoga and other related mindful body-based practices — starting when I lived in China in 2011. Those seven years totally transformed my sense of aliveness, fluidity and strength. I had a horrible accident (think: body entirely broken, on crutches for a year) in 2001 and when I started yoga I struggled so much. I never imagined where I would get to with regular attention over time.

Also it’s been about a decade of creative problem solving in organisations, I joined What If in 2006 (left to found Let’s Go in 2013). When I started I was totally winging it. Last month I did a project that really brought home to me the huge impact I can have in short time. I know how to help organisations make sense of what they do now and what is needed next. This is slow won and comes from 75+ projects, with many many mistakes and missteps.

Pen Paper Pause book launch — 2009

In 2009 I released a short book of illustrated poems (Pen Paper Pause) and was so full of anxiety and uncertainty about their place in the world — I didn’t dare call myself an artist or poet until around 2011. Last night I was working on the latest set of poems for what will be my fourth book (working title: Alive or Else)— playing with new ideas and styles — and I feel the decade in my craft.

In 2009 a group of us started The Borough Common, a collaborative community that explores spiritual growth and doing good without dogma. It’s gone through some real ups and downs, but i’m so proud of what all the people who have been involved have built over the last 9 years.

Borough Common host Contact The Elderly tea party around 2010

Whatever you want to do, whatever I want to do. We won’t do it in a year. It will take a decade.

Implications

  1. Be thankful for your work over the last decade—many have built amazing family or relationships or home. Some have focused on a skill or practice or mission or subject. Most of us have a combination.
  2. We can/should honour and respect what others have dedicated themselves to. And if we didn’t do the decade then let’s let go of comparisons.
  3. We can have some sadness for what we didn’t focus on or spent too much focus on — I certainly do. But we all have to make choices and we can’t focus on everything. We made the best choices we could at the time.
  4. Life is long — we can be thoughtful about where to focus and what we start today will pay us back so richly in 2028, which will come round much quicker than you think.
  5. Work takes time — when progress feels slow, that’s normal — progress is slow. It takes a decade.

And what have we given ourselves to for the last decade? What do you want for the next one?

You can achieve less than you think in a year, more than you think in a decade.
Me with my sister-in-law and brother in 2008 — who have been, amongst other things, raising humans