Being the Tortoise

The way I see it, there are only two directions– up and down.

I used to say that it didn’t matter how fast you were going, as long as the direction you were going was up. Keep moving up, as slowly as you want, and you’ll get to a good place in your life. Don’t rush past people, don’t get greedy… just be that tortoise, taking one step at a time.

Up means fitter, more successful, more focused, or anything you want it to. (Down is just opposite of those.) But as I think about this I realize that it might not be enough. People can stay in their job for years, waiting for that next promotion, thinking they’re on their way up so it’s ok. But that isn’t up– it’s flatlining.

I used to rock climb a lot with my roommate. We did bouldering— the kind with no rope that requires a lot of strength. One of the things you learn while doing it is that there is a huge energy cost to just sitting there, wondering what the next move is. It’s better to plan ahead– or to try and fail– than to hang there, your energy being sapped away.

I think there’s a lot to be said here about deluding yourself, thinking you’re going up when you’re really not. You think your position is stable, but it isn’t. Momentum is important.

The thing is, we wait for the right time– the perfect time– to take the next step, just like we did bouldering. But there is no perfect time, except for right now. Just like people say there’s never a perfect time to have kids, and if you wait for it, it’ll never happen.

The circumstances will never be perfect. It’ll always be a little harder than you want it to be. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’ll have to make yourself… a bit uncomfortable.





6 responses to “Being the Tortoise”

  1. Larry Avatar

    Funny that you’re writing (and I’m reading) this now – because next Monday I’m starting something new.
    I need to do this and I want to do this – but I am pissed because now is not the time!
    Really. I have too much to do right now. If only I had one more week. (Two would be better, but I’d gladly take one.)
    Damn it! Not now! I could do better if it wasn’t now, I know I could.
    Except it is now.
    And that’s that.

  2. Mike Charbonneau Avatar

    Great entry and a lovely sentiment. This is exactly what I find myself trying to communicate both at the office and to our clients.


  3. Dominique Avatar

    I attended your workshop at Podcamp Mtl this fall; you had VERY interesting things to say. Reading you now is bringing a lot of new food for thought. Thanx…

  4. Tanya Avatar

    Speed is good but as long as it’s coupled with vision, so I appreciate your mention of planning ahead as it’s so easy to think that you’re going in the right direction, but then realize that all that you’ve been working for really isn’t what you’ve wanted.

  5. Jackson Wightman Avatar

    Thanks for this Julien.

    Heading in an “upward” direction as you put it involves a mix of struggle, discomfort and self-confidence.

    It is amazing to me that people in my parents’ generation often stayed with the same organizations for the lion’s share of their careers, despite lack of opportunities to further themselves personally and professionally. This still occurs but seemingly less frequently (I am in my 30’s and most of my friends have in 10+ years worked for at least 3 different organizations).

    Societal conventions and other group/peer pressures go a long way to explaining why people stayed with the same organization for their entire career only a few decades ago.

    We are fortunate that today both conventions and web tools that are available to all permit a much greater opportunity to try new things and head “up” (whatever that entails for the individual). But, because “heading up” is easier than it has been in while – the costs of what you call “flatlining” are, I believe, exacerbated.

  6. Tamsen Avatar

    Isn’t it funny how the laws of physics apply to, well, everything?

    You raise a great example: A body in motion tends to stay in motion, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Whichever state you’re in, its easiest to stay there. Inertia is enormously powerful, even when you’re already moving.

    The world is designed to slow us down, to provide friction for that effortless forward movement. But even though it takes effort to keep moving at a certain pace, or even to move faster, it takes the most effort to go from nothing to something.

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