MacPhail: seize the day and take the step

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As was written in China sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries BC: ‘A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.’

This slightly anglicised version of the original Chinese proverb is as true today as it was back in the murky mists of time when it was coined by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tze, as is thought by most to be the case.

To an extent, the proverb has been rendered shallow by overuse, having been bandied about on posters, kitchen cups, T-shirts, trinkets and just about every self- improvement publication going, but the depth of wisdom in the simple and practical message should not be underestimated.

By coincidence, the first steps of two long journeys for me have been taken in the past week and a third, which will be the longest and by a wide margin the most important of them, is about to be embarked upon. None of these is outwardly too significant but all are important to me in their different ways.

I may delve into the details of these three unrelated and long-intended endeavours in future articles but, this week, it is the significance of taking that step that is the subject. Some aspects of life undoubtedly just happen – no pre-planning, no expectation, no desire and no causal action. However, we cannot wait for these occurrences to come along so if progress is to be made, in most cases the first step has to be consciously taken.

Sometimes, very significant steps can be taken by chance or by a small margin of decision while other steps can be the product of long held and deep desires.

A very significant step for me was taken in October 1988 when I took action to begin accordion lessons. This is an interesting example of a step being taken on a marginal and spur-of-the-moment decision. I was sitting in class minding my own business when at the table next to me, my classmate, Alexander MacKay, put up his hand to ask Mrs MacIntyre if he could be allowed out of class to go to see Gordon Connell about starting accordion lessons.

Before this moment, I had not given accordion lessons a thought, but on a whim I asked if I could go with Alexander. We went together to see Gordon and the following Tuesday our weekly lunchtime lessons began. Of the many steps I’ve taken in life, this was certainly one of the most significant and it led to a very long and enjoyable journey that will hopefully continue for a few years yet.

I often ponder on what I would be doing with my life now if a nine-year-old Alexander MacKay hadn’t wanted to start accordion classes, or indeed if I had allowed self-doubt or a young boy’s shyness to stop me asking the teacher if I could go too.

There are, of course, many steps I’ve missed and plenty made in the wrong direction but there are some journeys that internally we know are right for us.

When we identify these destinations – even if they are a thousand miles away – we must seize the day and take the step.