4. The power of small wins.
When you have a regular healthy child, you tend to take many things for granted. That he will walk; that she will talk; be increasingly independent over time, etc. Naturally, we set our expectations high, and define success accordingly. High grades in school; excellence in sports; higher education degrees, and successful careers. Raising a child with disabilities puts things in perspective for you. In my view, the right perspective. Nothing can be, nor should be taken for granted. That becomes apparent very quickly. You measure progress in very small increments. Your resolution becomes very fine.
In the first year of her life our daughter could only lay on her back. Not turn from side to side, not crawl, nor sit. Just lying on her back. That’s when we started intensive physical therapy. I literally had to teach her how to do everything. How to turn over, crawl, stand, walk, run. We would work with her for hours every day.
To teach her to walk, and strengthen her legs, I started teaching her to climb stairs in our apartment building. At first, it was one step up, one down. Slowly that increased to two, three, and later one flight of stairs. Then two floors, then three. I would take her to the park where I would teach her to walk by climbing the slide. First, she could only take one or two steps. Later she was able climb all the way up.
It was a very long, and often frustrating process. There were many set-backs and discouraging moments. At times, it was heartbreaking to see her struggle and cry in pain as she was trying to develop these basic motoric skills.
To stay positive and not lose faith, we measured progress in very small steps, literally. If she climbed one more step than the day before, or walked for a minute longer it was a success. We were happy and excited. We view achievements and success very differently than we did before she was born.
This continues to date.
We cannot take anything for granted in life. If we define achievements and success in monumental terms, we will be frustrated and disappointed most of the time. That’s not a good and happy way to go through life.
In fact, a Harvard research has shown that making progress in a meaningful work, is the single most significant factor affecting people’s happiness in the workplace. Furthermore, even a very minor progress would make an impact.
It’s not to say that we should not aim high. By all means we should. But, we should also stop to appreciate and enjoy the many small successes along the way. I think it would make us happier with ourselves and our lives.
For example, Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, set a very ambitious goal for SpaceX: enable people to live on other planets. Clearly, that’s a very long term goal that may take years to achieve, if at all. To meet that goal, the company needs to execute on its multi-stage multi-year plan. This requires its employees to stay focused, motivated, and creatively innovative. Hence, they need to feel that they are making progress in this very meaningful work.
Therefore, SpaceX has broken its long-term goal into a series of smaller goals and milestones. Each milestone critical to achieving the ultimate goal. For example, one of these milestones was to launch a rocket to space and bring it back safely and intact. This gives SpaceX opportunities to recognize and celebrate many small wins, and create a strong sense of progress for its employees and other stakeholders.
As for our daughter, we don’t know how far her potential can develop. We believe that she can reach high. And we are delighted with every additional step she climbs in her development ladder.