Eating an elephant

Years ago, overwhelmed by a divorce, pending move and a stressful job, I was venting to my parents about my crushing workload.

When I paused the monologue to take a breath, my dad asked, “Do you know how to eat an elephant?”

My teenage years were over, but I still knew how to do a world-class eye-roll. Was he going to try to tell me a joke or something? I just didn’t have time for it.

“No,” I said, hoping he would quickly answer his own question so I could get back to complaining.

“One bite at a time,” Dad said.

Aha. It wasn’t a joke. It was advice. And lately, it is advice I’ve been putting to great use. Because while big goals inspire us, they can also easily overwhelm us after a setback or a tough day. It is the daily manageable goals that get us there.

For example, writers create screenplays and novels by hitting a goal of like 1000 words a day. Addicts stay clean one day at a time. Olympic athletes improve lung capacity and muscle strength through daily training. And I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of bite-sized goals. They keep me grounded in the present instead of floating in a future of “what ifs.” And they still let me have big dreams.

Thanks for the advice, Dad. I’ll finish that elephant some day, one bite at a time.


By coincidence I have been reading Rider Haggard, a Kindle collection of all his Alan Quartermain novels where he describes eating a roasted elephant heart. Pretty random stuff…


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