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I’ve been talking a lot about the The Shawshank Redemption these days, about the accumulative value of small efforts over time. I’ve discussed it with my ESL class, which is struggling with the difference between the present and the present continuous, and with my Reading students, who are trying to wrap their minds around the meta-language of  adjectives and adverbs. I’m pretty sure it’s come up in my writing class at some point, and if it hasn’t, it will soon. It’s an image that flashes on my internal screen every time overwhelm outshouts action. The image — (and if you have yet to see the movie, skip the rest of this paragraph until you do) — of a man chipping himself out of thick prison walls with nothing but an old rock hammer. It takes 20 years, but he finds freedom. “Andy loved geology…,” reflects the narrator at the end of the film. “Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time.”

It’s the tiny steps I’m enamored of lately. A three minute mediation. One yoga posture. Ten minutes, or a page, of writing. Half a page. Something, anything, to inch myself toward my goals.

Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But one step feels so uninspired, too insignificant to matter, so we wait. For the time to take a running leap. The stamina to run ten miles. Or the money to hire a taxi. It doesn’t work that way. It’s all about dumb steps. Ordinary. Unglamorous. The first one. The fifth one. The next one. And the next. Pressure and time. Effort and time. Over and over again.

This blog post is today’s small step. Quickly launched, incomplete and imperfect, it has my inner jailers up in arms. But when I hit publish, I will be an inch closer to my destination, one breath freer than I was before.

And you? What are your dreams? Are you living your most expressive, creative life? Or is some part of you locked away, walled in by bricks of Can’t, Won’t, Never, Should, Not Enough, and all the ways we explain why freedom is beyond us. If so, remember Andy Dufresne and The Shawshank Redemption. Geology is about pressure and time. And patience. So what if it takes six-months to get in shape, six years to finish that novel? That time will pass anyway. How little can you afford today? Fifteen minutes? Five? What’s the smallest step you can take?  Take it. Take another tomorrow. Tiny steps. No bigger than dust and gravel. There’s a whole world waiting on the other side.

© Deborah Edler Brown, 2011.

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