A few weeks ago I witnessed a small miracle – sitting on my couch, in boxer shorts, drinking coffee. I started my day like any other Sunday, with no indication of what was about to happen. I woke up, showered, made coffee, and took the little one in the living room so my wife could catch some shuteye.
This is our morning routine when I’m at home. And it’s one of my favorite things to do: watch our daughter play on her blanket while I’m sipping the black elixir of the gods. She has a purple dragon with shiny golden wings and a golden tail hanging above the blanket. And that’s her nemesis.
For weeks I’ve watched her trying to grab that dragon. First, she waits a bit and watches it move. Then she prepares her tiny hand and clumsily stretches it out to catch the dragon. Her eyes are focused on the glittering golden parts and I can almost imagine what’s going through her head:
First try. Missed. Too far off to the right. Pull the hand back and try again.
Second try. Missed again. Didn’t open then hand enough. Pull back.
Ouch! Pulled back too hard and hit my nose. I have to watch out.
Sneaky little dragon. I will get you eventually.
That’s the way it goes on and on. Eventually she gets tired or mad. Then she clenches her puny fists and shakes them in an attempt to be mad. It’s actually more cute than angry. By then I’ve finished my coffee and I’m ready to do the airplane, the baby-kettlebell swings, or anything else to entertain her.
Until the day everything changed.
On this morning I lowered my cup and saw her hanging on to the dragon’s tail. She had her fist clenched firmly around it and was pulling the tail towards her. She also had the biggest smile a baby could muster.
It was an amazing sight. A small grab for a baby, a huge leap for mankind. It was a little miracle.
Anyone who’s never had children will now think: he’s caught the baby fever and is now making a huge deal out of everything his daughter does. But trust me, this little accomplishment is the closest thing to a miracle most of us will ever experience. Let me explain.
We take this act of grabbing things for granted. We do it thousands of times every day. You grab the toothbrush in the morning, your house keys before leaving home, and your phone a few hundred times per day. We don’t have any memories of a time when we couldn’t do it. But that time existed nonetheless.
Nature had to perform quite a few magic tricks for us to be able to grab something and take it to our mouth. What you do with this skill is your choice now. But let me tell you how you acquired it.
Thousands of neurons had to learn to communicate with each other and come to the consensus: I want to grab that. Next, they had to form connections with the muscle cells. Then they sent a command to the muscle cells of the arm, the forearm, and the fingers. But the muscle cells could barely understand what they were supposed to do. That’s why babies have such clumsy movements. Over a dozen muscles need to coordinate perfectly for you to grab a glass of water.
I could go into the neurological and mechanical details involved, but this is supposed to be a short post. Believe me when I say that it’s nothing short of an evolutionary miracle.
So how does this miracle eventually happen? Through practice.
And this is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from our baby daughter.
She practiced catching that dragon relentlessly. It didn’t matter if it was Sunday, if she had slept poorly, or if she had failed 100 times before. She kept trying every day.
When was the last time you put so much effort into something? I know it’s been a while for me.
But this is the way miracles are crafted. You show up every day and give it the best you’ve got. No excuses. It’s the only way you can achieve something great.
This is something we’re born with. In other words, we were built to do great things. But somewhere along the way, we forgot this.
Take a few moments to think about one thing you want to accomplish. Something that’s really important to you, something hardly anyone thinks you can do. Now remember all the tough things you’ve managed to do already, from the time you could barely hold a pen to where you are now. Think of all the effort you’ve put in and all the hurdles you’ve already passed.
It’s time to do it again.
Go out there and grab life by its golden tail.
Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself dailyEpictetus