Starting Big Projects: The Power of the Grind

Starting big projects can be overwhelming: too many moving parts, too much complexity. Just amassing the focus and energy to get started can be immobilizing, let alone maintaining that drive for the long haul.  Two undersold secrets to success can save us in these situations.  First, the power of The Grind.  Second, the principle that action begets action. 

Patience is a virtue

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”  Patience moves mountains and forges canyons.  But this takes eons, right?  We need examples on a human timeline, examples like Jadav Peyeng.  Living in the state of Assam in India, he witnessed en masse deforestation and environmental devastation.  Razed wilderness led to loss of wildlife and topsoil erosion, further inhibiting the natural replenishment of trees.  Snakes washed ashore of the local river and died in the open sun.  Calls to local government agencies to assist with replanting trees were met with rejection: “It’s a lost cause.”  

Peyeng bore witness to the steady destruction of his homeland and the resources for his village.  But instead of being crippled by the scope of the damage and the lack of support, Peyeng put himself to work.  He planted bamboo seedlings (which grow particularly well near water) along the edge of the river.  By degrees, this helped prevent further erosion and gave patches of shade for small animals to cool off.  He expanded this process by planting an indigenous tree near his home every day.  

Over years and decades, Peyeng’s steady work created a dense forest across hundreds of hectares of previously desolate land.  Indigenous wildlife returned to the area, now home to creatures ranging from rabbits to monkeys to rhinoceri.  The government awarded Peyeng with one of India’s highest civilian honors in 2015 and named the forest after him. 

The secret of The Grind

The beauty of Peyeng’s story is deeper than even his grand accomplishment.  First, Peyeng clearly understood the power of The Grind; he accepted that he was in this fight alone, and that one person wasn’t going to rebuild a forest in a day or month or year.  Starting big projects requires we understand it’s the long game that counts.  If nature’s patience can move mountains, so then can our patience enact a singular vision.  The Grind does not grant immediate rewards or satisfying plateaus to mark our progress; the value we create may well be linear.  But this predictability can give us tremendous comfort and focus.

His journey is also remarkable in his ability to resist the motivational ‘call of the void’, the impulse to succumb to the paralyzing magnitude of the work ahead and quit.  It’s this temptation that plants thoughts like, “I can’t handle this.”  Or, “What can one person achieve, anyway?”  It’s what convinces us to fall back, to continue down the rut of our status quo.  Sprinkle in the social pressure of not wanting to be the only person engaging in a particular activity, and you’ve got a great recipe for a perfectly mediocre life.  

An object in motion tends to stay in motion

But Peyeng’s efforts underscore the crucial principle that action begets action.  He chose to start planting trees, knowing just how far he was from replanting an entire forest.  He chose to do what was in his power to achieve within that day.  And then the next morning he did the same, and the next and the next, building momentum.  This is the real source of Peyeng’s success.  He didn’t fret about the number of trees to plant.  He didn’t succumb to the paralysis that starting big projects can lead to.  Peyeng simply got to work, at whatever task was presented to him that day.  That’s the power of The Grind.  

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