Regular readers of this column know that I had a much-loved mentor while growing up in Merchantville, NJ. I would learn from him how to handle my boyhood problems. On one particular occasion during the summer of '52, I was experiencing a great deal of trouble improving my batting average. So, I went over to Mr. Lee to complain about my poor hitting.

Mr. Lee told me how he faced a similar problem while growing up in China. He recounted a lesson taught to him by a Buddhist monk who lived in a monastery not far from Mr. Lee's village. The monk took Mr. Lee to a small mountain stream that was wide enough that one couldn't jump across it. The monk sat Mr. Lee down in front of him as Mr. Lee did with me when he taught me. The Buddhist monk asked him how he would get across the stream. Mr. Lee bowed his head, got up, and walked along the stream's edge looking for an answer to the monk's question. After a few minutes, Mr. Lee noticed some small rocks partially submerged in the stream. He started to cross the stream by progressing from one rock to the next until he had successfully reached the other side. Excitedly, he returned to the monk who was still sitting cross-legged. Mr. Lee recounted how proud he was of his accomplishment.

Sitting down again, in front of this teacher, the monk merely smiled at Mr. Lee. Then the monk asked, "Young man, my question for you is which of those dozen stones was unimportant? The first, the last, or some other one?"

The monk's question startled Mr. Lee who wasn't able to answer the question. Even as a young boy, he knew that each of the stones was of equal importance. Then Mr. Lee turned to me and said, "Allen, each step on your way to your goal is important." Back then, I didn't understand that all the stepping-stones on my way from a mediocre batter to that of a diminutive Sammy Sosa were important. I wanted to hit home runs, but I didn't think working on my batting technique was important. I wanted to be a star without the mundane work necessary to achieve my goals.

What was true for my batting career a half-century ago is true in our adult lives. Many times, steps taken toward our goals in life may seem to be unimportant. However, as with the stepping-stones, each stone gets us closer to our goal. Therefore, each is equally important and necessary. If we continue our journey, the stones will lead us to success. The journey of life isn't as simple as crossing a Chinese stream by walking on a dozen stones, but the principle remains true.

Suppose that you want to further your education. Many of the steps may seem unimportant, but each seemingly unimportant step gets you closer to the other side of your educational stream. When I was in school, I only wanted to take the classes in my major. However, without the basic education classes and prerequisites, I couldn't get to those that I wanted to take.

If one were to remove one or two of the unimportant stones in your stream of life, you'll get wet. Each stone on your path through life is as vital as the one upon which you just stepped or upon the one, which you are about to step. Therefore, take the following steps to get you for your goal:

  1. Get organized by listing all the necessary steps. By committing the steps to paper, you will vastly improve the chances of success. Through this process, you will discover needed steps that you might have not noticed.
  2. Schedule the completion of each of the steps. Determine what must be done, and place the steps in sequential order. By organizing tasks, you won't become overwhelmed with the entire task. One step at a time will assure success.
  3. Stay focused upon each step as you take it. You might have the tendency to drift to what seems to be more important or less difficult step, but stay on task by remaining focused upon your schedule.
  4. Imagine the rewards that you will experience when you reach your goal. In addition to assisting you on staying on task, imaging the acquisition of your goal will provide you needed motivation to overcome the most difficult of tasks.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 2/16/01.