“Do not ruin today with mourning tomorrow.”
—Catherynne M. Valente
This short article was inspired by an email we received this morning from a new course student:
Dear Marc and Angel,
I have a big problem. I’m intelligent, highly educated in my field of study, and have achieved numerous professional accolades while working for large corporations over the years, but now that I’ve branched out on my own as an entrepreneur I’m stuck in a rut. I have dozens of good ideas that I can easily execute on, but every time I rev up and start taking massive action, I get overwhelmed and scared. I start second-guessing my choices and myself. Or I start worrying about and obsessing over all the possibilities for both success and failure, until everything comes to a halt and I’m utterly exhausted. There’s so much I want to achieve, and I know I’m capable if I could just get beyond this. What do you recommend?
An Overwhelmed Student
Our reply (an open reply to all who feel overwhelmed):
Dear Overwhelmed Student,
It’s time for a quick story about life…
Once upon a time there was a woman who had been lost in the desert for three whole days without water. Just as she was about to collapse, she saw what appeared to be a lake just a few hundred yards in front of her. “Could it be? Or is it just a mirage?” she thought to herself.
With the last bit of strength she could muster, she staggered toward the lake and quickly learned that her prayers had been answered: it was no mirage – it was indeed a large, spring-fed lake full of fresh water – more fresh water than she could ever drink in her lifetime. Yet while she was literally dying of thirst, she couldn’t bring herself to drink the water. She simply stood by the water’s edge and stared down at it.
There was a passerby riding on a camel from a nearby desert town who was watching the woman’s bizarre behavior. He got off his camel, walked up to the thirsty woman and asked, “Why don’t you have a drink, ma’am?”
She looked up at the man with an exhausted, distraught expression across her face and tears welling up in her eyes. “I am dying of thirst,” she said, “But there is way too much water here in this lake to drink. No matter what I do, I can’t possibly finish it all.”
The passerby smiled, bent down, scooped some water up with his hands, lifted it to the woman’s mouth and said, “Ma’am, your opportunity right now, and as you move forward throughout the rest of your life, is to understand that you don’t have to drink the whole lake to quench your thirst. You can simply take one sip. Just one small sip… and then another if you choose. Focus only on the mouthful in front of you, and all your anxiety, fear and overwhelm about the rest will gradually fade.”
Marc and Angel
Challenge yourself today to focus solely on the sip (task, step, etc.) you’re actually taking.
Honestly, that’s all life is – small, positive actions that you take moment by moment, and then one day when you look back it all adds up to something worthwhile – something that’s often far better, and different, than what you had imagined when you started.
So please leave a comment below and let us know:
What’s the one small, positive action you are going to focus on today?
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: dekoekkoek
Thank you, again. Your emails are powerful and always show up just in time! Such helpful words that help me find the strength within myself to keep moving forward, even on days like today when I would prefer to curl up into a tight little ball in my comfort zone. So today the little thing I’m gonna do is simply get outside of my comfort zone for an hour and test a marketing idea I’ve been thinking about for far too long.
Also, I just bought your book and I’m looking forward to taking your wisdom offline for some weekend reading. 🙂
Marc Chernoff says
Go get em, Monica!
And thank you for supporting our work.
Really enjoyed that story as I am experiencing the same trepidation about business and all of it’s myriad complexities. Staying focused on just achieving the seemingly insignificant things really works!
I try to live by doing the next right thing, and if something happens to throw that into turmoil, then there’s always the next right thing for that situation too.
Marc Chernoff says
I love your strategy for living, Mike — true presence and acceptance.
Satyannarayana Yedla says
Ben Pruett says
This little post is wonderful!! I need constant reminders like this to not get bogged down and overwhelmed with the seriousness of life, and with the infinite options in front of me. It’s about keeping things in perspective and taking small, mindful steps. We must get things done, but also learn to let go, and to not worry about everything every second.
Marc and Angel, for the perspective you give through your blog, book, emails, course, webinars, and seminars, I am forever grateful. Thank you.
Today, I am taking positive action for 15 minutes on a passion project I’ve been putting off because I felt like I needed to dedicate an hour or more (do it all at once). Now I’m just gonna make a little time here and there, and enjoy it.
Marc Chernoff says
Good for you, Ben. Enjoy yourself. 🙂
mitzi Sequoia says
THANK YOU so very much for your wonderful words of wisdom and of comfort. I’m going on my 63rd birthday in March and I’m going to “challenge” myself to day to rehearse for a stand up comedy routine for the very first time and yes, I’m nervous and yes, I may make a fool out of myself in front of people but I’m going to do it anyway because FEAR is paralyzing! FEAR IS: FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL. I want to live my life to the fullest that I can without the fear of failure. I’d love to order your book but I do not order anything via computer so can you send to me a mailing address? Thank you again and blessings to your sweet heart!
Marc Chernoff says
Love that acronym. Thanks for sharing, Mitzi.
Wow! The story about the woman and the lake really helped me figure out how to clear overwhelming thoughts in my head. Thank you Marc and Angel for the wisdom I got from this article. I’ll be a frequent passerby in your virtual space. 🙂 God bless your every writing.
Thank you! Just what i needed. So much is happening at once and yes it get’s overwhelming. But i will try to take it one step at a time..
Great post as always with a very powerful and relevant story. Love it. I’m going to print out this story and put it in front of me as a daily reminder that I don’t need to get overwhelmed. One small step forward is much better than no step so thanks for the inspiration!
Thank you – so needed today! Feeling totally overwhelmed by work, love life and life in general and just didnt know where to start.. This has helped me to refocus, slow down and just do one bit at a time. Thank you!
Pam Phillips says
Dear Overwelmed, I can appreciate your situation, I’m in the same place you are. And honestly I get really tired of people saying take baby steps, take a little sip, whatever really easy to say. It’s really easy but until you’ve had every thing feel like it fell apart, even if on paper it ok. My advise keep breathing in and out and find a reason to stay here. Once you that to hold onto, you have your purpose and everything else I’m praying will follow after that. Good luck….
Thank you! I recently purchased 2 books – during your promotion. I got the 2nd one to send to a friend. Appreciate you both!
Today, I am going to ask my higher power what I can do for him or today. I’m excited to see what comes of the question as I put it out into the universe.
Thank you for the gentle reminder to keep it in the moment. I too can get overwhelmed and when I do I know I have the power to slow down and change my thoughts but sometimes I forget that. This morning was one of those times so again thank you.
Wow! That parable really hit home for me today. I have one of my own to share with you. A few days ago we were hit with an historic 27″ of snow (historic for our area anyway). I am a contractor and I do snow removal for 80 customers. As we started clearing the snow on Saturday morning during the blizzard the workload was overwhelming. What got me through was focusing completely on clearing the driveway or parking lot in front of me with NO thoughts of the work or challenges ahead. Four days later all the work was finally done. “Focusing on the mouthful in front of me” is exactly what got me through the journey.
Marc Chernoff says
Well done, Paul! 🙂
Hi Marc & Angel! This one hit home with me because I was once told by a therapist years back that I set unattainable goals. It was so very true. The past several years have been a struggle for me after suffering a divorce and becoming a single mom to two young children. I lost pretty much everything but made 2015 a year of rebuild. I ended the year moving into my own place! For the first time in my 37 years I was going at it alone. All thanks to setting goals that I knew I could reach in time, without rushing.
Last night, I got an answer I was looking for in the dating arena and I’m pretty bummed about it. Sometimes I am amazed that my heart still has the capacity to feel – and to hurt after what I’ve been through.
So today, my goal is to stay away from my bed after work. To take a minute out for me while my kids are visiting with their dad. A nice dinner out with my best friend. I so badly want to cancel and wallow in my self pity, but I’m not going to and I’m making myself a promise to fight feeling down and not to feel guilty. Because my kids need a healthy and happy mom.
This article hit home, so much, and then I read your words. I too am going through a divorce, with 2 young kids. Working full time. Managing my STBX’s anger and disgust at me for initiating the divorce and how “selfish” i am. But in truth it was and had become an emotionally abusive relationship …it is so interesting and challenging to break patterns at 49 years old. The habit of putting yourself and your own needs last. Dead last. Everywhere, at work, with your own kids. Not just in a sig. other relationship. You know what I mean? Feeling SO guilty if you do anything to take care of yourself. It’s really, really a struggle. And my job is deadline oriented and sometimes my anxiety is off the charts. So this article came along at the perfect time. And your words “because my kids need a health and happy mom.” Just helps to know someone else is struggling to make that a reality. I finally know how to make myself happy. Finally, after all these years. But sometimes it’s tough even for those we love the most to know we’re not gonna stop caring for them, just because we’re LEARNING to care better for ourselves.
What you have done is brave and I can imagine took a long time to decide. I have been there and it’s been 7 years since I initiated my divorce from my X and it has truly been the healthiest for me, and as it turns out for my daughters too. When I took time for me, my daughters actually emraced it. And when I am not doing a favourite activity, they would prod me to get out, not letting me feel guilty for doing so. I am 50 now and the fittest, happiest and healthiest I have ever been. I wish you tye very best as you nurture yourself and your children and let yourself live Your Best Life!
Marc Chernoff says
Yes, your kids deserve a healthy mom. But YOU deserve to be healthy and happy too. Self-care is the key. It’s inspiring to hear that you’ve begun taking positive steps forward.
I’m an artist stuck in an executive assistant’s body. Every moment in the cubicle feels like it takes a little bit of my soul. I have a plan to extract myself from this, but sometimes it seems like I will never make it. I sit in front of a computer all day, so the last thing I want to do when I get home is flip on the computer and work on the website for my art.
And for years I’ve been saying I was going to improve the website, and make it worthy of the things I make, until even I am sick of hearing myself say it. But a few weeks ago I began. I did one thing a day, at least, to improve it. Now I have to take some good pictures, and get them up there. It’s an uphill battle, and I’m not successful every day.
Some days I just take my work kit and sit on the couch watching reruns of Undercover Boss. But hey, I’m making product!
I really want this year to be the year I can, when someone asks me at a show, “Do you have a website?” say an enthusiastic “YES!” instead of an embarrassed, “Yeah, but it really sucks!”
Every time I make a step forward I go into my bathroom, look in the mirror and tell myself – GOOD JOB! (I live alone – I talk to myself a lot!) Sometimes it’s hard to decide which step to take, but I have determined that one tiny step is better than no step. If you are overwhelmed by all the steps, just write them down, then pick one. Soon – you will be at your destination.
I think I have set my expectations way to high and don,t know what to do or where to go. I ended up in a divorce that I did not want. I got into a relationship with somebody else because I did not want to be alone. I bought a house and we moved in together. He is a super great guy but I can not attach to him and don,t understand why? I thought if I was in a relationship and bought this house I would get better only to find that I am no better. I am fit to be tied. I am constantly finding flaws with him that should not make a difference. I suffer anxiety really bad and won,t go or do things by myself because I panick. Any answers?
Isabelle C. says
Here is my answer :
It may take time to sink in, but give it some time and thinking…
When you will understand – and accept – that the flaws you find in him are in fact flaws you blame YOURSELF for, your journey is going to take a whole other meaning.
But don’t judge yourself. Simply observe, and BREATHE.
One step at a time, you will learn to love yourself because you are amazingly worthy.
Monica Kramer says
Just what I need to hear (yesterday! LOL), but I’m in a better place to day to be open to this message. 🙂
Seriously, I have been struggling with this lately.
Thank you so much!
Monica Kramer says
I meant “today”…geeeesh Swype! 😀
I am thinking a lot, but still stuck due to some reasons. But your support and guidance here is giving me a hope that one day I will be on the peak with taking little sips.
Judy Ryder says
When I was in my thirties someone told me to make life simpler choose one small task and complete it, then choose another. In six months I will be three quarters of a century on this earth. Yes 75 years young. When I take the time to look back my life has been amazing. I am still doing one small task at a time. My life is full and vibrant and forward looking. Take the advise of this open letter. It will lead to amazing things in your life.
Rachel Jones says
Thank you for sharing your perspective from another side of the mountain. At 36, forward looking at 75 sounds like a fantastic goal.
I am learning to take one day at a time, one task at a time. Being overwhelmed for long time periods took a toll on my health. I am now very mindful of my time and prioritize daily so that I do not get overwhelmed. There is typically Nothing that has to get done at this very moment.
Andrea M says
Thank you so much for your wonderful emails… the timing of each message is always perfect… it’s like you know! I have been very anxious recently worrying about my future and this helped me tremendously.
Your e-mails have been very helpful as I struggle with trying to find myself after the death of my husband. So much to do, so many things to take care of, so many lose ends to tie up. It doesn’t HAVE to all be right now – today.
Bless you guys your encouragement and help is so needed, never judgmental or should or ought, its very much try this or that, no life and circumstances are the same for us all, the little by little does help, the one thing at a time does help and depending on where your at or how your doing depends a lot on that helpful advice, i find my mind is over active and so for me focusing on one things helps and resting often to recharge my batteries and prioritizing helps and if i have a list just a few important things, trusting my own instincts, if i am exhausted i don,t have to justify an extra sleep, if i have over done it then re align, if i have over spent, avoid shops for a little while, i can,t master it all and so what, God is enough, i am enough, i have enough, hope this helps someone today big cuddles love Jacqueline
It is uncanny how timely this article is for me. I left corporate America 5 years ago and have felt like a deer in headlights ever since; so this woman’s situation really resonated with me.
About 2 years after leaving my former career, an opportunity arose to work with my life partner in his business that he has had for almost 20 years and while it wasn’t what I had envisioned, the work was different and allowed me to morph my professional profile into something much more likable to me.
This very week however, the business has taken a turn. We are at a crossroads and are having to re-strategize so that we can continue the work we do and keep the business going. My initial reaction was negative thoughts around how I could have done more with my time when I initially left corporate. I did a true beating up of myself when a friend came by with their sick child. We’d heard that the child was in hospital battling cancer and now he was home. He looks like he doesn’t have much time left in his short 14 year old life. It broke my heart and humbled my soul.
This wasn’t the first time in my life that I have been reminded that if you have your health you have everything. It has actually happened to me a couple of times before when feeling sorry for myself; I get a call or learn of someone who has to battle cancer.
It’s a wake up call for sure but the current situation has a tendency to drag you back into the overwhelming possibilities of what the future might or might not hold. In thinking of this child this morning I began a series of other negative thoughts like “shame on you, he’s dying – you certainly aren’t going to die from this situation”.
And then I read your article … Amazing. When I think of all the tiny little steps that I HAVE taken in the last 5 years I am amazed that I even left corporate in the first place. I just need to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Something that my little friend is having a rather difficult time doing right now. I will push on, one tiny task after another with him in mind.
Thank you for the work that YOU do and thank you for inspiring me and taking off the headlights so that I can see a little bit clearer.
Loved and needed this! Today I’m focusing on searching literature for a larger project I’m doing. I’m going to focus on paring down the information and making it make sense to my overall objective.
This is exactly me. I read it out loud and laughed bc I knew my husband would be like “I don’t get it, that makes no sense.” But I struggle with anxiety not just expecting bad things (which I’ve worked hard to mentally be ok with) and I realized once I got better dealing with that that I actually get overwhelmed and anxious about all the good opportunities out there. I want to do everything now and logically that’s ridiculous! That’s not real life!
I loved this simple, short story. Makes me feel more normal, and helps me see that yes, I can move through this and grow to be ok with the small daily good stuff instead of trying to ingest all the good and do all the good in one day, and trust that I’m guided in what to focus on. My husband always tells me “Lauren, life is not a chess game.” Meaning, one move that I second guess myself as wrong doesn’t mean I lost the game, that I changed the course of my life.
I like that thing your husband says, about one ‘wrong’ move…
I am working on finishing my play that I’ve been working on for over two years. I’ll work on it for three hours per week.
I am a master at getting overwhelmed, which leads to debilitating procrastination.
So I keep this quote prominently displayed to remind myself to break it down:
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” ~Lao-Tzu
When my kids were growing up, whenever they got overwhelmed, I would ask, “how do you eat an elephant”. The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time”. My daughter texted me on her first day of nursing school to tell me her professor, speaking on getting overwhelmed, posed that question to the class, and she knew the answer. 🙂
Anna S. says
Forget about MULTITASKING! Never a fan! Something is always compromised, be it the quality of the tasks or the quality of your own mental health! Amen to one sip at a time….
Rev. Helen M. Bolden-Rogers says
You two are and your gift are indescribable blessings in my life and you bless others as I share from you.
I eagerly look forward to your life-lines daily.
With love and gratitude.
Just what I needed. I too have become overwhelmed in looking for a new job, selling items I have in storage and so much more. I believe now this is one of the blocks I have to let go. To look back on my life I have always had overwhelm and your article helped me realize this to be true. I Am studying the Law of Attraction which has helped me change my life for the better, yet blocks from my passed have prevented me from moving as forward as I should right now. They say the Universe provides you with what you are looking for and this morning it has again.
You must have been reading my mind this morning, this thought has been going through my head.
Love that little gem of a story. Sent chills through me. Don’t know yet what little step I want to take, but I’ll keep the story as a reminder.
Thanks for the timely advice. I’m in the middle of searching for a new job and possibly a new career direction in mid-life. I get easily overwhelmed playing ‘what if… ‘ about all of the bad things that might happen. This has only led to anxiety attacks, and a crippling sense of not being able to move on anything.
I have your book, and I read a section of it each night before I go to bed. I just open it at random and read that chapter. It has helped me immensely by teaching me to re-frame the way I think about things. Today’s posting is another gentle reminder that I cannot fix all my problems at once, but instead focus on one or two attainable steps.
So far, I’ve enrolled in a career counseling course, revised my resume, and learned how to write effective cover letters. The biggest obstacles I’ve overcome were related to relaxing during interviews and networking events.
Ann T says
Wow, that’s me too! I have been in the same field for over 20 years and really want to make a change. It has been so hard, I keep slipping back to (environmental consulting) and it makes me want to cry. Have tried career counseling, trying new part time jobs but am unable to make a jump. Very frustrating as I can’t seem to see a path, and am single mom so need to work! It makes me crabby and unpleasant, I never thought I would be like this. I feel stagnant. I think I need to buy your book and keep meditating, hoping that I see the opportunity when it presents itself! Good luck to you
adam luckey says
I love this. Especially the stories you use to illustrate such simple yet profound truths. One small step! Thanks so much!
teena soni says
Hey marc n angel..lots of love to both of u. Your motivating words has changed the way I see life. I am living my life to its fullest. Your emails give me direction. And luckily i always get solution of my problem by ur emails. Tons of thanku to u both. I am really grateful to u both for guiding me and for showing me path and for all the positive changes in my life. Thanku for making me so optimistic.
Thanku thanku thanku.
thank you, keep up the good work. always love your guys work.
Hi, the most important step I have to take now is to do a blood test for HIV. I”ve been overwhelmed by this fear for a long time, although I’ve hardly ever had a risk behavior with women. I’ve took five years in teraphy to talk about this and then I did it one month ago. Now, I have to do the test, but I’m so afraid of it. This text helped me someway in the process. Thanks.
Jan Ramsey Brick says
Such a beautiful parable. Thank you so much for all you give us. 🙂
Rachel Jones says
As a full extrovert, I am reminded in my moments of overwhelming doom to get outside myself, literally. In helping/focusing on others, I find my “sips” coming more freely and my need to hyper focus on the self diminish.
Yesterday, I was about to lose my mind between work/life/financial/self-actualization inner conflict (1st world problems, I know). I called upon 3 or 4 friends and clients looking for a luncheon lifeline, and the same client who came to my lunchtime rescue yesterday turned me on to this article today: Providence!
My best girlfriend reached out by phone, and my boyfriend who typically is unreachable during the day serendipitously answered when I called out.
Moral of this story: When the “sips” of life leave you gasping for air, a friend/client/boyfriend may be right there to “take your breath away” with kindness.
….and sometime there is no one there to take your breath away with kindness… then you find the strength, to do the next best thing alone victoriously.
One job at a time chimes in with this quote from Calvin and Hobbs which I love:
“Know what’s weird? Day by day nothing seems to change. But pretty soon, everything’s different.”
Karen Lovering says
Wow. I love the analogy. Exactly what I needed to hear. An elephant one bite at a time.
Charisse Tyson says
Thank you for the poignant and timely post. The writers life would be overwhelming if I didn’t own and manage a bar and grill but trying to balance both jobs is exhausting. I’m trying to write blog posts, work on my second book, promote my first book as well as build my codependency coaching platform. Remembering to take one small bite at a time is the only way to save my sanity. I’m praying for a buyer for my bar and grill so I can give myself totally to my passion of writing and helping codependents. Thanks for the great posts.
Just when I was fighting with myself over which battle to choose at 4o’clock in the morning… I stumbled on this… thank you a lot + greetings from Vienna!
Thanks so much for this. I needed someone to ‘give me permission’ to only take a small step instead of trying to do it all.
I have written a novel – friends have told me it’s worth getting ‘out there’ but I’m scared of rejection. Silly, I know. How many writers feel exactly the same!!!
So … I shall stand by my ‘lake’ and see it as simply a small pool, easily faced. As soon as I finish typing this, I shall start on another edit of my novel. But …. only for 30 minutes today? Perhaps for longer tomorrow … We’ll see…
What a wonderful story and it helps put many things in perspective. It is relevant not only for business, but also for “real life” that can become incredibly overwhelming at times. Being a caregiver to elderly parents, dealing with their illnesses, appointments, etc. in addition to having my own business, and trying to live a positive life with my husband can be challenging and taxing on my own well-being. This will serve as a reminder to take one step at a time, and more importantly, enjoy every moment and be grateful.
M&A thank you for your emails. They’re very helpful now when I have a hard time. I want to do a lot of things(improve my English, start to learn French, improve my professional skills, and spent more time for my hobby – painting). There so many things to do in life, and sometimes it seems to me that its too late for some of them.
I’ve been trying to get my husband to go back to counseling again to save our marriage. He’s refused to go, so the last time I told him that I was going to be looking for an apartment. We didn’t talk for over a week. Now that we’re on speaking terms again he thinks that everything is back to normal. I just can’t stand to live like roommates anymore. I’m 51 and I deserve to be happy. I just get so overwhelmed with all of the things that might happen and all of the things that I will have to go through I get almost paralyzed in my fears. I know that we still love each other but without help nothing will change.
Michael Sims says
I’ve noticed for sometime now that I am a procrastinator which leads to me becoming ridiculously overwhelmed. I am by NO means a lazy person. But I’ve allowed myself to become paralyzed by the amount of tasks and projects that await some kind of action from me, since I’m the one who started them all.
The weird thing is, instead of working off what’s already started, I will use that energy to start a new task or project.
Can you imagine just how I overwhelmed I am?
This is my first blog by the way and I’m so grateful I happened upon yours.
Today I am going to break free and try to nibble off a little bit of the old even if I start something new.
Wow! Guess what happened as soon as I typed that sentence?
I became OVERWHELMED!!!
This is truly starting to feel like a disease to me rather than a character defect.
All I can say is that I’ll try, thanks to your enlighting words. God bless you and your website.
Dear Marc and Angel
I’ve been reading your posts for about 3 years now and they have been truly inspirational, empowering and an everyday remedy to problems that occur, I want to take this time out for thanking both of you for the amazing work you’ll have put together and never stop, there are many people just like myself who look forward to you’re interesting powerful and blissful reads.
Thank you once again.