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Lessons from the Journey: “All You Have to Do Is Put One Foot in Front of the Other”

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From my own 193-country journey to the stories of many other people who were kindly willing to share, The Happiness of Pursuit attempts to extract and convey the lessons of modern-day quests. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: “All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.”

Most quests consist of a set of milestones that take a long time to reach. To stay on track, choose forward motion—keep making choices that bring you closer to the goal, even if it seems like reaching the end will take forever.

21-year-old Nate Damm began a journey that would lead from his native Maine all the way to the San Francisco coastline—on foot. Nate walked across America following what he called “a crazy idea that wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Before he left, Nate and his girlfriend broke up. Since he worked for her parents, the loss of a job soon followed. His cat and dog lived with her, so… he lost those too. It was like a bad country song: lost my girlfriend, lost my job, lost my dog.

As Nate marched his way out of West Virginia, soaking wet from the rain and wincing at the blisters on his feet, he couldn’t help wondering if he’d made the wrong decision. In the course of a single week, his life had completely flipped upside down.

Nate overcame the doubt by looking forward. He thought about why he’d begun the walk in the first place. It wasn’t for fame, it certainly wasn’t for fortune, and he wasn’t even trying to make a statement. He just had to do it—it was the crazy idea that wouldn’t leave him alone, and the crazy idea demanded action. Nate kept going and his mood brightened.

Things back at home would never again be the same, but he realized there was an upside to all the change. As the road opened up with possibilities, he continued the walk.

In speaking with him along the way, he told me that in some ways the quest was relatively simple. “All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other,” he said. So that’s what he did, day after day for seven-and-a-half months.

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Other lessons:

The Happiness of Pursuit is available from Amazon.com or your favorite local bookseller. You can also join me on tour in your choice of more than 40 cities.

Image: Louis

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