Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Slow and steady wins the race.

My students and I talked about that idea this week. We discussed how children's stories differ from the stories we read or watch as teenagers or adults. One of the elements found in most children's stories is a moral or a lesson. I asked the kids what moral or lesson we can find in "The Ugly Duckling." One student responded, "Don't be ugly."

Okay. That's one possibility, I guess. We talked about Aladdin, too. The lesson: don't try to be someone you're not. We talked about "The Tortoise and the Hare"--slow and steady wins the race.

Part of me cringes when I hear the words "slow and steady." Part of me wants the opposite of slow and steady. Part of me wants fast...and furious. (I tried so hard to avoid writing "fast and furious," I really did. It would not be denied.)

Part of me wants to be Indiana Jones or Mission: Impossible's Ethan Hunt--shoot now, jump now, go now, and apologize later. Part of me is the guy who asks, "WHY ARE WE STILL STANDING HERE?" when no one seems to be in a rush to move. Part of me wants to know where the nearest sledgehammer is because this door needs to open now, and I'm ready to swing.

Part of me hates the idea of "slow and steady." But another part of me--the more experienced, wiser part of me--has learned to embrace slow. To keep pace with steady.

I read recently that the area near where I live is prone to sinkholes. Apparently, everything around here is a sinkhole risk because of the abundance of limestone bedrock beneath us. Limestone is softer than most rocks and dissolves over time when exposed to water. As it flows, ground water begins to eat away and dissolve the limestone, and it creates holes and caverns underneath the surface. At some point, the ground above the hole becomes weak enough to collapse--sinkhole.

Sometimes, all it takes is small flow of water to slowly carve a path through the limestone. Slow and steady. I've learned more of life is like water dissolving limestone than I'd prefer.

There are times we value flash and flair over slow and steady. For years now, marriage proposals have looked more and more like polished productions, like everyone's trying to one-up the last proposal they saw on social media. We swoon over grand, romantic gestures. We watch SportsCenter for the highlights--big plays, bone-crushing hits, toe-tapping catches. We love it when life gives us the fireworks show or the thrilling, last-minute win.

Life doesn't seem as great after the smoke from the last of the fireworks clears, after the fans and the photographers with their bright flashes of light exit the building, after the weekend high fades and we find ourselves in the dull, gray quiet of a Monday morning. When there's a challenge, when there's something uncomfortable, we want to race by and skip the process. When we want something and it's not cooperating with our preferred timeline, we want to rig up some dynamite and blast that rock to kingdom come.

But so often, life is like limestone, and the way we break through is a drip, a drop, a steady stream over time, and we carve careful, slow paths through it.

I think about teaching. There's no miracle lesson, no magic idiom or saying to make students get it. As awesome as it would be to walk into the classroom, jump on top of a desk, yell "Carpe diem!" and forever alter the kids' lives in one brilliant move, that's not how it works.

Do you want to know the most meaningful thing a student has ever said to me?

It was a girl who was brilliant and creative and talented, but she struggled in her personal life, struggled to turn work in at school, and I had to be that annoying buzz in her ear every day. She would roll her eyes. She would give me attitude. She wouldn't respond. I honestly believed she hated my guts.

At the end of the year, I found a piece of yellow notebook paper on my desk. It was from that girl.

She wrote, "Thank you for not giving up on me."

I did nothing miraculous or flashy. I didn't have some award-winning, eye-catching strategy for how to turn her life around. I just bothered her. Over. And over. And over. It was torture for me, and I'm sure it was for her.

Sometimes, we have to say, "I need you to try" to an apathetic kid, every day, for nine months before we see even the smallest sign of hope.

We need to remember to say, "Hey. I love you" each night even though it seems redundant and insignificant.

We need to be the person who is steady, who is solid, because after a diet of relationships that are pomp-and-circumstance, crash-and-burn, he or she will need to know what healthy looks and feels like.

We might need to be the one who's left to help clean up after the party a hundred nights before someone understands you're not only with them for the highlights.

We might need to send a text that says, "I have your back" three hundred times before somebody finally believes the words.

We might need to do the right thing--the tough, the boring, the mundane right thing--over and over, with or without acknowledgement, for who knows how many days, weeks, or years because the dynamite won't work. We need to be water dissolving limestone.

Drop by drop, we carve out caverns underneath the surface. It's only a matter of time before we break through.

Life may not give us the climactic moment of resolution backed by swelling orchestral arrangements. We won't always blast our way through our obstacles. The grand romantic gestures won't sustain our relationships. Fireworks flare and fizzle. Emotional highs shoot us to the moon and drop us back to earth just as quickly.

It's the slow and steady one who wins the race.