Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saying Yes!

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door.  … You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

So said Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of great experience to his young nephew, Frodo, on the consequences of leaving home. Bilbo would have been the last person,  uh… Hobbit, to discourage adventure.   While he loved his home in the Shire, he yearned to see more of Middle Earth.  Any of you who have read the Tolkien masterpiece, or seen  Peter Jackson’s brilliant film renditions,  know that Frodo does leave the Shire and could not possibly have know where he would be ‘swept off to.’  He was ‘swept off  to’ an adventure that he never could have prepared for, and while most of us are not given the responsibility of singlehandedly destroying evil like Frodo was, we can never know precisely what life has in store for us either.

Bilbo certainly got it right; the start of any new adventure is simultaneously full of opportunity and rife with uncertainty.   We simply can not know what lies ahead and perhaps that is why it is often so hard to take that first step.  This makes sense when we are pondering major life changes, but there seems to be tremendous inertia to changing all things, even very small things.  As a chemist, I tend to think of it in terms of activation barriers.  The basic idea is that to get the ball rolling, you need to give it a push.

Hang on a minute.  My laptop just beeped at me to tell me that the battery is low.  I need to plug it in.  I really should have done that when I sat down to write, but I was too lazy to open the outer zipper pocket on the computer case, and besides, the power cord is always tangled with the internet cable.  What a pain.  But now, I am about to lose my typing, so I’d better deal with it.

Ok.  I'm back. The computer is plugged in and I can keep writing. 

Now, what was I saying about activation barriers?  Oh yes, sometimes I need a push to do even small things, like… well...... like plugging in my laptop.  I tend to like pictures, so,

Even though it is more desirable to have unlimited work time, it initially required less of my energy to run off the battery.  That worked until the battery ran low. 

When the battery ran critically low, I had to devote a little energy to solving the problem.  I had to overcome the activation barrier. The turning point (or transition state) was reached when I untangled the power cord and the internet cable.  Over the hump,  plugged in the computer and can now work indefinitely, or at least until I finish this blog!

Some of you know, but many don’t, that a couple of years ago I lost some weight.  Quite a lot of weight actually.   It is no secret that weight control is a big concern in our society and lots of people have asked how I did it.   It was actually very simple.  NOT easy, but simple.  Eat less.  That was it.  The hard part was that first step, that scary uncertain first step of overcoming the activation barrier by putting in the energy necessary  to get over that hump.  (Trust me, the barriers to weight loss are HUGE!)   To paraphrase Jim Lovell in his autobiographical book, “Lost Moon” (made into the movie “Apollo 13”),   “It wasn’t a miracle.  I just decided to do it.” 

The first step was the doozy. 

It seems to me that the first step is always the doozy.  It is where the energy has to be supplied to overcome the activation barriers. The first step is to believe that something both can and should be done.  The first step is having faith that you can ‘keep your feet’ and stay on track.  The first step is saying yes.

To quote Stephen Colbert (the person, not the personality)*,

Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. "Yes" is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes."

Today I am grateful for the energy to say yes and overcome (at least some of the) activation barriers and begin new adventures, like this blog!

* Stephen Colbert in his commencement address at Knox College, June 2006.

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