When In Doubt, Chunk It Into Pieces

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”                                                                                                                                                    – Confucius

In 1985, such a journey began for Joe Simpson, not with a step though but with a fall. One hundred and fifty feet, straight down into a dark and deep crevasse to be exact, in the middle of the Siula Grande mountain out in the Peruvian Andes. Joe and his partner Simon were attempting to summit the mountain’s West Face, an area previously unclimbed which they successfully made to the top. During the descent, however, was when disaster struck.

Starting the series of unfortunate events, ladies and gentlemen, was a broken right leg, crippling our poor protagonist and making it impossible for him to continue to climb down the mountain. Follow that with a fall right through a massive crevasse inside the mountain’s treacherous ice face, barely escaping by with his life by the sliver of chance that was a tiny ledge upon which he landed. No way out, and no one who could help him.

Figuring out his only way up was down, our hero decided to lower himself the rest of the way, taking a leap of faith straight into the darkness of his lonely prison. Lo and behold, he eventually reached a bottom against which lay a shorter wall, one which he thought he could climb in order to make his way out (keep in mind, still with a broken leg). Not your usual walk in the park by any means, but our sorry tale does not even end here.

Poor Joe, he’s fallen into a crevasse and by some miracle survived, and now he’s has made his way – excruciatingly – out of this hole. Only to come face to face with the reality that he’s still stuck on the glacier, with five miles in between him and the safety of the base camp where, surprise, nobody knew he was still alive. And so the ordeal continues, this time requiring our hero to navigate the treacherous terrain of the glacier, where plenty of equally dangerous crevasses laid in sinister wait under a layer of seemingly innocuous snow (don’t forget, still with a broken leg!)

Once, by miracle of miracles he survived the icy minefield of death, it is only to come upon the bottom of the glacier which led into the surrounding moraines. Here he was greeted by jagged rocks and large boulders, each of which he had to hop (with a broken leg!) over one after the other in order to navigate the terrain. Each landing felt like the breaking of his leg over, and over, again. By this time it had already been three days since his fall, and he had had neither any food nor water to sustain him.

If it sounds as if someone got life’s shortest end of the stick, I’m happy to report there is a happy conclusion to it all. In the end Joe survived, his tale lives on as one of the most famous in mountaineering lore, and his example brings forth something we can all learn from. Don’t go climbing mountains in snowstorms. Or any mountain in any weather. Don’t even go tobogganing if the hill is higher than your house. Just kidding…maybe.

Truth be told, if there is a better example out there of pure tenacity or perseverance, I don’t know about it. But what Joe Simpson demonstrated on that mountain while battling for survival, against all the odds the worst of nature and circumstance could throw at him, was the ability to chunk his progress. He took a nearly impossible task – making it off the mountain alive – and broke it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. And by doing so, he survived.

How many of us are faced with that same dilemma every single day? Though our troubles may seem minuscule against the behemoth that faced Joe, they can, in a similar way, all be solved using the same method. Any problem when looked at face on may seem to be the impossible thing. A book! I can’t write a book. Those things are biiig, some of them can even be used as paperweights, how on earth could I ever expect to complete such a thing?  Just like Joe, when he first surfaced from the terror of the crevasse only to survey the landscape in front of him and take in the enormity of his task. I have to get there, from here? With a broken leg to boot? No way, Jose. 

Anything, from its completed vantage point, looks daunting. Have you ever looked up at a tall skyscraper, or watched a new start-up suddenly receive a billion dollar valuation, and think to yourself, How on earth did they do that? By breaking it down into manageable chunks, that’s how. You don’t set out to write a book; you sit down each day and you figure out how to write a chapter, a page, a paragraph. A skyscraper is built one floor at a time, a start-up starts with just an idea. As for Joe Simpson, he used his stopwatch to set twenty minute intervals for himself, in which time he would have to reach his goal of making it to just that little peak over here, that big boulder over there. It was slow, painful going, but the little goals distracted his mind from the overwhelming bigger picture, and slow or not it kept him moving.

No matter how lofty your end goal is, the only method to reaching it is to keep going. Ignore the bigger picture if you need to, disregard how scary or impossible it might seem. Keep your nose to the ground and put in work, one little bit – no matter how little that bit is – at a time. You just might be surprised at how far all those little bits together might take you. If it worked for Joe Simpson, it’s definitely worth a try.     

      “Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour.” 

Author’s Note: This week’s post is inspired by the true story of an extraordinary man, surviving under extraordinary circumstances. To learn more about Joe Simpson, read his memoir Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, or for those who prefer a visual watch the amazing documentary by the same name. 

Programming note: I will be away next week – moving into a new place! – so there will be a new post two weeks from now on Wednesday. If you like these articles, please, SHARE on Facebook, Instagram, wherever with your friends and family, it helps to get the word out and keeps me doing what I do. Thank you all, I appreciate YOU dear reader! 🙂 ❤  


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