Just keep walking
by Maya North
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)
I talk to strangers and I give them advice. Nobody’s safe. I’ll talk to anybody. I talk to the street kid. I talk to the guy in the hand-tailored Italian suit. I talk to the forgotten elders in the grocery store (and don’t they look startled—nobody notices them anymore). I talk to kids (after catching their parents’ eye to make sure it’s okay). Yes, it is presumptuous, but I’ve spent most of my 57 years trying to figure out how I got from where I began to where I am now. I figure what I’ve learned might save a few people some steps, so it’s worth sharing. The worst that can happen is they roll their eyes and walk away or they ignore the advice. Most of the time, they stay to listen and share their own stories. And so, we both grow.
I tell them that, for the most part, they can do anything they want to do in life. They just have to keep on walking. Just put one foot in front of the other until they get there.
Look at me, I tell them. My doctor agreed I probably have some form of ADD. A psychologist agreed that my symptoms are classic PTSD. My family of origin disliked me. Most of the kids I knew disdained me. I was a street kid. I spent seven months in a juvenile institution. I got married at 17. My husband announced he’d be pursuing other women after just two months of marriage. I wasn’t particularly pretty. I certain was not thin. Just two things distinguished me from the other kids who were where I was as a teenager. I believed I had as much right to get where I wanted to go as anybody else — and I kept on walking.
I just kept walking when I found myself pregnant as I was leaving my husband and starting college. I kept walking, baby on my hip, past the moment where I had to choose my asthmatic 4 year old over a career in medicine. I walked my way to a bachelor’s degree.
And when I couldn’t get a good job with that degree, I just kept walking anyway. I kept walking when I had to take Thursdays off to go to the food bank while working full time. When I had to go hungry so my daughter could eat, when we had to spend her birthday money on groceries, when I had to do all our laundry by hand (by the way, wringing out seven loads of laundry will rip the skin away from the palms of your hands; those blisters make it hard to go to work the next day). When I made stupid decisions, largely based on my own self-loathing, and we had to crawl out of the trench I’d dug us into, nonetheless, I kept on walking, kiddo in tow.
After I went back to school to get a programming degree (and was once more destitute during that time), it took years to get my first computer programming job and I lost it after only six months! I was unemployed for 10 months and had to start over as a clerical, but I just kept on walking until I got my current IT position where I have been for the last 15 years.
Persistence is the key to everything — persistence and an odd little secret about it. You actually do not have to believe you will get there. Nor do you even have to have hope that you will. You simply cannot give up. You have to keep on going, hope or no, belief or no, and one day, you look up, and there you are.
When I decided to start lifting weights, I went to the gym and I was one of the strongest women there within a month or so. The great big guys used to ask me “Hey, how’s your workout?” When I tell people the weights I did, they just shake their heads. Men still admire my biceps.
I decided to learn languages. I speak five other than English, from nearly bilingual to a smattering. I decided that I wanted to embrace Judaism. I’ve been Jewish since 1995. I decided I wanted to take martial arts and boy, was that interesting. The teachers asserted I could do it, but they were the only ones who thought so. However, the doubters (who were, nonetheless, supportive) had not taken into account my having been a weightlifter. After the startled look I got from them when they realized just what they’d taken on in sparring, I delighted in telling them ‘honey, I was 40 when you were born — now what’s your grandmother doing?). I have a red belt. That’s just shy of black. Did I mention I have numb feet from neuropathy, balance issues and vertigo?
I did not do this in a vacuum. I had help. Part of persistence is recognizing good help when it’s offered and taking people up on it. I have had amazing encouragement, more so in my later life than the earlier — and I’ve chosen to believe it, and then act on it. However, if I had not persisted, no amount of help or encouragement would have worked. I would never have gotten anywhere, and I have come farther than I ever dreamed I would — and I don’t think I’m done seeing where these feet can take me!
So trust me on this. Do not give up — not ever. Just keep on walking.