Okay I’m going to use my broken ankle as an example, again. Because it turns out this has become one of the most significant healing situations I’ve ever had to go through, so the analogies just keep coming. And part of how I process things is to relate them to what they mean and how they affect me and write about them.
So. This week’s note is about breakthroughs, and how they don’t come when you think they will.
Here’s what happened. On Tuesday night after work I put on my shoes (the one pair of shoes I was able to fit over my still-rather-swollen ankle) and walked from my house round the corner to the local shop. It felt like a huge deal – it was the furthest I’d walked in 10 weeks, and I was really pleased.
Until I walked home. Turns out walking TO the shop was grand, but walking back was a little sore, and by the time I got back I was taking ibuprofen and propping the foot up and feeling a little disillusioned.
When I woke up on Wednesday morning, the disillusionment had turned into discouragement. The “this will never end” feeling was kicking in with a vengeance. I’d never walk properly again. This is my life now, hobbling round the corner like an 85 year old and hobbling home again.
But I pressed on with my day, because if I’m learning anything it’s the power of routine, especially in a time of healing. I’m leaning into the Atomic Habits concept with a vengeance – everything I do is small, and everything I do is daily. Stretches. Exercises. Making coffee. Working. Making and eating good food. Reading a chapter of a book. Showing up.
Showing up is one of the ways I deal with a lack of motivation, or discouragement. (That, and fresh air.) Whatever I’ve committed to that day, I do my best to show up with as much energy and intention I can.
So I showed up – to an online session on marketing for business owners. To meetings with team members about our new website development division, and planning our upcoming Lab session on ChatGPT for accountants, and identifying how we best help our clients with their brands. To meeting with a prospect, and to a therapy session.
I talked with my therapist about how weary it all was. How it felt endless. We dug into what “progress” looks like for me normally, and what it looks like now. We agreed I’m in the slow lane, and that’s hard, because I’m used to being in a faster lane – or at least, having the freedom to choose whether I’m in a faster or slower lane, and switch back and forth between them at leisure. But now the choice had been made for me, and the freedom was removed, and Slow Lane it was whether I liked it or not (spoiler: I didn’t).
And after that I had dinner and looked outside, and realised one of my bins had fallen over in the howling wind and rain of a Scottish winter’s evening, so I put on my socks and shoes (because I could!) and walked out to bring it in.
I walked past my car and thought “it’s been a while since I turned it on. Probably best to let it run for a little while at least, to save the battery”. So I got in, and it started, and I sat there, and let the car run. And then I thought hey…you know…my foot is actually feeling loads better today. Maybe from the rest I gave it. What if I just drove down to the end of my estate and back? Surely that would help the battery, and it’s late at night so I’m not exactly going to run into a lot of traffic or anything, so it’s a good time to do it.
So I did. I put my right foot to the pedal and pushed and …we were off. Me, and my car together, driving on the actual street like a normal person.
I got to the end of the street and thought hmm, my foot is feeling okay actually so what if I went round the roundabout and to the next road? And then I kept going, and kept going further, and suddenly I’m driving, I’m a driver, I’m free, the whole world is open up to me again at 10pm on a Wednesday night in my little town. I drove like I was carrying a load of fragile china, slowly and carefully, but I did it. I was driving.
After ten weeks of being restricted to my home (some days it felt like imprisoned), I felt a little freedom. A little wind in my hair. The ability to decide to go somewhere, and then do it.
I had absolutely no expectation of that breakthrough happening that night. If you’d asked me, I would have said maybe by the end of February (because the doctor had suggested it would likely be the end of Feb by the time the ankle was fully and completely healed). And I didn’t even plan to try driving that night – I just went out to bring the bins in.
Thursday morning felt like another miracle. I woke up and realised I’d blocked out the entire day for my book marketing work, which means no zoom meetings and no restrictions on time. And I remembered I could drive now, so I thought about going to a Starbucks and working from there, and then…I did that, too.
I went to put on a shoe, and for the fifth time tried one of my boots and…that morning, my foot went in no problem. Unlike all the other times when I tried, and realised it wasn’t going to happen, and stopped. So there I was wearing a pair of normal shoes and driving to my local Starbucks with my laptop and ordering a coffee and sitting amongst the buzz of humanity with different walls and windows and views and it’s a miracle, a miracle…
…but really it’s the accumulation of all the little things and the one percents. That’s what it is.
Those one percents are the tiny progresses we make, every day, with the hopes of a breakthrough. It’s reading one chapter of a book I want to finish. It’s spending 30 minutes writing content for the next book I want to publish. It’s exercises in a chair.
We don’t publish a book from one day to the next. Or lose weight, or gain muscle, or become a good cook, or learn a language, or whatever. We do the one percent and we press on and give up and despair and try again …
..and suddenly, one day, when you didn’t even know you were ready, you’re driving down the road with freedom in the wind and all of life is spread out before you like a bloody miracle.
That’s why I like the word breakthrough. You could tap, tap, tap on a brick wall for days or weeks or years before a hole suddenly appears: and then the small hole becomes larger and larger so quickly, and then everything beyond the wall is yours for the enjoying.
So whatever you’re pressing on with right now, doing your little daily things, your one percents… seriously, keep going. I won’t say “don’t lose heart”, because you will sometimes. I sure did. The text I had sent my sister that morning read “Arghhh I just feel so sad and fucking sick of this today. I JUST WANT TO WALK AND IT DOESNT HURT”. And we talked about holding the gratitude and the “this sucks” together in both hands. And then I was calling her at 10pm and we were cheering for me and my breakthrough was here.
Which gives me hope for other breakthroughs. The book is continuing to make great progress: we had a little glitch with some quotes I had intended to use which needed to change, so a few more edits to what I thought was the final manuscript, but I got those done at Starbucks this week and now we are talking title and subtitle wording, and designing covers, and planning pre-sales. And one day I’ll wake up and it will be ready and people can read it and have breakthroughs of their own!
(If you’re not on the book waiting list yet by the way, make sure to sign up here. I’ll also be asking a select few accountants to read the entire manuscript and give a review, so if you want to be considered for that, let me know.)
And above all…
…just keep going.