Motivation: The Lesson of the Gravel Pile

My dad has taught me many lessons. Pick up after yourself, stand up straight, leave things better than they were, do things right even if no one else will see, are all examples of these lessons. One of the lessons that I will never forget started with another of my dad’s principles; be careful with your money.

Our driveway needed more gravel one spring. Dad estimated how much he would need, which worked out to be about 2 yards. When he called to get the gravel delivered the company had an exorbitant flat delivery fee for 2 yards. But, if you bought 10 yards they would waved the delivery fee. You could get 10 yards for about the same price as the 2 yards. You can guess what my thrifty dad decided to do.

A couple of days later a gigantic truck backed into the area where Dad wanted the gravel and dumped 10 yards into a gigantic heap. It was monstrous! And oh how much fun it looked to climb on, which my siblings and I promptly did. Dad let us have some fun before he made his announcement. The driveway would only take 2 yards to re-do so the rest of the gravel had to be moved into the lower floor of our barn. We kids stared at the pile and then at Dad and then at the pile. We had helped Dad with projects our whole lives. But 8 yards of gravel? Dad passed out the shovels and said his infamous saying.

“We only will shovel for 10 minutes.”

And we did. For days, for weeks, for months, for years (ok, ok it wasn’t that long.) Every day after school we would have to troop out to the pile and dig in. And you had better put a concerted effort into your shoveling or the ten minutes would start again. (That was very good motivation.)

When we looked at the pile every day it never seemed to get any smaller. It was the never-ending hated task. Now I feel sorry for my dad having to drag all of us whiny kids out there to shovel every day. He probably did not want to shovel either and it would have been a lot easier just to do it by himself. But then we kids would have missed the lesson. No matter how big the pile is or how hard it is to lift each shovel-full if you stick to it relentlessly it will get done.

background of gravel with mountain overlay "the mountain or gravel is conquerable. One shovel at a time."

A couple of years ago I volunteered on a project without fully assessing the situation. It was a cleaning project and since anyone can wield a sponge and bleach how hard could it be? After 3 hours of enthusiastic scrubbing  I realized what a colossal task I had taken on. You couldn’t even tell I’d made progress yet. My enthusiasm died and I wanted to quit and let someone else finish. I had put a valiant effort in and it was a volunteer project anyways so why shouldn’t I?

But then I remembered a skinny kid whose dad had said “Only 10 minutes of shoveling” and I knew I couldn’t quit. Every time I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see any progress I would say “only 10 minutes more.” It took 10 hours to finish the project. It took a lot of muscle and work. But when I could look at the completed task I felt the same exhilaration as that day the last shovel scraped the remaining pieces of gravel.

I had won.

I had conquered.

Are you faced with a seemingly insurmountable project? Are you discouraged by its magnitude and your lack of progress? Don’t quit. Throw yourself a two second pity party and get back at it! Take one more shovel full, do ten more minutes, and conquer your nemesis. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade stick with it. Don’t listen to critics–especially yourself.

The mountain of gravel is conquerable.

One shovel at a time.

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