How Not to Get Swept Away

Taking on something big can feel incredibly overwhelming. Whether it's renovating your house, setting fitness goals, or taking on ambitious sales and marketing goals, it can be easy to let the magnitude of a project become all-consuming. Defining a process for tackling big things has been a critical component to driving my professional and personal life forward in a meaningful and productive way. This is the story about how I figured out my approach — on a dark, deserted, flooded road in Kathmandu, Nepal.

I moved to Kathmandu right after finishing my postgraduate degree. I was 24, ambitious, adventurous, and just a little (okay, maybe a lot) naive. The bustling streets in their orderly chaos overflowing with a mix of motorized vehicles, motorbikes, pedestrians, rickshaws and livestock, the backdrop of the majestic Himalayan Mountains, the smell of street cooking, and the incredibly friendly and “ke garne” nature of the Nepali people are memories I will always hold dear. In addition to being majestically beautiful, Nepal can be a challenging, though very rewarding, place to live. Over the course of the two years I lived in Kathmandu I came to learn a lot about myself, but one of the most instrumental lessons came during monsoon season, in the midst of a torrential rainstorm.

View of the Himalayan mountains from my rooftop in Kathmandu

It was raining particularly heavily that evening, though nothing out of the ordinary for monsoon season. Despite it being quite early in the evening, the sun had been long gone and the dark streets were lit only by infrequently spaced, and rather dim, streetlights. I was headed to a friend’s house across town and was braving the storm to catch a cab. The heavy rain had emptied the usually bustling chowk in my neighborhood of Baluwatar, so I had to wander for about 20 minutes until I finally found a willing taxi driver.

Rain clouds coming in during monsoon season

I hopped in the cab and we headed to my friend’s house in Jawalakhel chatting about the crazy weather and making small talk. I was helping navigate our way as best I could through the pounding rain and minimal light when suddenly I felt my feet getting wet. I looked down to see water seeping in through the bottom of the cab doors and yelled for the driver to stop. He paused, unsure of what was happening, and then quickly reversed out of the rapidly growing impromptu river that was engulfing the road we were driving on. He became angry with me, accused me of ruining his taxi, and kicked me out of the cab (okay, so maybe not everyone was so friendly).

There I stood, on a deserted street, in the dark, in the middle of a torrential rainstorm with a flooded street in between me and the only way I knew to get to my friends house. Assessing the situation, I decided it was too dark to try and find an alternate way and there wasn’t another cab, or even a person for that matter, in sight. My only option, it seemed, was to go forward; so forward I went. As I walked the water first covered my feet and then quickly rose to my ankles; then mid-calf, then to just below my knees. It was a bit tricky to navigate in my flip flops, but I didn’t think much of it (this wasn’t my first time walking through a flooded street during monsoon).

More rain clouds during monsoon season

But then suddenly the water surged, rising up to my mid-thigh. I froze and balanced myself to hold my ground. It was pitch black, bucketing sheets of rain, and I was in murky fast moving water that was splashing up around the tops of my legs. I could feel debri getting swept around my legs, some of which was catching around my ankles and calves. In all likelihood these were just plastic bags and other litter, but in the moment all I could think about was drowning rodents. With no way to see how far this impromptu river went or how deep it would get, fear started to creep in. I could feel it heightening in my chest, rising up my throat and starting to take over. Worst case scenarios started running through my head, the death knell of internal mantras, “I can’t do this”, started playing in my mind on repeat…I had to regain control, I needed a plan.

I turned my internal volume down, took a deep breath, and scanned the area. Through the sheets of rain, I made out a street light in the not too far distance. “Okay,” I thought, “here is the proverbial light at the end of this tunnel.” Slowly, I waded through the rushing water, laser-focused on my destination. Once I made it to the lamp post, I gave myself a mental pat on the back, and took a few breaths. I located the next street light, and repeated the process, adjusting my steps along the way to improve my movements and reduce the chances my flip flops would be swept off my feet. At each light I would pause, regroup, identify my next destination, and go forward. At last, the depth of the water started to subside, I made it out of the street river, and continued in the dark and pouring rain, on to my friends house.

I was completely shaken and furious with myself (what was I thinking walking into that flooded street?! I could have been seriously hurt or washed away in a flash flood!), but I also felt a sort of zen-like calm. Despite the intensity of the situation, I had overcome what seemed like an impossible situation with a methodical strategy to meet the challenge. The task in front of me had been daunting without an end in sight; thinking about it in its entirety made it feel insurmountable. But by breaking it down into smaller goals, the process felt manageable and I was able to focus on what needed to happen in the moment. It was then that I had my “ah ha!” moment — this process could be applied to everything.

Showered and in borrowed, dry clothes, having finally reached my friend’s house

Big goals can be intimidating and it can be easy to let the magnitude feel overwhelming. By breaking down a big goal into smaller milestones, it becomes easier to divine a path forward and focus on achieving manageable, but meaningful, progress. I’ve adapted this strategy to scenarios both big and small in my personal and professional life. From personal adventures, like repelling down a 150ft tall waterfall, to professional adventures, like helping clients build growth marketing strategies to achieve sales and marketing goals.

Across-the-gorge view of the 150ft waterfall, near the Tibetan border

Defining key milestones and pausing to reflect on and celebrate those achievements provides the focus needed to work towards the bigger goal and, most importantly, provides the space and flexibility to adapt as needed along the way. No matter the size, scope, or application, setting small, achievable goals will keep your attention and efforts focused, and turn something daunting into an opportunity for success.

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