I love metaphors. All of the people who know me well will tell you that I have one for nearly every occasion. And if I don’t have one ready to go, I’ll make one up while you wait. Metaphors make things more interesting  and help tell a good story, which I absolutely love to do. So, I’m going to share two of my best encouraging metaphors with you: The Dark Road and The Lily Pond.

The Dark Road

Have you ever been driving alone at night along a dark road? Maybe through the woods or the mountains? You were a little bit nervous, but all of your senses were fully engaged? And you were concentrating so closely on getting where you needed to go?

I like to describe making progress toward a big goal as driving along just such a dark road. You can’t see the full path ahead of you, and you probably don’t know exactly which twists and turns you will have to navigate. But, you know that there IS a road out there, even though you can’t see all of it. You have faith that if you watch the white line and keep your foot on the accelerator, you’ll get where you’re going. Working toward a goal is the same thing. Of course you can’t see how it all will work out when you get started, but if you don’t keep moving, you’ll never get there.

This visualization has worked for me for many years and we have accomplished a lot together, my dark road and I. Many times thinking about a challenge through this lens has helped me unstick myself and get moving, even when I didn’t have 100% of a plan worked out. On to the next encouraging metaphor!

The Lily Pond

Picture it, you’re a jolly green frog standing at the edge of a beautiful, but enormous, lily pond. Across the other side, you see something you want or something that you need. Or maybe you just see the continuation of your current path. And so you decide that you need to get to the other side of this pond to continue your journey. What do you do about this obstacle?

I’m guessing (and I know all frogs are different, so maybe I’m wrong), but I’m guessing that you wouldn’t pull out your protractor, calculator, and drafting tools and spend a month developing a 27-step “fool-proof” path across these lily pads. I know I certainly wouldn’t. Who knows what opportunities I would miss sitting on the banks of this pond making no forward progress!

Instead, I would figure out the best first jump. And then I would make it. The step that got me moving but left me with the widest range of options for my next jump. The fancy project management term for this is progressive elaboration. The thing is, once you get going, you begin to see things more clearly as you collect useful information. And once your have more information, you can see your destination more clearly. You are able to see paths, options, and lily pads that you didn’t even know were there when you were standing on the banks trying to decide what to do. In some cases, you might even realize that the destination you thought you wanted to reach doesn’t look as good as you thought it did from far away. Every step you take not only gets you closer to where you want to go, it makes you smarter and more prepared to succeed. Picture yourself as the brave frog jumping across the lily pads, always getting closer to where it needs to go.

The Lesson

Whichever encouraging metaphor works for you, the lesson is the same. You aren’t always going to be able to lay out the exact path to get where you want to go. There will always be uncertainty and risk that complicates the journey. But the path IS there, even if you can’t see all of it from where you’re standing. You just need faith in yourself to start moving forward.