How Do You Eat An Elephant?

I have a large pile of dirt to move.  That’s not a Euphemism, I literally have to move lots of dirt from a pile into a hole.  Why me?  Why now?  Here’s the story.


Several years ago, the pool at my mom’s house, the one I loved as a kid, grew to resent as a teen who had to maintain it, and have really missed over the last few weeks of unseasonable Texas heat, fell into disrepair.  After some consideration we (my mom, brothers, and I) made the decision to fill it in.  It was bittersweet but made the most sense.  We set out imagining how we’d get it done.  


There was brief talk of hiring someone, but if you know us, you know that’s not really how we do things.  We all grew up kind of taking care of things on our own.  My brothers and I decided we could fill the hole in on our own but needed to figure out the best way to get the dirt.  After a few phone calls and looking around, my youngest brother found a place that would fill up his pickup bed with dirt.  I remember when we emptied that first load and realized just how much bigger that pool hole was than the bed of his pickup.  That plan wasn’t going to work because the site was too far away and didn’t bring enough dirt all at once.


My sister-in-law found a place online where you could order a dump truck full of dirt for drop off.  This was a much better route, but the size of the trucks and layout of the yard made it impossible for the truck to get to the pool.  The first one dumped the dirt on the driveway, my brother borrowed a bobcat, and spent the day filling in the pool.  It was awesome, except that it still wasn’t all the dirt we needed.  We knew we’d need to repeat the process but couldn’t get more dirt right away.  The bobcat had to be returned, everyone went back to work, life moved on, but the job still wasn’t complete.  


Over time, it kind of slipped our minds that we had an incomplete job until the city reminded us.  It was time to crank it up again and get that hole filled, only this time, there were more schedule challenges.  There were new babies, new jobs, new responsibilities, so getting all three of us there with the dirt and the machinery proved difficult.  In fact, we decided first just to get the dirt there and figure it out as we went.  Once the dump truck showed up, it felt good to know we could get back to work. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to the same equipment, but we talked about renting something.  We also knew this wasn’t exactly enough dirt to complete the job. We would need to get more before we rented equipment so as to only do it once.  


There were times we thought we’d just move it by hand to get it off the driveway, but getting the three of us there on a day when it wasn’t raining, no one had to work, and we didn’t have some other responsibility was almost impossible.  The dirt sat in place for a long time, while we sorted out what the perfect solution would be.  It takes a long time to come up with the perfect solution when there are so many hurdles and obstacles.


Years ago, I worked as the youth director at a church.  Sometimes I would get overwhelmed by the number of issues I had to deal with because it felt like I had to deal with them all at once.  That feeling can cause a person to freeze and not handle any issue at all.  My friend and co-worker, Trudy, would let me sit in her office and vent.  When I did, she’d ask, “How do you eat an elephant?”  It was like she wasn’t even listening to what I was saying.  She, like everyone else, didn’t really care, or so I thought.  She was really giving me the best advice because her snarky but supportive countrified answer was “One bite at a time.”  What she meant was the size of the problem can seem overwhelming, but the work of solving it isn’t, it’ll just take some time.  I still use this advice almost daily.


I have decided not to wait on the perfect way to move this dirt.  I can’t commit an entire day or week to moving this dirt, but I can commit one hour a day.  After a week and a half of committing one hour a day, I reached a breakthrough point where I could really see that I was making headway.  Now the pile is halfway gone.  I almost get excited now when I drive to the dirt because I know I’m going to do a little of something, that is part of a big something.  Soon, that dirt will be gone.  When it is, I will celebrate, but not for too long.  There will be another big job, but it will not be scary or overpowering because I will eat it one bite at a time.


There’s an expression that everyone overestimates what they can do in a day but underestimates what they can do in a month.  People also ask what you’ll tell yourself in five years that you wish you had done today.  I have a friend who said, “You can wish in one hand and poop in the other and see which one fills up first.” We can spend as much time as we want looking for the perfect solution, the right time, the best situation, or we can pick up our shovel and move a day’s worth of dirt.  I don’t know what problems you’re dealing with, but I’ll close this by saying you don’t have to do it alone.  If you want help, let me know.  Whatever it is, it’s easier when your back is not the only one carrying the load.


Don’t wait; let’s get moving.  I love you.




“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

-Mother Theresa


The pile originally started where the shovel is leaning against the fence.

Leave a comment