What An Old Man In Nepal Taught Me About Focus

Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend four weeks in Nepal, three of those weeks exploring the foothills of Mount Everest. Some memories from that time recently came into my mind, and I thought I would share a few.

The power of steady focus.

One of my vivid memories from Nepal is of an old man I ran into on the trail. Now, you have to understand this was in the middle of nowhere.   These trails, which connect small villages and are traveled exclusively by foot (or hoof), are for the most part narrow, rocky and poorly maintained.

As I was hiking from one village to another, I came across an old man with a beard and a walking stick. He was ambling along slowly, taking short strides, his stick swinging in time to his footsteps.  He was hobbling, really.  As I passed him, I wondered, “Who is he?  What is he doing here? Is he a wandering ascetic?  A local, or a traveler?  This is a rough place for such a frail old man.”  I felt a little sorry for him, making up stories in my mind about why he was there in the middle of nowhere.

Sometime later, I was taking a break beside the trail. As I sat back relaxing and sipping water, I was surprised to see the same old man catching up, and passing me. He had not sped up his pace, but rather, whereas I had stopped, he had just kept going.  I think his slower, steady pace allowed him to do this.  It’s also possible that he was actually in better shape than I was, though I was decades his junior.

When I took to the trail again, as expected I passed him.   But to my surprise, some time later when I took my next break, he passed me yet again, each short steady step aided by the swing of his walking stick.

I think there is a lesson here for leaders.  The lesson is not that you shouldn’t take breaks, or that speed isn’t important (it’s incredibly important, in fact, to many of my clients).  But  sometimes the quality of your focus and steadiness of your pace are more important than bursts of speed for achieving an important goal.  I thought that I was stronger and faster than the old man, but the truth is I wasn’t.  Perhaps he knew more about the power of persistent, steady focus.