Q: Our two teenagers — brother and sister — both seem to get overwhelmed when they’re assigned tasks at home or school. They start projects but don’t finish them. Do you have any advice?
A: There’s a great quote attributed to Mark Twain: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
We like to use a story to illustrate how to achieve what may seem like an impossible goal, by breaking it down into smaller steps. In 1848, a suspension bridge was scheduled to be built near Niagara Falls, connecting the United States with Canada. The engineers faced a daunting challenge. How were they to get the bridge’s first cables across the 240-metre river gorge? The water was too swift and dangerous to pull their lines across by boat.
Their solution was clever. A teenager, Homan Walsh, flew a kite from the Canadian side until it landed on the American side. With this accomplished, the thin kite string was used to pull a slightly thicker rope across the river. Then that rope pulled an even stronger one across. Repeating this method, the engineers were soon able to pull the first steel cable from shore to shore, and the bridge’s construction was underway.
Teenagers (and really, all of us) can easily become overwhelmed when facing a large project. But by remembering to “fly a kite,” they’ll learn how to break assignments into more manageable pieces — and accomplish more than they ever dreamed.
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