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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: SMALL WINS

April 17th, 2022

 

Lucilius was tinkering with a giant robotic contraption in his garage. It was a massive complication which - to his perpetual chagrin - wasn’t working. The robot was supposed to become a general laborer to help Lucilius with his other projects but nothing was coming together the way it was supposed to. He was sitting there, trying to run through all the thousands of variables in his mind which a kid walked into the garage and said:

 

“Hi.”

 

Lucilius started, startled and turned to see the kid.

 

“Hello there.”

 

“Can you teach me to shoot bow and arrow?”

 

Lucilius raised an eyebrow, now confronted with the refreshing straightforwardness that children can often display.

 

“Uh, are you from around here?” Lucilius asked, spotting the kid’s bicycle laying on the driveway.

 

“I live a couple blocks away.”

 

“And do your parents know where you are?”

 

“No.”

 

Lucilius considered the situation for a moment. 

 

“Do they know you ride your bike around and talk to strangers?”

 

“Yea.”

 

“Huh,” Lucilius sounded, “Well, that’s rather … old fashioned of them, I guess. Certainly isn’t progressive,” Lucilius remarked, more for himself.

 

“So what makes you think I can teach you how to shoot a bow?”

The kid pointed to a corner of the garage, and Lucilius looked, seeing an old compound bow peeking out from a high shelf.

 

“Well there you go…” Lucilius laughed.

 

“I saw it while riding by.”

 

Lucilius looked back at his robotic mess. It would be nice to take a break, he realized. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong anyway.

 

“Yea sure,” Lucilius said. 

 

He got down the bow, and a quiver and handed the two to the boy. Then he took some cardboard boxes from the recycling, cut them to create long rectangles, stacked them, and then rolled them all into a tight cylinder which he bound round with duck tape. He grabbed some rope, a fat marker and with the cylinder in hand he motioned for the kid to walk with him. There was a tree on the side of the house that would do nicely, Lucilius figured, thinking about stray arrows flying further into the back yard. He bound the cylinder of cardboard to the tree with rope, parallel to the ground, making one of its ends face the boy. Then he uncapped the marker and scribbled in a bull’s eye.

 

“How far back should I stand?” The boy asked when all seemed ready.

 

“That’s a good question,” Lucilius said. “How far back do you think?”

 

The kid shrugged. “Maybe here?”

 

“Do you think you can hit the bull’s eye from there?”

 

“I dunno.”

 

“Let’s go with a different strategy then. Come over here.”

 

Lucilius took an arrow from the quiver and helped the boy set it up with the bow directly in front of the target.

 

“But this is silly.” The boy stated.

 

Lucilius looked back and forth between the kid and the target right in front of him.

 

“Why’s it silly?”

 

“Because the target is right there!”

 

“But you’ll get a bull’s eye on your first shot, isn’t that cool?”

 

“Yea but it’s not like a real shot.”

 

“Well, think of it this way,” Lucilius said. “You could spend all day shooting at this thing from back over there, and eventually at some point, you’ll hit the target. And eventually after that, you’ll probably hit the bull’s eyes. But it’ll take a long time, and it won’t feel good every time you miss. But if we start right here, you’ll have a small win in the bag right at the start.”

 

“It’s still not a real shot.”

 

“Ah, but that’s because I’m not thinking about your first shot, I’m think about how to best get you from here, to over there,” Lucilius said, pointing back where the boy had stood previously.

 

“Go ahead, just for me, take a shot from right here.”

 

The kid frowned but leveled the bow, concentrated for a moment, and the let the arrow fly, and indeed, it sliced into the wobbly dot Lucilius had scrawled onto the cardboard.

 

“Nice,” Lucilius said. “Ok, now take a step back.”

 

The boy did as Lucilius pulled the arrow from the target. “Now try again from there.”

 

Lucilius repeated this with the boy until he was half a dozen steps away from the target and the arrow’s landing was starting to veer away from the bull’s eye. But with each shot that landed, the boy was getting more and more excited about the process, eager to take the next step back.

 

On the eighth step back, the arrow hit the edge of the target.

 

“Ok,” Lucilius said. “Now we have an answer to that question.”

 

“Which question?” The kid asked.

 

“How far back should you stand? We found the answer. This is where you should start to practice. When you can hit the bull’s eye from here, you’ll be ready to take another step back.”

 

The boy pondered the thought, and then he leveled the bow again, concentrated harder and let the arrow fly. This time it landed closer to the center.

 

“Look at that. Your first nine shots hit the target and a few of them were bull’s eyes. Imagine how you’d be feeling if you missed all of those shots by standing too far away? Do you think you’d be having as much fun as you are now?”

 

The boy shook his head.

 

“Small wins, that’s how you start learning anything.”

 

And as Lucilius watched the boy take his next shot, his own words echoed in his mind. Small wins. He thought back to the monstrosity that was in his garage, and a pained smile grew on his face. He realized that with the entire project, he hadn’t followed his own advice, the simple strategy where success begets more success.


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