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Eating an Elephant

…by Prill Boyle
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Or so quips former Arkansas state senator Jim Bob Duggar to a Learning Channel (TLC) crew as he explains how he plans to erect a 7,000-square foot house from the ground up-even though he has no prior construction experience.

At the time Duggar makes the remark, he and his thirty-nine year old wife Michelle and their fifteen-yes, fifteen-biological children are living in a modest, three-bedroom rental. He envisions the family working together to build an all-steel, ten-bathroom home complete with a commercial kitchen and private laundromat. (No coins required!)

The Duggars thought the project would take a year. It took three. They hoped it would be finished by the time child number sixteen arrived. It wasn\’t. But you know what? They finally attained their goal. And in sharing the process with TLC viewers, they\’ve shown the rest of us something about how to achieve our own impossible dreams.

Of course it\’s no surprise that the more media attention the Duggars receive, the more vocal their detractors become. Some complain that the Duggars don\’t practice birth control, haven\’t considered the environmental impact of their ever-growing family (they reportedly wash over 200 loads of laundry a month), and homeschool their children. Others scoff at their fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

But as far as I can tell, the Duggars are doing little harm and much good. Except for the massive loads of laundry, the family produces less waste than households a fraction of its size. Jim Bob and Michelle appear to be loving, joyful parents who take their children\’s education seriously, and the children seem happy and well-adjusted. To top it off, the Duggars live debt-free.

In other words, whether or not you agree with their choices, you\’ve got to admire these folks. And while the rest of us are making (and perhaps already breaking) our New Year\’s resolutions, we\’d do well to learn a few lessons from this remarkable family:

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING. I know I\’ve said this before, but almost nothing is as important when it comes to taking risks. Michelle\’s eyes sparkle as she talks about what a wonderful learning bonanza building the house will be for her children. She looks truly excited. Off-camera, I\’m sure she had moments where she doubted her sanity. Who wouldn\’t? But overall, she maintains her sense of adventure from start to finish.

WHEN YOU NEED HELP, ASK FOR IT. The Duggars had lots of built-in help-seventeen pairs of hands to be exact. But whenever Mr. Duggar came across a problem he couldn\’t solve, he solicits professional advice. Time and again, he invites experts to the building site to teach him and his children new skills. And at the tail end of the project, on the verge of being evicted because his landlord is selling the rental, Duggar doesn\’t hesitate to hire a construction crew to help with the drywall and the finishing touches. In other words, he keeps his ego in check.

AND FINALLY, DREAM BIG BUT START SMALL. Or at least break down your dream into manageable steps. The Duggars were as patient with their children-and themselves- as they were persistent in working towards their goal. As Jim Bob says, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!

Prill Boyle is the author of Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women (Emmis Books, 2004). To learn more, go to www.prillboyle.com or visit Prill\’s blog at http://defyinggravitynow.blogspot.com.

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