Friday, August 12, 2016

The Bird Builds its Nest, or Life Lessons from a Liberal Arts Education

I worked out for thirteen minutes today. That's right, thirteen. Not because I'm on some kind of a short-duration, high-intensity workout kick. Because that was the time that I had in between finishing work and getting home at the time I had promised to relieve our nanny. And a little bit is better than nothing.

Not that long ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of such a quick workout. If I couldn't commit to at least thirty minutes, I figured, what was the point? Such a small effort would essentially be equal to nothing. But lately I've had a change of heart. I've been reflecting on the somewhat circuitous route that I've taken to get to this point in my career, and how it began with my undergraduate studies in French.

I majored in French language and literature for two reasons. One was that I loved the phonological beauty of the words and the way they string together to form a lilting song. And the other is that I knew that I would dedicate much of the remainder of my academic and working life to the sciences. I wanted the chance, at least for awhile, to explore the liberal arts and to broaden my general knowledge and appreciation of the world.

One of my professors made a point of teaching us idioms and proverbs, and one in particular has risen to the surface of my recent reflections:

Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid.

Literally: Little by little, the bird makes its nest.
Essentially: Every little bit helps.
A long journey begins with a single step.
Rome wasn't built in a day.

You get the idea.

And in the past few months, as I have returned to work after Teeny's birth, started a fellowship in hospice and palliative medicine, continued to dream of developing a side career in writing, and attempted to maintain my marriage and sanity, all while hoping - though taking little action - to start whittling away at this post-baby-#2 body, I have had many what's the point and all of this is impossible moments.

But then one day, for no reason I can identify other than that I needed it, I remembered the bird making its nest. And I knew that little by little, I could make my own, in whatever aspect of my life I chose to apply that metaphor on a given day. That given the choice between a tiny bit of progress and none at all, I could, should, and now would choose the tiny bit every time.

I'm not able to spend an hour at the gym each day. But thirteen minutes is better - far, far better - than nothing. It's a step forward. It's part of a cumulative effect.

And it's just one more reason that I'm grateful for an education that extended far beyond the confines of the lab.


  1. Love this! I took five years of French and loved doing extemporaneous reading competitions. Sadly it's all gone and I've never been to France but there's time and I'm sure I could pick it back up quickly. I haven't exercised since I skinned my knee pretty badly last Saturday. You've encouraged me - does one minute count? Congrats on number 2 it makes life so busy good luck:)

  2. Love this! For the past few weeks I try to ride my bike every morning before work. Once last week was just 11 minutes - but I feel good to be doing something!

  3. 13 minutes, perfect! Sometimes when I get home from work these days and we have dinner and then I just-simply-merely-only walk around the neighborhood, twice. Sometimes with my partner or a child. Sometimes with my podcast. Takes approximately 13 minutes. But feels better than 0 minutes!

    Treize minutes. Bonne chance!

  4. Prior to having my daughter (now 8 months) I was used to doing long workouts, at least 30-40 minutes and sometimes more like 90 minutes. Climbing workouts, which I like to do, take at least 2 hours! Can't barely fit any of this in now, and I was feeling defeated, until my husband pointed out the same thing you are here. A few minutes here and there can make a difference! It's a mindset shift.

  5. I love your post. And amen to an education that reaches beyond science and medicine. I wasn't so into French per se, but I totally see your point. And thirteen minutes is just great. And yes, Gizabeth--one minute counts!

  6. Absolutely love this post, thank you for writing!


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.