Moving Mountains, One Shovelful at a Time

It always seems impossible until it’s done. ~Nelson Mandela

Note: Spring break has sprung! Some of you may recall this post, which was originally published on December 12, 2017; its message of perseverance and dedication felt especially relevant this week. I hope it reminds you just how much your daily contributions matter. I see the work you’re doing, friend. And I’m grateful for it, and for you. xo, michele


One day, an ordinary man named Dashrath Manjhi stood in front of a 300 foot mountain- a barrier of rock that separated him and his people from healthcare, education, and jobs.

He picked up a simple chisel, and a hammer, and a shovel.

And he went to work.

That mountain made life hard for his people – the Musahar, landless laborers and members of the lowest caste in their hierarchical society. Trips over the mountain took hours over treacherous terrain, and laborers like himself had to take that trip daily for work on the other side.

One day, while crossing the mountain to bring him lunch, his wife fell and injured her leg. As he saw her limp toward him, he decided he had had enough. Rather than waiting for anyone else to solve his problems, he’d do it himself.

As he said shortly before his death in 2007: “This hill had given us trouble and grief for centuries. The people had asked the government many times to make a proper road through the hill, but nobody paid any attention. So I just decided I would do it all by myself.

And so, day after day, he would finish his job as a farm laborer and head to the mountain, to chip away at this barrier that separated him and his people from a better life.

Friends made fun of him.

People called him crazy.

But day after day, week after week, year after year he continued, barely sleeping, finally leaving his laborer job to conquer the mountain full-time.

When his wife succumbed to illness because she couldn’t make the 75 kilometer trip around the mountain to get to the nearest doctor (who was just on the other side), Dashrath redoubled his efforts, becoming “a man possessed.”

But while his motivation began with his wife, he soon saw the benefit that his work would have on his fellow villagers: “My love for my wife was the initial spark that ignited in me the desire to carve out a road. But what kept me working without fear or worry all those years was the desire to see thousands of villagers crossing the hill with ease whenever they wanted.”

Twenty-two years later, he had broken the mountain.

One man with little education and only rudimentary tools carved a road 360 feet long and 30 feet wide, using his bare hands and an extraordinary heart.

That road meant freedom: people from 60 villages had access to markets, healthcare, and jobs that now were just five kilometers away. Children who used to walk eight kilometers to school could now walk three. People’s lives were saved; other lives were made simpler, better, safer.

All because of one man, and his unwavering belief that his own actions could help make life better for everyone.

Friends, there is a mountain in front of us.

It is imposing, and it is treacherous. But it is not impenetrable. And what lies on the other side is worth the effort.

It may feel like we are making no progress, or that you are toiling away on your own. But make no mistake – there are resisters on your left and your right, setting cracks in the rock, shoveling stone, and pushing boulders out of the way.

We can already see the crack in the mountain.

We’re not far from the other side.

So.

Pick up your chisel.

Go grab your shovel.

And let’s get to work.


Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.

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