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How Many 5-Gallon Buckets Can You Carry?

My first winter in Alaska, I worked as a sled dog handler for an Iditarod musher. It was a dream come true. Literally. 

I was finally living out a vision I had seen in my head for years. The weather was crisp, the dogs were crazy, and I was on cloud nine. 


I didn't have the physical strength needed to be a proficient dog handler. I had the knowledge, motivation, will, and determination. Everything but the actual experience of doing it. 

It was shocking how heavy everything was. How long the days were. How much power the dogs had. 

In the beginning, even feeding my teams was a challenge. 

We fed the teams a stew-like meal twice a day and after training runs. We prepared dog dinner in 5-gallon buckets in the "dog barn," grabbed two buckets and walked it out to the dog lot.

Easy enough. Not rocket science. 

But my knowledge, will, determination and drive, didn't help me carry the buckets. 

The buckets were about 45 pounds apiece. As handlers, we were expected to carry two buckets, so about 90 pounds. I weighed about 120 pounds, so it was roughly 75% of my body weight. Also, I'm only 5'3" tall, so I can't just let the buckets hang from my arms, I have to lift them up so the buckets don't drag in the deep snow.

The first week I couldn't even lift both buckets off the ground at the same time.

Dog breakfast and dog dinner were mentally and physically the hardest parts of my day. I had figured out hacks to everything else I was required to do but haul those damn buckets (no we couldn't use a sled or wagon). 

Hauling buckets was part of my growth as a handler that simply required diligence and patience. I had to wait for my muscles to grow.

Push too hard, and I'd injure myself and take two steps backward. Not push enough, and I wouldn't get any stronger. I had to figure out a way to get the buckets to the dog yard and not hurt myself. (And hopefully, regain some of my pride.)

My solution was to haul one bucket at a time. Switching the bucket from arm to arm as I made my way to the screaming, happy, hungry Huskies. This approach allowed each arm a bit of recovery time and while still getting the job done. 

I was much slower than my co-workers at first, but it worked. And it didn't take long before I could carry both buckets, and just put them down from time to time. And then soon after, I could walk with the other guys to the yard, chatting, laughing and kidding around. 

And this is the dirty secret about achieving your dreams. 

In the beginning, right after you step in, you won't have all the skills and strength required for the job. 

Likely, you'll be at the edge of what you can handle mentally and physically. You'll feel tired and cranky. Your bad habits will emerge. You'll question your choices.  And at times, you won't think you have what it takes to keep going.

But you do. 

You have just enough of what it takes to take the next step. And that's all you need.

You'll find a way to bridge the gap between what you just stepped into and where you just were. 

I recommend a slow and steady approach. Don't yourself push balls to the wall. Build the skill and muscle you need AND give yourself time to rest. 

Be easy on yourself mentally. Nothing is wrong; you are just building strength - just as you would if you were in the gym. 

Push too hard, and your instinctive mind will run back to where you were for safety. Don't push hard enough and you won't gain the strength that's required to move forward. 

When things feel out of balance, or you feel behind, it's a good sign. You've stepped out of your comfort zone and into something new. 

Relax and find a way to take small steps forward, and little by little, you'll be able to handle everything required for this new, awesome phase of life that you've been dreaming about. 

You have just enough of what it takes to take the next step. And that's all you need.

What muscle are you building right now?

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