This is a Chinese popular saying, which can be found originally in Chinese as: 千里之行，始於足下 .(Chapter 64 of the Dao De Jing ascribed to Laozi,)
The translations vary, some use “a Journey” instead of “the journey”. I will use “the Journey” as it makes more sense. Logically, how many times would a person go on a thousand miles journey? wouldn’t such a journey be a “definite” event in a lifetime? thus the use of “the journey” form.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
I think this quote is a gentle form of the type of “just do it” quotes, it does not prompt to take action, at least not directly.
My opinion about all these take action quotes is the same, THEY WORK.
The best way to succeed in business, is to be in business.
The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.
quote by Mark Twain : The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
But also it is a way of defending the idea of starting small.
Many explain this quote, as difficult tasks can be done by starting small and taking small steps. I agree on general meaning but disagree on specifics, there are small details in this quote, that in my opinion gives another nuanced meaning.
For this specific quote, we need to put it in the time it originated from, ancient China.
A journey of a thousand miles: is a huge distance to cover.
Begins with a single step: means that the person is not on horseback.
This leads me to believe, that the true meaning behind this quote is not : Hard tasks can be achieved by taking a first step towards it.
But rather: Even impossible tasks can be achieved by starting very small.
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