What a Lot a Little Is

In 1626, Indians sold what is now called Manhattan Island, New York. White settlers purchased it for a pile of trinkets worth only $24. Manhattan’s value as real estate is now appraised at $23.4 billion. But if the Indians had sold those trinkets for $24 cash and placed the money in a six percent compound-interest account, their investment would now total $27.6 billion. And if today’s Indians had inherited this fortune, they could buy back Manhattan and still have over $4 billion left in their account.

That isn’t to say the Indians got a fair deal, but rather to illustrate that what seems like a little bit might be a lot more than you thought. In other words, great accomplishments don’t necessarily require a huge initial investment, the talent of a genius, an incredible windfall, or a Herculean effort. Great accomplishments are possible for anyone who can must just a little bit and then keep at it with persistence.

Consider another example: just as $24 isn’t much principal, and six percent isn’t an attractive interest rate by today’s standards, a highway built at a seven percent grade isn’t what anyone would call steep. If you stood at one end of a straight, three-mile stretch of this highway, you might swear it was level! But it’s not. And there is such a highway. It begins at sea level in California, and without ever exceeding a seven percent grade, it eventually reaches 12,095-foot Independence Pass in Colorado, at which point it acquires the distinction of being the highest paved road in the United States. It’s so high that trees don’t grow there. Only arctic tundra can survive the brutal climate. Hurricane-force winds sometimes slam across the pass, and snow is possible any day of the year. Even during a middling gale, the chill factor can easily plunge to minus 95 degrees in January. Yet you can drive there during summer, enjoy a 360-degree view of the magnificent Rocky Mountains; and all the way from the warm, sunny coastline, you won’t have climbed more than just a little bit.

So, whether you want to get rick or go far, lose weight or learn a new skill, win an award or write a book, don’t handicap yourself by imagining that your goal is beyond your reach. Start with just a little bit, and be persistent. You’ll probably accomplish a lot more than you thought possible. You can climb your “mountains” by making steady, safe and gradual progress.