Discovering the truth in the saying: “Rome was not built in a day”

I have recently found myself repeating this widely-known proverb. It was mostly in those moments when the reality of the “to do” list would hit or I would think of a project idea that is so much bigger than me. Reciting this quote in those moments reminded me that the tasks at hand would get done eventually so “relax! Rome was not built in a day”. However, it was not until I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts and heard Olympic-record athlete, Sydney McLaughlin, quote it that I fully realised the truth in the proverb.

Photo of the Colosseum located in Rome by Griffin Wooldridge

Rome ne fu pas faite toute en un jour

Li Proverbe au Vilain (Adolf Tobler, 1895)

This quote, which is believed to originate from a collection of French poems, Li Proverbe au Vilain, is effective in encapsulating the profound truth that great things require a process. Beautiful things are not created overnight. However, there is an overwhelming desire nowadays to get things done or see results ASAP. This often leads to frustration as we look at our day 5 progress expecting day 50 results. Whilst I think the unrealistic time scales is perpetuated by the narratives portrayed on social media, I also think it is an inherently human phenomenon.

Although many of us want to achieve something great, we often do not want to experience the pain that comes with unlocking the characteristics needed to achieve greatness. But as a conversation with a friend reminded me: there is beauty in the uncomfortable process of becoming. It is in the very fact that you are becoming. Therefore, I am finding that rather than trying to avoid discomfort altogether, it is a useful practice to break the uncomfortable process into manageable chunks.

“Starting off small”

In the podcast I was listening to, Syndey McLaughlin reassures new runners that it’s about “starting off small…slowly inching that end-goal line a little bit further each time to build up your capacity”. So, starting off with a walk, then speed-walking and then introducing a jog. I have a strong appreciation for running metaphors as I think it perfectly encapsulates the experience of life – particularly how if we want to become effective stewards of our various gifts and talents, we need endurance, discipline and consistency. All three of the aforementioned, particularly discipline is an absolutely necessary part of success.

Proverbs 1:1-3 (NLT)

1. These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives...

What does it look like to live in the truth that Rome was not built in a day?

For me, it looks like putting my best efforts into each day. Doing what I can with the resources, energy and relationships I currently have. It looks like starting off small. Being kind to myself when I don’t accomplish as much as I hoped to – knowing that by the grace of God I can go again tomorrow. It looks like doing the tasks I don’t necessarily feel like doing or lack the motivation to do. It looks like calling on friends to hold me accountable. It looks like recognising that although Rome was not built in a day, it was eventually built and generations have been enjoying the creation of the few who decided to lay a brick or two each day.  

The fact that Rome was not built in a day is more of a reason to start today.

I continue to be amazed and comforted that the Creator would complete in a process what He could have done in a single moment. Perhaps this was done to exemplify something to the creation (Genesis 1). 

Further reading

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