Some is Better Than None

Carrots are good for you. They provide a lot of fiber and beta-carotene. I once had a bag of them handy and munched away on them while I was reading a book. I wasn't really paying attention to how many I was eating, and didn't really worry about it because after all, carrots are good for you.

Later I began to get a stomach ache. It progressively got worse. I tried to go to sleep but felt sick to my stomach and the pain and queasiness kept increasing, until about three in the morning I went to the emergency room. I was in dead earnest. Something was seriously wrong, and it was only getting worse.

The doctor asked me some questions and then pressed on my middle in a specific place, and I threw up. Aren't you glad I'm telling you this?

The point is, you can do too much of a good thing. Carrots expand as they absorb water. And I'd eaten so many carrots that they expanded so much they completely clogged the place where my stomach empties into the small intestine. Nothing could pass through it.

Some carrots are better than none, and some carrots are also better than too many.

Consider this quote from the September 1995 issue of Consumer Reports on Health:

At least 10 studies...[assigned] depressed volunteers either to exercise, to receive another treatment, or just to remain inactive [studies have shown depressed people tend to be rather sedentary]. All 10 studies confirmed that exercise significantly reduces mild to moderate depression. And the three studies that compared exercise to psychotherapy found that exercise was at least as effective.

There is lots of evidence that moderate and even mild exercise has significant effects on depression, and yet when people exercise too much or too vigorously, it can actually cause depression or make it worse. Some is better than none — and better than too much.

I use this principle when I lift weights, something I very much enjoy. Several times I've injured myself lifting and every time the injury was caused by doing too much. Working out intensely makes me euphoric and I used to go too far because it felt so good. Too many sets, too much weight, moved too fast, or pulled too far. Since I've been using this principle, I have been injury free. I haven't gained strength as fast as I have in the past, but in the long run I'll get further with fewer injuries.


This principle is not just for food and exercise. Not that those are trivial, but you can also apply it with profit to other areas. Many young people awaken to their potential and want to do something to make the world a better place. As they go along, they realize the world is a very big place and it would be nearly impossible to have an impact on the "whole world."

But we can all have an impact on our world. We can make a difference to the people in our lives. But that doesn't seem good enough. The dream of making a difference in the world can sometimes be replaced by apathy as people give up. It's a form of all-or-nothing thinking. The world is almost never all-or-nothing anything. Some is better than none.

As the political writer, Edmund Burke wrote, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." Doing a little, in almost every circumstance, is better than doing nothing. It's a good rule of thumb because first of all, it is more enjoyable to do something than to do nothing. And secondly, you never know where your little thing will lead.

Paul Rokich just wanted to replant an area in Utah that had been devastated by a copper smelter. The sulfur dioxide poured out of the refinery and made a desolate wasteland out of what was once fourteen thousand acres of beautiful forest. Paul wanted to bring it back.

It's a big goal, but he wasn't trying to save the world. Just fourteen thousand acres in Utah. He grew up nearby and there were no animals, no trees, no bushes, no birds. Nothing but black and barren earth that even smelled bad. As a child, he made it his goal to bring the land back to life.

When he grew up, he contacted the smelter office and asked them if they'd let him onto their property to plant trees. They said no.

He went to college and studied botany. One of his professors was an expert in Utah's ecology, and told Paul his goal was hopeless. Even if he planted trees there, and even if they grew, the wind would only blow the seeds 40 feet per year, and that's all the spreading you'd get because there weren't any squirrels or birds to spread the seeds. And the seeds from the trees would need another 30 years before they started producing seeds of their own. So, in essence, the professor said it would take approximately twenty thousand years to revegitate that six-square-mile piece of earth. It would be a waste of his life to try to do it.

He tried to go on with his life. He got married, had some kids, got a job operating heavy equipment. But his dream would not die.

Then one night, based on the logic that some is better than none, he sneaked onto the smelter's property with a backpack full of seedlings and started planting. For seven hours, he planted seedlings.

A week later, he did it again. Every week he made a secret pilgrimage into the wasteland and planted trees, shrubs and grass. But most of it died.

Even so, some of it lived, and that's better than none.

For fifteen years Paul Rokich did this. Freezing winds, blistering heat, floods, landslides and fires destroyed his work again and again. But he kept planting. Some is better than none.

One night he discovered a highway crew had come and taken tons of dirt for a road grade, and all the trees he had painstakingly planted in that area were gone.

But he just kept planting.

Week after week, year after year, he kept at it, against the opinions of the authorities, against the trespassing laws, against the devastation of road crews, against the wind and rain and heat — even against plain common sense. He just kept planting.

And something began to happen.

Things started to take root. Then gophers appeared. Then rabbits. Then porcupines. The old copper smelter gave him permission to be on their land. They eventually hired Paul to do what he was already doing, and provided him with machinery and crews to work with. Progress accelerated.

Today the place is fourteen thousand acres of trees and grass and bushes, rich with elk and eagles, and Paul Rokich has received almost every environmental award Utah has.

He said, "I thought that if I got this started, when I was dead and gone people would come and see it. I never thought I'd live to see it myself!"

You never know how things will turn out. Sometimes just doing something, however small that something seems, can lead to something great.

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.

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