The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With One Step. – Lao Tzu

Life is a difficult journey for most people. There are only a few fortunate people who are born with a lot of things already eased out for them while the rest of them have to work their way up. However, if we give life a good hard try to live it the way we want it to be, we surely can win it. As a matter of fact, most people fail at the beginning stage while most that go past that end up succeeding. For this reason, Lao Tzu said “The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With One Step”.

Lao Tzu

Who was Lao Tzu?

Lao Tzu commonly known as Laozi was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He founded philosophical Taoism. He uniquely preached religion by integrating a deity in Taoism and various other Chinese religions. Lao Tzu has been a controversial figure as some associate him with the central figure in Chinese culture and the Tang dynasty. However, modern people with the surname of Li also claim that they belong to the lineage of Lao Tzu. 

Lao Tzu has worked actively in Chinese philosophy where his works were appreciated and criticized at the same time. He wrote several books during his lifetime which became a way forward for Chinese culture and some religions as well. Lao Tzu’s approach to life was always a progressive one which is why this quote is also associated with him. 

Origin of this Quote

The quote originated from Chinese culture. This quote by Lao Tzu has been taken from his book Tao Te Ching where this quote was written in Chapter 64. This book is a Chinese classic text which was written in 400 BC by Lao Tzu. The text in this book provides various focal points on the concepts of Chinese philosophy and religion. It also takes into account legalism and Confucianism. In modern Chinese culture, this book is considered highly significant and many monks still use it for preaching purposes. According to experts, this book is also one of the most translated texts in world literature. Therefore, the quote “The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With One Step” is also quite important. 

Buddhist temple dedicated to Lao Tzu

Meaning of this Quote

There are several themes identified in this quote as discussed below. 

The Beginning is the Most Important

Most people in the world are doing a job for others rather than owning their own business. The reason? The majority are scared to begin their own business while there are only a handful of people who take the risk of starting a new venture. Most people would say that they want financial freedom just like a businessman but would not be willing to begin their effort in this journey. All of this indicates one thing: that the beginning is the most important factor. 

As the quote suggests, the single step towards your goal is the first step to accomplishment as well. Consider two situations. If you begin your journey to being a businessman, you may or may not be able to accomplish your goal. However, if you don’t even begin this journey, you will definitely never be able to reach your ultimate goal. See the difference? In the first case, there are few chances while in the second case, there is no chance of achieving your goal. 

There is another quote that goes like “You never know if you never try”. Take the case of people who have a crush on others but don’t take the first step to express their love. As a result, many people “lose someone that they never had” in the first place. When you don’t have anything to lose in the first place, why hesitate to take the first step. In the worst-case scenario, the other person will reject you and you will be back to the point where you actually were. In the best case, you win. 

The lesson? You don’t lose anything by taking the first step but surely do lose everything by not taking one.  By the time Lao Tzu wrote this quote, he was suggesting his followers to not stop rather they should begin doing what they restrict themselves from.

Don’t Give Up

Another important theme discussed in this quote is consistency and failure. The quote says “a thousand miles” which indicates a long journey. Even after taking the first step, people need to be careful of the fact that they shouldn’t go down this first step at any point. They need to realize that every further step is actually another new step to the journey of a thousand miles. To get something the way you want, you need to work for it accordingly. 

Taking the same example of entrepreneurs as mentioned above, a person who starts his business does not only take the courage for the first step but also takes the courage for accepting many failures before achieving success. People who leave midway usually give up easily. From this quote, the themes of consistency, adherence to hard work, and getting back up after failure are explained. 

Therefore, next time you feel like giving up, always know that if you reached success someday, this failure wouldn’t be much felt. However, if you give up now, failure will always be there. Read on to the stories of many people such as Mother Teresa who struggled throughout their lives on many occasions. However, eventually, they did overcome the major problems and became successful. The sole reason behind this was their consistent effort and commitment to never give up.  

A quote suggesting the idea of not giving up

Don’t Carry Regrets 

The one-step you fear taking isn’t going to cost you a lot but if you don’t take it timely, it will surely be a burden on your head for a really long time. Many people, when they reach their old age, have regrets about not doing certain things that they could have easily done. Some failed at courage, while others just didn’t think it enough, and so on. There can be many reasons to not begin that one step but the regret of not taking it surely overpowers everything else. 

For this reason, this quote becomes quite useful in explaining that the journey may be long but if you never experience it, you might end up with regret rather than gratitude. Therefore, be wild in life! Take some risks wildly. Even if you fail, you will learn and life will move on. At least, you won’t be having any kind of regrets. 

The Smallest Things Matter

One of the indirect meanings derived from this quote is that small things matter a lot. Many people don’t believe in this as much but in reality, it is always the small things that lead to bigger differences. Take the story of Oliver Wright and his brother, the pioneers of modern-day aviation. The two just had the smallest idea of flying in the air. Today, the world is a “thousand miles’ ‘ ahead of their small step but what actually led to modern-day aviation was the first step toward aerial flight by Oliver Wright and Wilbur Wright. 

Similarly, communication today has gotten so much better in numerous ways. We have internet, social connections, and various forms of connectivity options including video calls. However, coming to this point wasn’t an easy job. It all started in the small lab of Graham Bell, the founder of telephonic services. Despite hundreds of failures, he kept trying until one day, he succeeded. Today, the world remembers him as the father of the telephone. 

There are many other examples such as Steve Jobs who started the concept of the iPhone in his garage and Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook as a simple college project. All these examples prove the point that we often think that little things do not carry as much effort. However, they are usually the most important points for long-term success. 


The quote by Lao Tzu has several meanings and interpretations which have been explained above. In a nutshell, one needs to evaluate that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, which means that every big thing requires the right beginning, a small step, consistency, and focus otherwise the person is going to carry regrets for the rest of his life. You can also read other Chinese Proverbs to learn more about the approach of Chinese philosophers toward life.