My writing coach Marion encourages students to pay attention to what goes on around us, the ‘snippets of life’ as it were. She advises that we go slow and go small, straight away conjuring for me a mental picture of the scene in Alice In Wonderland where Alice drinks a potion and finds herself shrunken down to the size of a mouse. Which leaves eager-beaver me to ask: Quick! Where’s that wormhole to this Wonderland? And where can I find this Alice shrinking potion?
But wait you ask! Isn’t life lived in the big moments, the fireworks and big bang? Isn’t this life about awards, glory and hi-fives? Who would notice the small, the insignificant, the pedestrian? And who would care? Cos no one’s gonna want to remember the small stuff right? And isn’t there a famous saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”? In fact, a cursory search for quotes that contain the word ‘small’, yielded these following warnings:
- If small things have the power to disturb you, then who you think you are is exactly that: small. (Eckhart Tolle)
- Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you. (Jim Rohn)
- I don’t like to do small things. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to really make an impact. (Reshma Saujani)
Seems the world is all about making an impact, doing things that shout out to the world from the rooftops: “I exist World! Look at me!!”
Modern thinking is replete with examples of people who started small and made it big. In the music world, think Kelly Clarkson and William Hung who gained fame and attention (even though their singing talents were poles apart). In the business world that spans West to East, think Steve Jobs and Jack Ma. In the literary world of fantasy and horror/science fiction, think JK Rowling and Stephen King. All started small but are now household names. Well maybe William Hung not so much, but still you have to admit he did ‘make it big’ for a while.
The point is clear: You gotta break it to make it! In other words, break from the small, the insignificant and make it to be all that you can be, because that’s how all these people made it. And you can too. And media would love you and so will the world.
Quite honestly, I’m sick and tired of hearing this mantra. All it really means is that we all have a calling to leave behind more than footprints in the sand that waves will easily wash away. We want to leave a permanent mark on the world, have a life-time membership in a library or museum that reminds everyone we existed, long after we’ve been reduced to ashes. How though is the question, and who dictates that it must be on neon sign billboards everywhere anyway? Why can’t we leave a mark just by giving up a bus seat for an elderly, or babysitting an infant for an afternoon?
Jeff Goins in his bestselling book “The Art of Work” speaks of 7 stages towards fulfilling our calling and leaving an impact. First there’s Awareness. That’s when you listen to what life wants to do with you before you can tell it what you want to do. Secondly there’s Apprenticeship where we encounter people along the way who may mentor or accompany us as we work out our calling. Third is the dreaded Practice, which as we all know, can often hurt and become more a chore than a joy. Yet it’s the key to achieving. Next comes Discovery, which debunks the myth of that ‘Eureka’ moment, that leap to greatness, but instead speaks of things happening to us gradually and in stages. Fifth would be Failure, which many have referred to as life’s best teacher. Also a dreaded stage and has led to more people quitting than pressing on or pivoting around to overcome and break through.
Then finally we reach Jeff’s last two stages: Mastery and Legacy which I believe are self-explanatory.
In none of these is there an insistence that going big is the ultimate way, the desired outcome. What Jeff emphasises is the journey itself. So what if one chooses to go small, go slow and go silent? It doesn’t mean nothing’s happening, or that nothing’s changing, morphing, transcending.
It just means we all have the potential to make an impact. It’s just whether or not the ripples are minuscule or far-ranging.
So this year, I choose to go small, go slow and go silent. I don’t want to miss the small details of life that fleets by ever so often and ever so stealthily that it’s gone before I can say: “What just happened?”. For as Marion would say: “It’s the small stuff that matters. Never disrespect its power.”
Oh, and that cursory search online I mentioned earlier, the one for quotes with the word ‘small”? I’m happy to say that more were found singing praises of ‘small’ than warning us against it.