You only get to the big stuff by doing the small stuff

[first posted in my LiveJournal, then x-posted here because it is relevant to this blog]

It’s the last day of August, and summer is at its close. We have lived in San Pablo now for six months.

I was looking back at these six months, and reflecting on what I’ve accomplished since our move. I kind of thought I’d have done more things by now, and yet I’m not dissatisfied. I’m more proud of all the little things I have done than I could be of five imaginary finished novels, a book deal, and a gallery show! At first I thought this was just because achievement in the abstract — however grandiose — is less satisfying than achievement in the concrete, no matter how insignificant. But then I realized that it’s not really a hypothetical-versus-actual situation; it’s that in theory (and all too often in practice), we only celebrate the big achievements: the finished novel, the gallery show, the mapped genome (or whatever, you know I’m not a scientist!), the launched product. It’s easy to see the work that went into those, and it’s clear that the work paid off, and so we throw parties and bestow awards and write laudatory articles. But in real life, these big achievements only come after long, long periods of struggling with and overcoming many small obstacles; that is to say, all big achievements are only vast collections of smaller achievements. But we so rarely celebrate these small triumphs (anyway, many of which are entirely private). Moreover, the small achievements seem so uncertain at the time; there’s no guarantee that writing a page a day or walking three times a week or buying a how-to book will eventually lead to anything. It’s only after the big accomplishment has been made that people say, “Oh yes, she has been working on this project for years,” or “he always had it in him.” It’s really a shame.

Anyway, I wrote out a list of all the things I’ve accomplished in the past six months, and it’s really an amazing list. Even though it doesn’t feel like I’ve done that much, when I look over it in writing, I have truly changed my life since we moved. Of course, by now it feels like I have been living this way forever, but it’s actually a big transformation. It’s a cool thing to think of. As one of the teachers at my recent writing-meditation workshop said, “Don’t be afraid to start small. Small will grow.”