As I explained in my a recent post, This Is Who I Am, “My identity as a writer is not yet fully baked.” And – while that makes the Type-A side of my brain twitch – that’s okay, too.
I’m experiencing a major shift in perspective that is making me reevaluate everything I do. This also, while a little painful, is not a bad thing. I’m taking a much closer, much harder look at WHY I engage in certain activities and routines. I’m getting more granular about assessing whether or not they deliver real value to me, to anyone else involved, or to the world in general. I’m shuffling the deck and reprioritizing and cleaning house.
It’s freeing, actually.
I read a couple of posts this week that got me thinking in new directions about some related questions and challenges that I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while now. The first post was by our very own Deborah Lee Luskin: How to Sustain Political Activism and Write a Book. I loved her no-nonsense take on how to marry persistence and self care while also exercising some reality checking on just how much activism you can handle on top of all the other obligations in your life. Smart woman.
The other piece was one I stumbled across via a Facebook friend. In her post, What If All I Want is a Mediocre Life?, Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui writes,
The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.
But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?
Good question, Krista.
Too often, we forget that we cannot look outside ourselves to find happiness or contentment or approval. We have to stop letting media and other external influences define the life we think we want. We need to stop comparing ourselves to someone else’s vision of “right” or “good” or “enough.” As writers, the opportunities for comparison to other writers (those we admire from afar and our own peers) are excruciatingly endless.
Likewise, as many of us take on the time-consuming task of becoming more active citizens and feel the pressure to – quite literally – save the world, we need to step back and think hard about what our own definition of “enough” looks and feels like.
I read these two posts and was reminded of a recent column I wrote for my local paper. Though this piece starts out focusing on politics, as I read it again I realized that much of what I’m trying to convey also applies to the challenges of living a creative life in the midst of the chaos and responsibility of so-called “Real Life.”
Whether you’re talking about political activism, groundbreaking cultural shifts, or writing a novel, all Big Accomplishments are really just a long series of small, persistent actions. They all boil down to small, daily choices. Thinking of them in these terms, you realize that nothing (and I mean, nothing) is impossible.
With that, here is the column I wrote. Whether you are walking beside me as a writer, an activist, or both, I hope you enjoy it and find some words of encouragement and empowerment here. Think small. Think daily. Think happy. You’ve got this.
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For years, most of my social media profiles have included the line, “Believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.” This quip has served as a kind of abbreviated mantra, meant to encompass the concepts of treating others as you would be treated, taking time to enjoy the little things in life, and always keeping hope and optimism in your heart.
But, as our country careens toward a new and frightening political reality, I find myself reading those words in a new context.
Perhaps more than ever before, the character and reputation of our country’s political leadership has been tainted by intrigue and espionage, shades of illegitimacy, vicious in-fighting, rampant corruption, and — perhaps most worrying of all — the incoming administration’s growing disregard for the press, the truth, and First Amendment rights.
It’s no wonder many people are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The current situation is exhausting. When I talk with people who share my concerns and my desire to make a difference, I hear the deep weariness in their voices and their sighs. Our conversations are punctuated with long pauses in which we try, through our disbelief, to process the latest headline or tweet.
There’s so much work to do.
It feels a little bit like being saddled with a monstrously huge and excruciating domestic chore. It’s as if you have to put away Christmas; pick up after an out-of-control kegger; and clean out the garage, basement, and attic … all in one day. Best of all, these extra responsibilities have been slapped on top of your existing day-to-day professional, family, and household obligations.
It can start to feel daunting and even hopeless very quickly, but here’s where a simplified version of my little mantra might offer some comfort. When I begin to worry that it’s all too much, I focus on the core attributes of my social media signature: small, daily, and happy.
When we look at someone’s personal transformation, a culture’s scientific achievement, or a turning point in world history, we are often so blown away by the scope and scale of the thing that we fail to see it for what it actually is. Our focus on the end result keeps us from fully comprehending the events that delivered the final outcome.
Without exception, there’s always much more to the story than we know; and nine times out of ten the “overnight” story is actually a tale of small, daily commitments. Each metamorphosis, discovery, and revolution is made up of countless small, daily actions. These unappreciated actions are unaccompanied by fanfare, but they are real building blocks of every great event in our personal and global history.
So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless — whether in the face of a personal challenge or your desire to save the world — remember that you don’t have to take on everything at once. You just need to take small, daily actions that move you toward your goal, and you’ll get there. Sign a petition, make a donation, talk to someone, volunteer, attend a march, participate in a political meeting on the local or state level, read an in-depth news article, read a book, investigate an issue, share what you’ve learned on social media.
Keep your efforts small, and make them a daily practice, and you’ll be amazed at your progress.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of “happy” in the equation. This isn’t just about being hopeful or optimistic. It’s also about operating from a place of joy and love. Instead of being motivated by fear or hate, be inspired by a desire to protect and share what you love. Only then can your actions become a comforting and heartfelt meditation on the beauty you see and seek. Let that feeling guide you and sustain you in your efforts. Small, daily, happy — this is how to be the change you want to see in the world.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.