The Problem With Wanting to do Big Things

Last week, when I was waking up, I sent out a lot of emails to organizations working with refugees overseas and offered my services. I envisioned flying into faraway cities, handing out food to starving children, perhaps even running from machine gun fire. You know. I’m pretty fast.

The Big Things. I imagined doing all the Big Things.

Then I got an email from one of the organizations. Could I help them put together some web copy for their blog?

Web copy. For their blog. This was not a Big Thing. This was definitely a Little Thing. It would probably take me 30 minutes. I did it, and I was left considering the difference between Big Things and Little Things.

* * * * *

The Little Things.

It’s easy for me to forget about the years and years when my only writing was in my own journal. I started around 8th grade, then starting writing on a daily basis during my freshman year in college, when I was 18 years old. That was in 1995, and I was plowed over by the realization that I could write whatever I wanted, that I could tell stories that freed myself and others. I became addicted to words.

For the next eleven years I dreamed of Big Things…but I did Little Things. I wanted to write the Great American Novel, the Poem That Would Be Remembered. Instead, I wrote a page in my journal everyday. Many of those weekends I spent writing short stories. I read hundreds of books, and those words, those various ways of writing, all sunk into my mind. Little Things, over and over, every day.

It felt so inadequate compared to what I wanted to be doing, what I wanted to be writing. It felt like such small preparation, like I wasn’t really accomplishing much besides preserving some memories for posterity. But all of those little things added up. Over the course of those eleven years, consistently writing every day, I’d guess that I wrote around 1,500,000 words. I read 30 books a year, on average, and if each book was of average length, that means I read nearly 20,000,000 words in those eleven years.

We have to be willing to do the Little Things, even when we can’t see how they’re connected to the Big Things. We have to be willing to give those Little Things enough time and space to add up, to become significant. We want to hit it big today. We want to be the next American Idol, this evening. We want to be snatched up from our current situation and dropped into wealth and fame.

Eleven years after I started keeping a journal on a regular basis, I was contacted by the publishing house Thomas Nelson. They offered me the chance to write a book. Suddenly all the Little Things I had done for the previous decade made sense. Suddenly I realized the Little Things were transforming into Bigger Things.

Keep doing the little things, every day. They add up.

* * * * *

I don’t know where these little ways of waking up will lead me or our family. But we’re going to keep doing them. Little Things, every chance we get.

4 Replies to “The Problem With Wanting to do Big Things”

  1. I am very fond of little things. And I believe that one day we will discover that all of the little things – things so little, we didn’t even know they were things – were an important part of something much bigger. The idea of Big without Little is a myth.

    1. “The idea of Big without Little is a myth.” Well said, Kelly. I think we want the Important stuff because those are the things we see when we look around us. The Little things are much more difficult to see.

  2. I think it’s the little things that make us who we are, though we don’t realize that most the time. I struggle frequently with wanting to do the Big Things, frustrated that right now my life seems full of nothing but the Small Things. Your words have been very encouraging, and I realize now that I must persist in the Small Things if I want the Big Things to come around someday.

  3. This is right on, Shawn. Especially in this season of my life when motherhood is not just part of my identity but my primary this-is-what-I-do-all-day-every-day description, I often need to remind myself that the Small Things are not insignificant.

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