From an early age, we are encouraged to “dream big”, “be ambitious” or otherwise supersize our mental and physical lives. Those of us who think in larger terms are often those who, being unhappy in the world, or unreasonable in the right way, find ways to better it.
For today, I want to focus on why it’s sometimes ok to live a smaller life.
Let me start by saying that I’m a firm believer that our inner monologue, or the talk track to our lives is what drives us forward. Positive, validating self-talk can help us be more successful, and help us to achieve. Negative self-talk can be extremely debilitating. What we think, and what we say to ourselves in the echoing chambers of our own heads can determine just how full our lives are.
The biggest thinkers among us, like the Elon Musks, the Gateses or the Steve Jobs of the world, believe that anything is possible. They fight against the established order because it deeply dissatisfies them. They are constantly looking for the next hill to climb, the next battle to fight. They often accomplish their goals by working completely out of balance – they are obsessive, and by being obsessive they can be self-destructive. On the other hand, by being obsessive they can achieve what many of us think is impossible until it is shown to be otherwise.
It is all too easy to compare their lives to ours, and wonder at what we “should” be doing to be more like them. I’m going to argue that sometimes the answer to that question is nothing.
There are times in our lives when we become constrained by circumstances. We are working demanding jobs, we have children or other family obligations, we are time-poor and dealing with conflicts in our lives. Or we may be operating in a period of low energy, due to lack of sleep, illness or even depression.
At times like this it is critical to focus on what is important to us. Most of us search for meaning in our lives and work, and feel deeply unhappy if what we do seems to be without it. Maslow talked about self-actualisation in his hierarchy of needs being the pinnacle of that pyramid. Once we are able to stop focussing on the basics, we look for more meaningful drivers.
It is possible to live a truly meaningful, if constrained life, by focussing on what is important to oneself. Making every interaction a genuine, focussed and human one. Working to make our organisations better, one relationship at a time. Bridging the gap between two fellow staff members who have fallen out. Treating everyone as a person, with empathy, dignity and kindness. The ripples we send out into the world are incalculable, and the interplay between people leads to consequences that may only be evident years later.
Connecting people in an organisation who can help each other to develop or move a project forward will benefit each of them, and the broader organisation. Establishing mentors for your up-and-coming talent, and then being willing to let them go to other groups when the opportunities inevitably arise benefits them and you, even as it leaves you with a replacement challenge.
Seeking to truly understand your peers and staff, and thinking “we” and not “them” opens you up to a wealth of interaction and can lead to real insights into the people and the organisation you serve.
By focussing our energies on the “small”, we can have large impacts. Every action or inaction, no matter how seemingly minor, has consequences. While we should seek to broaden our reach and impact wherever possible, sometimes it is enough to focus on the micro-level; sometimes helping one person really is changing the world.