The magic of thinking small

This week, I spoke to a friend on the phone. She’s not happy in her job and trying to craft a career change. Talented and engaging, I’m sure she could do most things she sets her mind to. But she doesn’t know where to set her mind – it keeps wondering.

She´s constantly thinking about what her perfect job would be – which elements to keep and which to let go of – , imagining the endless possibilities. Yet she feels stuck, unable to take a real step forward.
It feels like a heavy task. She wants to get it right: “I can’t keep shifting, can I?”

Then she starts talking about the film editing she’s doing for a family project and the mood in her voice changes: “I love it. It’s so creative and tangible, I love working towards the end product and am having so much fun along the way.”

We both notice the contrast of course, we’re not idiots. And the obvious question emerges: if you love this so much, why not pursue it?

She´s hesitant: “I guess.. it’s just.. What would it be like to do that for real, I don’t even think I’d want to do it full time, or where it would fit in my greater career plan.”

But, that´s the whole thing. There isn’t a greater career plan yet. The exact feeling she’s hoping to find in her future work is right here in front of her. In something small, yes. But what better place to start?

Why do we so often feel we have to figure out the bigger picture before we can start?

I recognize the stuck-ness. I call it Thinking Big Fatigue. Or the Thinking Big Mindfuck.

You see, we´re always told to think big – as a way of finding direction and success. Have a clear image of what you want to accomplish, then go for it. “If you can dream it, you can do it! Aim for the moon!” that sort of stuff. Even personal development guru Stephen Covey tells us to “begin with the end in mind”.

But what if that big and bold ‘end in mind’ is either so massive and far away that it completely overwhelmes you in the present moment, and makes any potential step towards it seem minor and insignificant?

Or, what if your ‘end in mind’ is still fuzzy, so that you can’t actually start with it in mind, because you don’t know what it is? You could spend all your mental energy worrying about what your ‘passion’ is, so you can finaly start doing something.

What if this idea of thinking big, of a perfect end state, is actually keeping you from taking imperfect, mundane, every day action?

It’s like wanting to write a brilliant novel. Then getting so intimidated by the idea that you don’t even get a first page on paper. It’s easier to dream about the glamourous life of an author, going on book tours and being all genius, than to get up early every day and write for 2 hours before work, consistently.

However, the only way to be a writer, is to write. The only way to be an artist, is to craft. The only way to be an entrepreneur is to do business – and take a risk.

People idealize their plans, then dread the action that’s required to achieve them. Because in your plans – in those big dreams – you are all sky high and successful and rosy. In the real action you could take, especially when starting something, you’re down in the trenches, muddling through, a beginner. It’s easier to keep fantasising and dreaming big, than to get something done. Something much less than perfect. But done.

So, fuck thinking big for a moment. Let go of the end result (for now) and ask yourself: what is the absolute smallest step I can think of in the general direction of awesomeness, today? You know what it is.

Then do it: make that call, put words on paper, invite somebody for coffee. Feel the effect this has on you. Smile. Then take another step. Think small for a change.

All these small steps will compound and strengthen your confidence. Then, somewhere on that path paved with small steps, you might change direction. Or your fuzzy, far away dream might come into fuller focus.

Sometimes direction comes after action, instead of before.

My friend pauzes. “OK. I know this editor. I’m gonna give him a call and see if I can work with him for a day. It’s worth figuring out I guess, why not.”

Maybe she won´t become a film editor. Maybe it´s something she´ll do on the side. Maybe while finding that out, she´ll stumble onto something else.

It doesn´t matter. The important thing is that she is moving – and in the moving, and stumbling, is learning, and progress. And in that progress, thinking small can actually make life pretty great.

Which small step will you take today? (Let me know!)

2 thoughts on “The magic of thinking small

  1. Love it! Zo fijn wanneer het lukt om niet meer alleen genoegen te nemen met het grootse en dat van onszelf te verwachten. Zonder dat ik het door had maakte ik vaak de kleine dingen, die eigenlijk groots zijn, irrelevant, omdat ik zo druk was met het grote ideaal.


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