“Achieving long-term success begins and continues with regular, wise investments in yourself. Making a difference in the lives of others begins and continues with regular, wise investments in yourself. Creating a legacy of significance begins and continues with regular, wise investments in yourself. Do you recognize the pattern?” — Clancy Cross
The alphabet, that wonderful invention that makes possible the books and blogs we read, begins with just one letter. Likewise, every song begins with that first sound. Is this a coincidence?
“Why is the alphabet in that order. Is it because of that song?”
— Steven Wright
In baseball, every strike-out begins with “Strike One!” Every Grand Slam home run begins with someone getting on base. Every perfect game begins with someone making an out. Have we discovered a pattern?
Let’s consider a few more thoughts about small preceding big such as, “Every ending has a beginning and that beginning is something small.” Sure, occasionally some big thing intervenes in life to stimulate amazing outcomes. But, without the countless little things that came before and those that followed, that one big thing is impotent and meaningless.
Here’s another. “Everything that matters began with something and that first something began with a decision that led to an action.” Big or small, our lives are driven by decisions. Then there’s this one. “Everything big or small matters because it is both the next step in the chain and the first step in a new one.” Putting these two together leads to this interesting thought. “Small decisions are the big connections in the chain of life.” I suspect the truth is that if we could see our lives with perfect vision, memories and understanding we would realize that our greatest achievements were the result of a miles-long chain of seemingly insignificant decisions and actions.
Investing in yourself and others is one of those little things
that’s really not so little.
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Why is it that human beings overlook or ignore the significance of the small, placing their hope on the promise of something big wrapped in a pretty bow? Here’s the million dollar question. “What small things are you neglecting that are keeping you from something you really want and need?” Could it be apologizing to someone you hurt? Maybe it’s that book you’ve been putting off or procrastination about cleaning your desk. Then again, maybe it’s something truly big like making room in your life for God. Take hold of enough of the right things, big or small, and you’ll find yourself beyond success at the very edge of significance!
What is success? Today’s Western culture prefers to define success in terms of fame and fortune. People are considered successful when they earn lots of money and reach the highest levels of their chosen endeavors. Awards, bonuses, job titles, certificates, prizes and the corner office are treasured symbols reflecting success. Likewise, houses, cars, boats, and club memberships are the trophies of financial success. You might recall a once-popular bumper sticker that read, “The one with the most toys wins!”
I believe success in these terms falls short of something much better. Since it is difficult to change the current vernacular, let’s use a different word. How about significant, which to me is the result of living an unselfish life, putting others ahead of our quest for toys and accolades.
“You can have everything in life that you want,
if you just help enough other people get what they want.”
– Zig Ziglar
Zig spent decades teaching us that there are benefits from dedicating our lives to serving others. At the same time, fame and fortune make lousy goals. A better target is significance. I suggest that a better name for it is Zignificance. I wonder how much better the world would be if more people shifted their focus away from success and toward Zignificance.
“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance –
and then even the small steps and little victories along your path
will take on greater meaning.”
— Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, September 2002
While reading another chapter in Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” I was reminded that it’s the small things that matter most. I’m not sure if it’s ADD or the consequences of a culture that bombards us with advice to look for big opportunities, dream big, and shoot for the moon, but this is a lesson I have to constantly rediscover. While big thoughts and dreams are not inherently wrong, thinking totally on the big stuff is self-limiting. Big and small are both important and here’s why.
- Reality – Life is made up of an unimaginable number of small matters. If we miss the small, we miss life itself.
- Process – Big outcomes are the sum total of small achievements. Whether or not we do something big depends on what we do, one small step at a time.
- Perspective – Without small things, big things would seem small. What is big is big only by comparison. Small things create perspective.
- Preparation – Small things prepare us for big things. Mastery of small skills leads to mastery of great capabilities.
- Trust – Being faithful with little matters is evidence that we can be trusted with larger ones. Conversely, if we are untrustworthy about the small, why would anyone trust us with something huge?
- Significance – Small things make a bigger impact than we realize. How we perform with small matters shows how much or how little we care. Being intentional and consistent about doing the small things is better evidence that we care than a one-time big act.
Meaning Trumps Magnitude
You might be surprised that it was Warren’s chapter entitled, “Planned for God’s Pleasure” that inspired these thoughts. I certainly was. I think it was his examples of the different acts of worship, which include serving others, and how these seemingly routine and minor acts can be pleasing to God. I realized that if we treat these small behaviors with the reverence they deserve, God will find favor with us. And if these so-called “small things” are significant to God, shouldn’t they be to us as well? Yes, small things do matter!