Do Small Things in a Great Way

“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” ~Napoleon Hill


I Tweeted this quote to my followers a while back (hat tip to the awesomely named Passive Panda). I shared it in spite of having some mixed feelings about it at first, as my initial reaction upon reading it was: But I am going to do great things! Screw your small things!

My initial reaction, in other words, was to get pissed off and dismiss it, because clearly it didn’t apply to me. I’m gonna to do hella great things, thank you very much — and who are you to say I can’t?!

But after thinking about it for a little while, I realized there was more to this idea than what I was reading as a slight on my abilities. Because really, even if you are planning to do “great things,” you still have plenty of piddly little small things to deal with on a daily basis. Commuting to work. Doing chores. Getting through your day at work.

And how you do those small things makes every bit as much difference in your life as how you do those great big things you’re tackling.

The Importance of the Piddly

The thing about the big things, or at least most big things, is they take some time to accomplish. Starting your own business and quitting your job, changing your diet and getting in shape, paying down debt, writing a novel… These things are done step by step, bit by bit, and although they can be life-changingly awesome, the fact remains they’re all long-term goals.  Huge, wonderful, inspiring goals, yes, but in the meantime, you’ve still got your everyday life to live.

You’ve still got to do the dishes, walk the dog, go grocery shopping. It’s so easy to dismiss these things as frustrating time sucks that need to be gotten through as quickly as possible so you can get on to the more important stuff. But these little things make up your life. These little things are your present. And how you approach them determines how awesome or not-so-awesome your present will be.

No Moment is a Throwaway

I struggle with this whole concept something fierce. In fact, this particular post is a reboot of one I wrote way back in 2011. (Shh, don’t tell!) I decided to freshen it up and republish it because it speaks perfectly to this month’s Quit. Now, just as I did 3 ridiculous years ago, I still struggle with the aftermath of my tendency to fail to recognize the importance of the small things.

Focusing solely on my writing and editing work (the “billable stuff”) and poo-pooing everything else as below my attention results in nothing but piles of dirty dishes and stacks of stuff on our kitchen table, which is supposed to be the spot for stuff I need to remember to do something about but usually winds up being the place for stuff I tried to remind myself of weeks ago and have since forgotten about.

For a consummate neat freak, letting things get to this point is beyond frustrating. I feel irritated, distracted, and ultimately launch into a tirade of cleaning that leaves me exhausted and bitterly resentful. Ironically, it takes me so long to undo the results of my daily neglect, usually in a weekend-long frenzy, that it eats up any time I was going to spend doing the “important” things I had planned.

If I just do the little things each day — mindfully, dutifully, and maybe even with a little bit of cheer if I can muster it — things in the Cordelia house would move along smoothly, and life as a whole would be a lot more enjoyable. My head would be in a better space. That little hum of tension and annoyance behind whatever I’m currently working on would be gone. I’d breathe easier. And, as a result, I’d be able to tackle the big things with greater vim and gusto. (Which is what big things rightfully deserve.)

All that, just by doing a daily pickup and sucking it up when the dish pan is full. The little and the big things go hand in hand. You can’t neglect one without the other being affected by it.


“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (~John Lennon)

Our lives are shaped by the way we approach the small things.

Whether I approach a grocery run braced to fight my way through crowds or happy to be out and about. (In the early days of launching your own biz, even a Target run on a Saturday counts as out-of-the-house social time.)

Whether I grumble my way through my daily tasks, or realize this thing I’m doing is pretty damn awesome, and me of 3 years ago would be over the moon to have her daily tasks consist of writing and editing in her PJs with puppies at her feet.

Whether I resent and avoid the unavoidable tasks in my life, or try to find ways to make them as fun and meaningful as I can.

Are these little things particularly meaningful in and of themselves? Are they really all that “worthy” of my giving them my best — of my doing them “greatly”? Honestly, they’re probably not. I do have infinitely better things to do with my time than the dishes. But you know who is worthy of me giving everything my A-game? Me.

I deserve to live a life that matters, right now today, even when I’m doing the things that seem mundane and tedious. I deserve to go to sleep each night knowing I’ve kicked some tail in everything I did, whether it was securing a new freelance client or sweeping fur devils from my floors. I not only deserve it; I owe it to myself.

Because a Cordelia is all about living intentionally. Doesn’t matter what it is she’s living at the moment — she takes its name, kicks its tail, and feels more like her Cordelian self because of it. She doesn’t hold back. She doesn’t live stingily.

So, how about you? What “little things” can you bring a some greatness to?

Image: Flickr

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