I – THINK BIG.
I grew up a sporadic yet impassioned journal writer. Long stretches of months would sometimes go by between entries, yet when they DID happen, the entries would always be pages long – usually smattered with pep-talks, observations, and comprehensive analyses of the world outside and inside of me (surprise, surprise). And although my journals rarely followed any sort of through line or linear story if read cover to cover, my younger self secretly envisioned them being discovered in an archaeological dig years in the future and serving some sort of important purpose. Therefore, I wrote a short bio in the beginning of each and every new book of blank pages.
What can I say? I was a history junkie with an active imagination.
Thinking big has always been in my DNA. My mind has never been able to wrap itself around the seedling of an idea without envisioning the entire oak tree standing tall and proud, providing shade and shelter and maybe even some pretty fall foliage. Even at a young age, my mind couldn’t envision Older Me not creating something bigger than myself and bigger than other usually dreamed. Case in point: my “bio” in my fifth grade journal read that I wanted to be a writer, actress, singer, model, artist, and teacher. I was only nine, but my head couldn’t fathom Older Me being linked to one single career and not using every single part of me to its fullest potential.
It’s normal to want to accomplish big goals – and normal to want them now. They’re just so darn attractive, and most of us (myself included) are so easily romanced that we think we’ve got this, no problem. Just like in any relationship, when you enter into a new idea, new job, or new circumstance, there’s this beautiful stage of initial excitement that you ride right away.
But after the initial thrill, new excitement always morphs into one of three things: disinterest/disenchantment (in which case the situation falls away as something that was never meant to be), entitled ego (in which case you start to take the thing you once revered for granted, as something you’re entitled to or inherently deserve)…
…or a grand love, a developed and nuanced deep love you want to keep learning from, one that keeps pushing you and challenging you to be the kind of person you’ve always known you were inside.
Going big right from the get-go rushes the process – which robs you of the reward. The ride that really takes you somewhere is more like a slow and steady river flow than a gush of water straight from the geyser.
II – START SMALL.
I’ve been teaching group fitness classes for over a decade. I’ve taught to one person and I’ve taught to sixty. I’ve had the stereo system die in the middle of my class and lost all of my music (I started singing to make up for it. Not my most brilliant idea). I’ve had my bosses audit my classes and have been starstruck when a celebrity walked in looking to me to lead the way. I’ve, to my horror, slept through my alarm and missed work.
I’ve been reprimanded and I’ve been praised. I’ve been harassed and I’ve been asked for help I could not give. I’ve known everyone in the room and I’ve known no one.
And let me tell you, I am so grateful I didn’t get where I’m at now way too soon. Looking back, everything happened right when it needed to. Starting small and trusting my journey back then, step by step, allowed me to be fully present and soak in each and every lesson – and now enables me to keep my heart open to all the lessons I know are still to come. I am still a beginner. Aren’t we all?
Getting experience is not about a popularity contest, street cred, or gathering up a bunch of LinkedIn referrals. It’s about…well, experience. You won’t know what to do when you fall on your face until you actually do. You won’t know how to manage major transition until you have to.
Experience is less about your resume and more about your ability to navigate a range of scenarios with a fine cocktail of confidence, perspective, and humility.
Sometimes timing catches us off-guard, however – and we’re given huge opportunities out of the blue, when we’re just starting out on our journey. We’re thrust into the spotlight, lights glaring in our eyes, making us squint and struggle to see through spotted vision.
And when that happens, we must actively keep searching for chances to learn instead of getting caught up in the moment. We must seek out a strong foundation, even if the external looks big and grand. Because if not, we run the danger of burnout, overwhelm, or even worse – developing a character-damaging ego. We run the risk of being that person who gets irate when she makes a mistake instead of searches for a new opportunity from the rubble.
We run the risk of becoming complacent – and complacency is the place where dreams go to die.
III – STEP NOW.
I look back on all my grand ideas and big dreams scribbled down in journals and I’m a little surprised at how spot on they all were. The only thing I had wrong, really, was the timing. There it is, tangible evidence of my intuition and vision hard at work. It was all meant to be. I just thought I was in control of WHEN it was meant to be. How glad I am I kept putting one foot in front of the other, always anticipating the next-best-thing around the corner and not stopping just because that next-best thing didn’t look exactly what I thought it would look like. Or even like a next-best-thing at all. Life is like one big game of Chutes and Ladders: sometimes we climb and sometimes we slide, but we all get to that finish line if we keep playing the game.
Starting small and going – or rather, growing – from there is one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself. If you’re doing it right, whatever “it” is, you will mess up or fall short. A lot. But if you are NOT feeling lost sometimes, if you’re NOT learning something new every day, if you’re NOT slightly doubting yourself on and off, if you’re NOT botching things up or falling flat on your face or screwing up unintentionally as you boldly move forward in spite of all that – and on the flipside, if you think you are above missteps or are too good to grow – then it’s not that important to you and your path anyway.
The best ideas and jobs aren’t sustained on an initial, huge gesture –
they’re sustained on the small steps forward you take now and every single day to grow, learn, and be a way that surpasses the day before.
I will always be a goal setter and a big dreamer. It’s in my nature. And I’ve learned, seeing the big picture and the grand oak tree – knowing where you want the journey to take you – is a strength that’s not to be discounted.
But just as important, if not more, are those small steps you take every single minute to help your ultimate dream materialize. Every single millisecond is a lesson in the making, every single mini-step strings together to lead you down the path you’re meant to forge. As a writer, actress, singer, model, artist, teacher, trainer, chemist, entrepreneur, designer, archaeologist, accountant, chef, creative, best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, leader, mentor, muse. Maybe even all the above.
You just have to make the first move – and then the next first move – and then all the next first ones after that.