It’s the Small Things That Count

Two little girls with their backpacks and hiking sticks walking on a trail.
Reading 20 minutes

You've Heard it All Before...

  • It’s the little things that count.
  • It’s all about the details.
  • Big things often have small beginnings.
  • The difference between good and great is attention to detail.

All of these quotes (or similar) have more than likely impacted you over the years. One of the greatest challenges I’ve seen in myself and in the world around me is how to embed this thinking into daily life. It’s easy enough to say it out loud and it’s not a very hard concept to understand, so why is it so hard to practice each day?

Microwave Mentality

At a very early age we begin to develop an understanding for the pace of life. As a child, there were times it took me half a day just to clean my room. As an adult the thought of it taking me several hours to clean my room, let alone the entire house, seemed outrageous. And I’m not talking about things like dusting and vacuuming. I’m simply talking about picking up items and putting them where they belong, making the bed, that sort of thing. Of course you might think, “Well, as a child you make bigger messes.” Though that is true, I have two little mess makers myself and a few hours still seems like a lot of time to be cleaning up. Regardless, I think this further cements a conclusion I’ve come to. We live in a very fast-paced world. More and more, I’ve noticed that people are developing “microwave mentality” at rates that are impossible to meet. What are things in your life you expect to work or happen without hesitation? The internet, a hot shower, cell signal… It only seems to get amplified the older you get. Work as fast as you can, so you can have as much time as possible with your family or whatever else you want to be up to. Professionally, we’re driven and encouraged to think about being efficient and how we can increase our rate of efficiency year-over-year, whether we’re running a business or growing as an employee within a company. Become the most efficient version of yourself, so you can save all that energy for the things that matter most…

It doesn’t help that we also are programmed to go to school, get a job, work 8+ hours five days a week, sometimes seven days a week until you’re 65 and then you can start slowing down. On top of all of this, we are now being told you must choose one thing, become a master at it and continuously learn and grow in this one practice basically indefinitely until you get to the point of retirement. Oh and you are also supposed to be 100% fully invested and passionate about this one thing you do for a living for basically a great majority of your life. So you better choose that one thing wisely before you go into college. At the age of 18. Riiiiiight… I’ve watched this play out first hand with family and friends. There are many reasons this bothers me on a core level, however I’ve had to accept it in order to move with it at a pace I’ve intentionally set forth for myself.

It seems to me that “microwave mentality” continues to breed and wrap itself around our thoughts whether we like it or not. The pace of the world is outpacing its inhabitants. Technology is one of those conductors. Technology is not bad at all and in fact, I feel like it has played an integral role in all of our lives, whether it be in our day-to-day workflow, communication with loved ones afar, saving the life of a close friend or improving our abilities to connect with the world around us. But with anything, recognizing how to participate with it in a nurturing way is what I feel is very important to understand. Why is it when you talk to someone older and wiser they often say something like, they wished they took things slower while they were younger and enjoyed the little things along the way?

When I Get Older

When I get older, I’ll spend more time doing the things I want to do. I’ll travel more. I’ll slow down and appreciate life.

Why when you get older?

I’ll have more money. I’ll have earned it. I’ll have paid my dues.

I know this whole thought-process is changing with younger generations. They get a front row seat to watch the result of this way of thinking with their parents and grandparents. I remember going into an interview at the age of 22 and being asked the question where do you want to be when you are 30. You know, that question. Well, it was the first time I was asked. I sat back in my chair, thought for a moment and responded with saying, “I’d like to be retired by the age of 30”. The two gentlemen interviewing me were definitely amused by this and chuckled a bit under their breath. I don’t think they were expecting that answer. It was after that interview I asked myself two questions:

  1. Why was that so far fetched for them to imagine as a possibility?
  2. Why did I say that?

The answer to the first question came sooner than the second. I realized what I had been learning, sponging and witnessing all these years was only encouraging us to work in the system. Whether you believe it was created by the government or some economic ploy to get us all in line, it was still fostered by us, the people. So here we are living constantly in the middle of a highway traveling at speeds that have never been seen before today. It’s not the fault of technology. It’s not because of money. Though both of these can be conductors. At the root of it, you’ll find we were (and still are) responsible. So if we are responsible for it, then we could be responsible for changing it. It was then I also realized that the change was going to start small with one person, me. That was my only goal.

Later in life, I came upon what I believe was the answer for the second question, “Why did I say that?” Deep down I believe I knew there had to be a different way to approach the pace of life and I wanted to understand this on a very core level. At the age of 22, I just didn’t really know how to articulate what I was beginning to see around me. Furthermore, if what I was hearing and watching from folks older than me was true than I’m sitting here thinking, “Well, why can’t I enjoy those things today? Why can’t I look for moments to take things slower today?” As a person in their twenties you’ll find all the ways to trip up on explaining your thoughts. Trust me, it happens. But that didn’t stop me from trying. Especially, because my wife and I were starting to talk about having a family. I was 28 then and I was being told cherish every moment with your kids or it will all pass you by.

Identify the Triggers

I wanted to take what I had observed about microwave mentality and the advice from those older than me and begin exploring what this could look like for me. Again, the idea seemed simple and reasonable, but of course it’s not that easy. I needed to identify triggers in my life that caused me to move too fast or distract me from appreciating the small moments in between the big ones. I’m more of a free spirit and tend to wander in my own head, so if you are anything like me it’s good to take time to jot down your thoughts and even make a list. Otherwise, I find it difficult to distill my thoughts down into anything meaningful. This was no simple task. It was something I had to exercise over time and before I knew it, I found myself at the center of planning projects, tracking budgets and writing creative briefs. I also like to use good ol’ fashioned pens and paper. I’ll digitize them when needed and place it where it goes.

Ok, so for the list of my biggest triggers for moving too fast and getting distracted. Yours may be variations of these or entirely different, which is totally fine. The important thing is to take the time to identify them.

My biggest triggers:

  • Technology
  • Work
  • People
  • Fear

 

The Digital World

This for some reason feels like a touchy subject, especially right now with the state of the world. Rather than to spend time talking about all the good and all the bad that can come from technology, I want to focus on the things I consider when interacting with it. For me, I’ve had to understand that first technology is a tool and a damn good one at that. I use technology all of the time from the moment I wake up until I lay my head down on my pillow. Even then technology is working while I’ll sleep. Without it, I would not be able to do the things I do professionally and I would not be able to enjoy some of what life has to offer in ways that are truly revolutionary. When I’m interacting with technology, I have to ask myself questions like these:

  • Is it a tool? Does this tool (e.g. smart device, app, game, latest gadget, etc.) support me at work or bring joy to my family and I? Or is it consuming me by overcomplicating simple steps or keeping me from spending time (even 5 minutes) with my daughters? There are different ways to ask this question, but ultimately if the technology is not a “tool” in my life then I should probably question the use of it or at least the way I’ve been using it thus far. Otherwise, I’ll risk becoming a tool for the technology. Ever seen Black Mirror? It’s extreme and pretty messed up at times, but it paints a fabulous picture of how the consumption of technology can impact us and how it takes over the mind. And I will say some of the episodes are not too far fetched.

  • Do I miss small details? This may seem like an obvious thing, but I like to gut-check myself at work with this one. Does the technology I’m interacting with move at a pace that encourages me to miss small details. There are some apps out there that actually encourage you to make light of small details as if they don’t matter in the grand scheme of the project, your workflow or worse yet your life. There are others that over complicate very simple steps/actions. I’m not going to name any, but pay attention to whether the technology is causing you to miss, overlook, complicate or lessen the importance of the small details.

  • Am I making excuses for time spent? This one is like the ultimate check for me. It’s hard to admit at times, but I’m thankful for a loving wife and an amazing business partner. People like this in your life can help expose this to you when it’s happening. I’ve come to appreciate and rely on it. I know that I can only see so much of myself and that others can help fill in the gaps or areas my conscience shuts off or can’t see. If I start to make excuses for where my time is being spent and find myself justifying it then I typically need to take a step back and think about the sources of technology that I’ve been interacting with and how I’m using it. 90% of the time I can trace it back to the use of technology, not every time, but most of the time.

It really is great to be living in this digital age and I appreciate and enjoy the things it can do in our lives. I just know for myself, I have to ask these questions or I will get sucked in and miss the small moments of gratitude. The one detail that made the project into a big success. The funny little face my daughter makes when she is overfilled with excitement about the scene she just created with her toys. The feeling I have just by focusing a moment on my wife’s character and beauty.

 

Work Work Work Work Work

Computer desk with screen saver that says "DO MORE.".

I’ll admit, even though I told the company I wanted to be retired by the age 30, it still took experiential learning to appropriately participate with work. A lot of people would tell me you need to figure out how to balance work and life. That struck me a little odd. I mean I understand why, but separating the two into their own little worlds seemed strange. Isn’t it all a part of living life? Your hobbies, your work, your family, your home, your friends, your community. I’ve even had some people swear by keeping them all separated in order to be able to walk away from work when it’s time or causing emotional fallouts with friends or family you may attempt to work with. While I certainly resonate with the reasoning behind it, it just didn’t seem to “work” for me. I feel we’re called to live life in a way that is meaningful and intentional every second of every day. Whether I’m working, playing, learning, etc. This thinking is not meant to add pressure, but really meant to recognize that all I have is the present moment. Yes, planning is good and reflecting on the past definitely has its importance, but truly living in the moment allowed me to better recognize how and where I was spending my time and energy. As a result, I actually found myself finishing up work when I needed to, enjoying quality experiences with friends and family and still having time to myself. It was a strange phenomenon, but definitely a rewarding one.

Is it causing pressure on me or my family?

By living my life moment-to-moment, it actually provided a focus that naturally balanced out all aspects of my life. Because I was paying attention to the small moments along the way I could better change course or pivot when needed. It felt freeing and effortless in a way. Otherwise, I found myself building up these expectations of what a day was supposed to be, how the next year would look or where I’d be in twenty years. Changing my mindset in this way came in very handy when unexpected things would come up. It sorta provided the reassurance I needed to know and trust that everything was in its place and who am I to argue that. So, move with it and do it boldly at times and gently other times.

This line of thinking is very personal to me, so depending on your personality, background and influences around you, it may be that some variation of this or something else entirely different will work for you. Nonetheless, these are some questions I ask myself to help with participating with work:

  • Is it causing pressure on me or my family?
  • Is it encouraging me to move at a pace where I’m missing quality time with family, friends or myself?
  • Am I losing track of time?

The first two questions go hand-in-hand. Typically, when I’m feeling the pressure it’s largely due to lack of time or the speed of things. Which ends up causing me to miss details, make mistakes, limit time with family and become more focused on me, not in a good way. I tend to get way more fidgety and complete thoughts become more difficult. This for me is a definite indicator to take a step back, acknowledge the pressure, reevaluate my pace and move with it.

The last of those questions, “Am I losing track of time?” is one that I’ve learned more recently. You might think well if I’m losing track of time, I’m probably having fun or enjoying it. Though this is true, I do enjoy what I do, I’ve noticed that my intense focus is intimidating and unapproachable for others. I also tend to forget to do simple things like eat, get a glass of water and even go to the bathroom at a healthy time. This was kinda a joke around the office or when I worked from home, but in retrospect I saw how inappropriate it was. Not only am I setting an unrealistic example for our team, but it was causing me to overlook simple healthy habits. Not to mention, I could easily overlook how people around me were feeling, my co-workers, business partners and even family. So, yes, at work if I feel like I’m losing track of time or time is flying by, I need to step away for a moment and take in what’s happening around me.

 

We Humans

People are definitely a trigger for me. However, not really in a bad way. I’ve realized that I care deeply about relationships and it’s likely what gets me out of bed most mornings. It’s certainly a big part of why I feel I’ve been put here on this earth. Not necessarily in the large group gatherings, but in the one-on-ones and small group settings. I’ve been told time and time again that my ability to listen and relate during a conversation is very appreciated, supportive and extremely rare. I’d like to say it’s the way I’ve been wired, but honestly, part of it is because of what I’ve already mentioned practicing above. I wasn’t always this way. I was a hothead and very arrogant and sensitive about it. When I tell people about the person I was in my teens and young twenties they laugh and say something like, “I cannot see you like that.” Maybe it was buried deep in there somewhere even all those years, but I’m calling it my life’s “happy accident”. As a byproduct of practicing these new behaviours around pace of life, moments of gratitude and small breadcrumbs, I’ve become much more intentional about my conversations and moreover my relationships with people. At this point in my life, there is no question this has molded me into who I’ve become.

Ultimately, I’m really just trying to find those spaces in relationships where I can be most respectful to others as well as myself and family.

Because of this deep connection I now desired with the people next to me, I’ve also become way more influenced by their thoughts, feelings and opinions. I mean, I’ve always been influenced by them, but not like this. At first glance, it may seem innocent and “good.” I began to feel how much other people’s attitudes, behaviors and their way of life would influence me, even if it was just on a subconscious level. I think deep down inside I was always rooting for them and trying to learn and grow in new ways to support them. What I didn’t realize is that at times it would cause me to get too caught up in their lives. I would go down their rabbit holes and I would empathize with them on a level that would cause me to miss things going on right in front of me with my kids, with my wife, with my home. So, I started creating what I’m calling “respects” (aka “boundaries”). I guess I’m trying to restructure my original thinking and opposition to the word “boundaries” by calling them “respects.” Ultimately, I’m really just trying to find those spaces in relationships where I can be most respectful to others as well as myself and family. These respects obviously vary from one person to the other and also change based on the environment you’re in.

 

Fight or Flight

Fear is a nasty, gut-wrenching, relentless intruder. The way it impacts us in a matter of seconds is truly astonishing to me. We frequently don’t even know it until later. I’d say fear has been my biggest trigger. Largely due to wandering around in my thoughts far too long, traveling to dark places and chasing rabbits. As humans, we so badly want to understand. How do things work? Why is my body doing this? Why does that person feel that way? How can I fix this? How did the universe come into existence? These thoughts have encouraged people to do some pretty amazing things with their lives. And for some we become too fixated on these ideas and thoughts. Everybody’s fears and reactions to them are different, but one thing is common, fear exists. Fear can be paralyzing, it can cause a primal response and it can certainly move us into the feeling of “fight or flight.” Usually as a result of desperation.

I’ve had many conversations with friends about this feeling of “fight or flight.” You can see the benefits of it for sure. Like, what if we all had to figure out how to do our job remotely starting tomorrow? Good things can come from that. Or what if we were confronted with a virus that was highly contagious and spread faster than anything we’ve seen before? Well, good things can come from this, as well. However, in the moment, it’s much easier said than done. The fear sets in. Some people will remain paralyzed by it and unable to move in any direction let alone forward. Some will do their best to respond to it by changing course. And some will move into a state of “fight or flight.” I do think if pushed far enough, we all could move into “fight or flight” mode. Let me just say this response is neither good nor bad. I feel it definitely has its place and is appropriate depending on the circumstances, but I do feel too often people see this as their first response for almost every situation. That’s where I think it gets a little tricky. I also believe some of us desire to spend most of our time in this mindset. But that’s for another time.

No matter your beliefs, I think we can all agree there is something outside of ourselves that can and will influence our decisions. Fear is one of those manifestations. I’m not saying you shouldn’t let fear in. No, there are definitely times it’s important to respect. But there’s a fine line where fear transforms into worry, which then causes chronic stress and anxiety. Knowing how to acknowledge fear and when to stop it in its tracks is something I’ve really been working on lately.

 

Turning Worry into Reflection

Two people sitting on bench overlooking a look and talking.

As of right now, the number one question I ask myself is, “Am I worried?” If the fear has gotten to the point of worry then it’s time to shut it down. If you find that it is difficult, then acknowledging it is the first step. I would invite others closest to you, that you trust, into the dialogue. This has helped me tremendously as it does a couple of things. First, it allows me to unpack out loud and second, I don’t feel alone. This is very critical for me as I’m sure it is for others as well. But of course we can’t talk all day and night all of the time with others and some are just not wired to talk about it openly. I’ve also found that journaling and meditation can help as well. Taking intentional time for reflection. There comes a point during this period, where if it’s still causing me to worry, I “lay it on the ground.” Not really, but figuratively. I’ve finally realized and sometimes have known all along that it’s completely outside of my control. So I need to start the process of letting go, but recognizing it’s still there on the ground, right by my side. I think this visual helps me start the separation process or I like to call it “releasing,” which then can turn to reconciliation or healing and before you know it you’ve completely forgotten about the thing on the ground, the worry. The “releasing” process hardly ever happens overnight. It starts with understanding that it is a thing and it’s not going away at the snap of a finger. Every action you take and day you move through, the more your confidence begins to build back up. I realize that for some even at this point there are larger health-related things in play and I’m not making light of that. However, the thinking above has certainly allowed me to manage fear. All of this to say, that when fear sets in, I cannot think or see anything else let alone function as I know I’m capable of. Not only will I miss small things, but big things too.

I like to use this analogy sometimes when I’m reminding myself or talking to others. Imagine you have a niece or nephew or maybe it’s your son or daughter. Either way a child you are close to. You take them to a carnival one day and you are having a truly amazing time. As you begin to walk to the next silly game you hear the scream of your niece. You turn around to find that they’ve dropped their lollipop in the dirt and gravel. You know, the big colorful spiral lollipops. The kid is losing it, I mean losing it. It is the end of the world as you know it for them. In that moment, you have a choice. You can relate with them and acknowledge their fear. What if I lost my job? What if I wrecked my parents car? Worse yet, what if someone I’m very close to passed away? How would you feel in those moments? It may be the end of the world to you as well. So how would you want someone to respond to you? We can all relate to fear, so know you are not alone.

Simply Put

I’m now 35 years old. The idea of retirement for me has transformed into more about having choices. It started back when I was 22 in that one interview. The things that I was told over and over again from folks who were retired, nearing retirement or looking forward to retirement have all found their way to impacting my daily life. These seemingly insignificant observations brought about small changes that have completely changed how I approach life. And life includes all aspects of work, family, community, spiritual, etc. all working together in harmony with one another. Ten years later, for all intents and purposes, I “feel” retired, not in the traditional sense, but in that I’m making deliberate choices to focus my time where I feel is important and needed. I work with amazing people with bad-ass clients on projects I enjoy at a pace that is healthy for my current stage of life. I’m able to work virtually anywhere I’d like and spend quality time with my family and friends. Of course as I get older things will continue to slow down more and more. But I’m doing what I want to do with my time. I’m being intentional about the things in my life. I’m enjoying and choosing where to focus at any given point in the day. I’m deliberately trying to live moment-to-moment to enjoy the small things along the way. There is not an abundance of money, but that was never going to be the answer. Life is still hard at times and will continue to throw us curveballs, but getting older or being retired doesn’t keep that from happening. I’m doing the best I can with what has been given and remaining grateful for the opportunities and new experiences that come up along our path. I’m not going to try and pretend I know where I’ll be in 5 years, but I still have goals and aspirations. I’ll let myself sit and think about what life may be like in 5 years, however I don’t get hung up on it, turning it into an expectation. When I do, I lose sight of what’s important, the small things.

There are many opportunities in this world to distract us from slowing down when we need (or want) to pay more attention. Things like acknowledging your significant other when the dishes are done or record a small detail in a big project. I can’t tell you how many times this thinking, in our business, has altered the direction of a project and ultimately the success of our clients. And with the ones closest to you (shoot! relationships as a whole), noticing or remembering the small details do matter most, period. I encourage you to think about the triggers in your daily life that distract you or cause you to be sucked into the fast pace of the world. I’d love to learn new ways to manage them. If you ever want to talk, hit me up below!

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