I’ve seen the book covers, the IGTVs, the keynotes – women in eyelash extensions imploring you to stop playing small. Commandment after commandment, we’re offered the vaguest of measurements to stack ourselves against. Go all in! Show up big! Shine brighter!
You were made for more!
Brick by brick, we build a Babel for one.
A memory: my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Redman. She was a quiet force, waltzing around the room in her favorite red pumps, hair twisted into a bun and secured with a pencil. When one of us twenty-something tots would cause havoc, she’d crouch down to meet our eyes. She’d get on our level so we’d feel safe, connected. She’d communicate that she’s paying attention, and she’d gently guide us in a new direction.
She made herself small, and the result was anything but.
Now, three decades later, a 5-second scroll and a few clicks around might bring about any number of Ms. Redman’s adversaries, a new slew of “Play Big” prophets. Find the 24/7 coach available to help you live your best life; “purchase your insta-session here!” Watch the motivational speaker in Converse sneaks shouting that your best life is just around the corner, and that you’ll definitely run into it at her next $1800 VIP event. Slap on a foundation named “Your skin, but better!” before buying the Guide to Being Glorious You, downloading Secrets of the 100k Side Hustle, and reading 5 Essentials for the Best Morning Ever.
How much time and money are we spending in search of our best life? Will we even know it when we’ve found it?
Last week, the kids and I trek to our local woods. We have grand plans to go sledding, but the hills aren’t steep enough and the snow is beginning to slush. For a moment, we’re disappointed.
Soon, I watch as they toss their sleds aside and settle for rolling downhill until their cheeks grow pink. When the younger turns thirsty, his sister shows him how to make a sno-cone in her mittens. Like this, see? she says. And there’s more! I can make more and more and more!
The day inches on with shrieks and tumbles, our socks wet and spirits high. As the late afternoon melts into darkness, I lead the kids back onto the path. They trot close behind, thrumming with energy, deeming our short adventure “the best ever.”
(I don’t know if we played big, or if we played small. I know only that we played.)
William James once wrote in a letter years ago:
“I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.”
One small theory, then: If we want to live our best life ever, we must first aim for a good one.
Return your grocery cart to the corral. Look the barista in the eye. Plant a walnut tree. Ladle at a soup kitchen. Clap for the street performer. Smile at a stranger. Set the table. Shovel the sidewalk. Rock the baby. Wander the trail. Leave milk for the stray.
It’s not a side hustle.
It’s the whole good race.