I turn 38 today. I’m not one to hide my age, or get terribly overwrought about it, but it does inspire some reflection. What exactly have I accomplished with those nearly 14,000 days on the planet? Quite a bit; lots of it good, some of it hard, most of it worth it.
The trouble is, too often this kind of reflection gets sucked into the gutter of what haven’t I accomplished–the undone items on the bucket list and the ever-present human weaknesses. Still in debt. Still fighting with time management skills. Still no novel published (or finished). Still, still, wondering why no one but me seems to know how to put away the peanut butter and bread.
A lot of us spend too much time wishing things were another way, we were somewhere else, or that the fairies would show up and do the dishes already. Combine that with the poisonous public sphere we are living in right now, and it’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say, “I’m done. Why am I even trying?”
Leaving your head in that kind of space is not a great idea. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve climbed my way out of the sludge of anxiety and depression, and most days my life is built right on the shoreline of that dangerous pond. It’s my reality, but it’s not my entire world, and I make conscious choices that help keep me trying.
One of them is to focus on the things that haven’t been done as more of a “what’s next” list rather than a “I suck” list. Another is to look at the idea of “accomplishment” in a different way. I’ve had my share of major successes and a few moments in the spotlight, and it’s easy to unconsciously come to expect more of life to meet that calibre of awesomeness, and then when it doesn’t, it can feel like you’ve been robbed. Reality is, most of the things most of us do are decidedly un-earthshattering. Helen Keller famously said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
Those small tasks are accomplishments. Baby steps get you past milestones just like leaps and sprints–sometimes more efficiently and without the sprained ankle, too. I’m still in debt, but I made some wiser choices at the grocery store today. Procrastination is still a struggle, but I deleted a couple of time-sucker games off my phone. Novels aren’t done, but they’re started and I’m carving out a half hour here and there between work and kids and life.
Another choice I make is to believe in the good many small people can accomplish, despite the negativity that might dominate the media streams. Instead of belittling and mocking each other because we might walk our road a little differently, we can encourage and learn from one another.
All of this brings me back around to my birthday, and what I’m giving myself as a present: a project.
I’m going to document the little accomplishments, the snapshots of beauty I have created, on a daily basis, using Instagram, so I can remember for myself the good that I am doing, the world I am changing within the larger world.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her classic book Gift From the Sea, wrote, “Nothing feeds the centre so much as creative work, even humble kinds like cooking and sewing…baking bread, weaving cloth, putting up preserves, teaching and singing to children… It need not be an enormous project or a great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day–like writing a poem, or saying a prayer.”
Can you see what you are creating? Join me, and use the hashtag #icreatedtoday. No Pinterest posturing please, just show us your beauty, your small accomplishments, your smiles and art and vegetable sprouts — and let’s help each other keep trying.