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The Power of Being Small

One of my clients this week asked me about my experience of a recent trip to Scandinavia—what it was like for me. He had been on a similar trip years ago, and I sensed he was accessing those memories all over again through our conversation.

Looking out window at boat on lake at night.

I shared there was something about my experience in the fjords of Norway that felt particularly powerful, but I was struggling to put my finger on it.

It wasn’t that I had to tilt my head waaaaaayyyyyy back to take in the entire scene that was created by the forces of ice, land, and water doing their ancient dance together over time.

It wasn’t the fact that I flung myself with wild abandon into the 48 degree water from a platform 10 feet above the floating sauna we had been toasting in. And survived to do it again.

It wasn’t about how all the shades of blue and black and deep purple created a mystical experience for us each night as the light left the fjord, and then the sky—even with the rain and fog.

But speaking with my client, he offered up a phrase that helped me name what I had experienced in those fjords.

I felt so inconsequential.

Yes, that was it.

More than simply feeling small, I actually felt inconsequential.

I was reminded of how little I was—without handing over my power.
I got to experience how I didn’t matter in that moment—even as I did.
I got to access how I was just a speck of dust in the world—as I took up space in it.

Have you ever had a moment like that?

It was deliciously awesome, and so unlike my experience of looking down into something, like the Grand Canyon.

Small boat on frosty lake on foggy day.

I was deep in it, looking up. From the bowl, itself. In the belly.

It’s in my bones now.

Like those moments when you lose the experience of gravity in your body—just for a moment—at the height of a rollercoaster after it climbs the steepest part of the track, but before it plunges downward. Or right as one of those elevator drop rides gives way from those impossibly tall poles at the amusement and you free fall.

Except, this wasn’t a ride, this was nature.
There were no engines or tracks, just water and lots of it.
It wasn’t thrilling or scary, it was quietly humbling and deeply nourishing.

When I left for our trip, I told my family I had three hopes:

1. Make some awesome memories as a family.
2. Find my awe.
3 Miss my country.

I’m happy to report I got two of those.
Maybe Meatloaf had it right…. “Cuz, two out of three ain’t bad….

But ever since my client mentioned the unexpected gift of feeling inconsequential—I’ve been thinking about this thing we often say to each other as women—almost like a command.

Don’t play small.

I used to have Maryanne Williamson’s quote “You’re playing small doesn’t serve the world” stenciled on the wall in my home office of SheChanges, a shoebox of a room with no heat but a beautiful window.

That quote inspired me back then.

But now?
It exhausts me.

Do you ever feel that way?

If I’m being honest, it actually annoys me—because it implies we should only value what’s big.

Only BIG is productive.
Only BIG is to be celebrated.
Only BIG defines success.

And that’s just not true. Some the the best things in my life have happened as a result of stringing together the small moments.

You know, those blink-and-you miss it moments? The inconsequential ones.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that quote is an invitation to be of service to our world—a call to act and to show up to this one wild and wooly life (as Mary Oliver writes in her poem). In many ways, it’s what I do for my living (ergo the quote on my wall)

But think about how those gentle invitations have lost their way over time:

Play big!
Lean in!
Show up!

Nothing in nature stays the same size, so why should we?

The moon doesn’t always play big, it waxes and wanes.
Tides don’t always lean in, they come in and go out.
Summer doesn’t always show up, it eventually gives way to fall, then winter.

It makes me think of economist Kate Raworth, talking about her model of “donut economics” which suggests that part of our problem is that we put GROWTH at the center of our model and somehow thought that would be a good idea—sustainable, even. Pfft.

Nothing in nature constantly grows.

(side note: I unexpectedly wrote about grief last week and holy WOW did my inbox explode with comments from readers…it seems that struck a huge chord with us right now. If you missed that email, I gotchu covered—here it is.)

I also thought of the Dalai Lama, relaying an African proverb that goes something like: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve obviously never spent the night with a mosquito.”

I remember listening to Hillary Clinton’s response at a local town hall in 2016 when someone asked her about her experience with international relations as Secretary of State. Actually, I watched her talk about it as her hands demonstrated the “delicate hand” she said it took to weave together all the various threads of understanding.

So to recap: a donut, a mosquito and some delicate threads walk into a bar…all seemingly inconsequential, but all capable of having massive impact.

I wonder what this world would look like if we gave each other more encouragement and support—perhaps even permission and space—to be both big and small.

How might that impact our health, our economy, and our climate?

I suspect it might be something like Valarie Kaur references in her work around “Revolutionary Love”—and how we ought to do as the midwives suggest: PUSH! And then? Breathe.

So here’s to being humbled.
And here’s to the power of moments that seem inconsequential.

May we make more space to not only learn from the moments—but to also embody them, maybe even by jumping into the water.

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