The Small Stuff

By Scott Westerman
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa

Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness and support can make all the difference. I sent a short email of support to a friend. It had been whispering to me for some time and I finally took the time to get it done. It turned out to be something that hit this person at one of those watershed moments we all have. Moments where a tiny act of affirmation could be the catalyst for transformation.

Remember the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff“? Richard Carlson‘s timeless tome reminds us that our in-box will never be empty. It’s easy to get caught up in minutia that distracts us from the things that most contribute to our happiness.  “The purpose of life isn’t to get it all done, but to enjoy each step on the journey.” Carlson writes.

If you haven’t read the book, it’s title makes it easy to think that you shouldn’t pay attention to detail. You should. Just be sure you’re paying attention to the right details.

The other day, I was in the middle of a one-on-one with a team member. Even with my ADD attention span, I try to focus clearly on the other person when they talk, giving them my total attention during our hour together. I also have a terrible memory, so I use several tools to help me remember the things I’ve agreed to do. One of them is keeping a draft email message open on my laptop so I can use it as a virtual legal pad.

As I was making a note about our conversation, my attention was drawn to my inbox. I had sent a message earlier to a friend, complimenting her on an interaction I had witnessed. She thanked me, ending with, “I needed that. In fact I could use a hug right now. It’s one of those days.”

She’s usually everyone else’s pillar of strength so this set off an alarm. I dashed off a quick reply, “Where are you?” and returned to making my one-on-one notes.

An instant later she wrote back, “I’m at the Red Cedar Cafe.”

That was a call for help. I thought for  moment and turned to my co-worker. “Let’s go for a ride.”

It was a short trip from the office to the Red Cedar Cafe and it turned out that what my friend needed was some one to listen for a few minutes as she steeled herself to face an uncomfortable, but important task. The three of us spent some brief, but quality time together, and in short order we were on our way to dive back into the challenges of the day.

I always end my one-on-ones by asking, “What else can I do to make your life better today.” It’s a statement that I hope my team will emulate in their interactions. When I asked my co-worker that question on our way back from the Red Cedar Cafe, she said, “You already did something. You taught me not to miss the small things that might turn out to be the important things.”

Every so often, the life changing things happen in our peripheral vision. They rarely jump out at us and usually live among the small stuff. Learning to tune your internal radar to filter out the noise so you’ll catch them is an art that comes with practice. Here are a few thoughts to help you tune your awareness, so you won’t miss what’s important:

Learn to listen. Seek to understand.”When you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively,” wrote Indian author Jiddu Krishnamurti, “then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.” Do your best to interpret what’s really being said. Something that may seem to be especially negative may be the result of something going on in the other person’s life that has nothing to do with you.

Your inner circle should always get priority. This is your soul mate, your kids, your closest friends and those few individuals who can help you continue to grow and prosper. Build your inner circle with care. Who is on that list? When was the last time you connected with them? Carve out quality time every week to nurture these releationships.

Champion some underdogs. As Kent Keith notes in his Paradoxical Commandments: “People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.” Underdogs are often rock stars who still need practice. Helping someone find the high tide raises your boat, too. From Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Find a system to get your to-do list out of your head. To develop a good problem solving brain, don’t put too much data into it at once. Trying to keep track of too many things clutters your ability to think, let alone enjoy. Try Evernote.

Put your worries in the proper perspective. “If you want to test your memory,” says philosopher E. Joseph Crossman, “try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.” The little things often trigger anxiety and all that comes with it. How important is that worry in the bigger scheme of things? If you can’t get a problem to stop eating you, take a bite out of it. The best elixer is action. Take some.

Our lives will always be filled with potential distractions that seem really important when they’re not. Those distractions often live among the little things that combine to fill our days, for better or worse.  Sweat the small stuff. But make sure it’s the right stuff.