I think, in a way, we are very spoiled. The world is at our fingertips. We can see amazing things whenever we want. Some of the amazing things we see are real, some of them might even be staged (“reality TV”), but, nonetheless, in the moment at least, what we are watching seems real, amazing, other worldly, and significant.
We see so much and know about so much that we often are able to “one-up” whoever is talking to us about whatever remarkable thing they just saw:
Person 1: Did you see the guy on the bike who did six flips in a row?
Person 2: I saw a guy who did eight of them!
We are so impressed by what we see that we are not impressed by anything.
Each day there is something bigger or better. The most spectacular event of today is overshadowed by tomorrow’s grandiose occurrence. Even worse, today’s amazing thing is quickly forgotten – so much so that it’s not even tomorrow’s memory. It’s as if it never existed.
The world is at our fingertips, and while that can often be great, I think, more often, it actually takes away from life itself.
What happens with all this “greatness” and “remarkableness” all around us is we lose sight of the little things that actually make the biggest difference.
You see, for each of us, life is made up of the small moments. The small moments that mean everything. It is the small moments – not the great ones – that most often define us.
It is in our small moments that we become who we are. It is in the small moments that we achieve the things that propel us forward.
Yet, I think that we often compare our small moments, and even our greatest successes, to the more magnificent moments of the others that are at our fingertips – only a click away. And when we compare ourselves to them, we fall short. Far short. We are never quite as strong or beautiful or athletic or even smart or accomplished as the people who society and the media define for us as those things.
Compared to those others, our small steps forward, our achievements, our most wonderful accomplishments seem… insignificant.
(Which in a way, sometimes even makes us feel insignificant.)
That most wonderful person (not us) is everywhere. He is on TV and magazine covers. He is all over the Internet. Things move so fast these days that the biggest hero of right now is starring in tomorrow’s Doritos commercials (before he is replaced and forgotten about the very next day).
And, as such, in comparison what we do, and who we are, seems… insignificant.
And, I think we are worse off as individuals, and a society, because of this.
When we think we’re not remarkable, we become not remarkable.
When we belittle our accomplishments, it becomes hard, if not impossible, to keep striving forward. “Why bother?” some ask. It’s been done before. It’s been done better.
And the reality is, we will never be that good.
And, as stated above, when we are so impressed by everything, we are not impressed by anything.
I received an e-mail this week from a parent that read Impossible is an Illusion – my book of motivational essays. He wrote:
Hi Dr. Sem,
If you see (my daughter) today, ask her about her “Impossible Is an Illusion” moment this weekend.
Have a great week!
After reading this e-mail, I made it a point to find the child and learn about her great achievement. I couldn’t wait to hear what she overcame.
I asked the student if she had an “Impossible is an Illusion moment*” over the weekend. She looked at me, broke into a huge smile, and nodded.
(*I have to admit, it is very cool that people are using my words, my silly quote, to define things. It was amazing that I said my words to someone else and that she knew exactly what I was talking about. This is the type of moment that an author dreams about! My words are part of someone else’s language? Impossible!)
I asked the child, “What did you do? Tell me!”
With humbleness, she said, “I rode my bike up a big hill that I was never able to go up before.”
This is enormous! It is huge. Gigantic! Climbing that hill was one of those very special “I can do anything” moments that can define a life. Yet, if we took that moment and put it on youtube, it might not get many hits.
Person 1: Did you see the girl ride her bike up that hill?
Person 2: I saw a person do that on a unicycle.
Person 3: Backwards…
Person 4: In San Francisco
Person 5: On that winding street
Person 6: During a snow storm
Person 7: In August
Person 7 (again): It’s San Francisco after all…
But, the small moments, like that girl reaching the top of the hill are the ones that should get all the views.
What she did was as great – or greater – than anything you can see on a TV or computer. Insignificant? I think not!
What she did should get the views because the moments like these are the truly the great moments of life. The great moments are not what others accomplish, they are what WE accomplish.
While the world might not be impressed by this small feat, the point is, it should be. What that little girl accomplished was other worldly. It was enormous. It WAS significant.
In that child’s world, it was one of the most significant things ever.
Conquering that hill (it was a mountain as far as she was concerned) proved to the child that she can overcome difficult challenges. To her it wasn’t insignificant – it might have been the most difficult thing she ever did.
Leave the media aside, and picture the moment as it took place in the girl’s head.
“Oh no, that’s the hill I can’t ride up. I have never made it up that hill. It’s high and far. It’s hard. I can’t do it.”
But something inside her compelled her to keep going.
Think back to your own days on a bike (for some of us, a long (long) time ago) the pain, the misery, the struggle. Remember how your legs burned with each turn of the pedal? Do you remember the strain? Think back to how the bike slowed down, almost to a standstill, and how you had to turn the handlebars to prevent the bike from falling over…and then you had to push even harder – and it hurt even more.
Remember how hard it was to breathe? Remember remembering all the times you failed before?
Seriously, take a moment and really remember what it was like to look up and see a goal so far away.
And, as you recall the moment, think of how this girl (and you) pushed just a little harder and your bike inched ever closer…
You cannot tell me that that moment was insignificant. It was, instead, the most remarkable thing in the world.
This child pushed through all the doubt, all of the past failures, all of the misery and pain, and reached the top.
This is what life is all about. These are the successes and the wonders and the accomplishments that make up a rich and wonderful life.
Life isn’t about the superstar on the devices that follow us everywhere. Success isn’t the “wonderful” things we see (real or imagined) on TV. Greatness isn’t the youtuber who can seemingly do the impossible (he probably can’t anyway).
Life is about the small moments.
Life is about the hills that we have to climb – the hills that really are mountains.
In a week or a year that child may not remember the first time she reached the apex on her bike. In a few years that achievement might seem insignificant even to her. But is won’t be and it wasn’t. And it isn’t. It’s the small successes we have, the hills we climb, day after day, experience after experience, that pave our futures.
That wonderful young kid proved to herself, the most important person of all, that she can, indeed do anything she sets her mind to do.
Because she can.
That’s the magic. That’s the wonder. That IS significant.
That is greatness.
That is what the best parts of life are all about.
And that is something that we must always remind ourselves of – and something that must teach our students on a daily basis:
They are significant and the accomplishments they achieve are the greatest things in the history of their worlds.