Thoughts on Living a Small but Full Life

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

It’s film and television award show season, and NFL playoff season, and soon to be the winter Olympic season. Those times when people with big lives make big news. Special people. Accomplished people.

As a child, I was told I could be anything. And I believed it. I’d watch television and see Olympians or ballerinas or senators (yes, senators) do big things. And I never thought for one second that living a big life was beyond my reach.

But as my backend drifts wide around the corner of middle age and begins to pick up speed and zoom downhill toward old age, I realize that most opportunities for a big life are behind me. If they ever really existed at all. And it’s not because I’m a failure at becoming anything special that I ponder the following question, “Why is a big life considered more special or more fulfilled than a small life?”

Frumpy-guts middle-aged moms, editorialists and street corner preachers all lament the impact of social media on our culture. How young people seek fame by broadcasting over-the-top details of their lives. But is it truly fame people seek? Or do some simply want a pat on the back? To feel a sense of accomplishment? Do we paint a picture of a big life because small lives are so often treated as less valuable?

I recall hearing author, Abraham Verghese once say that his parents believed he could only grow up to become one of four things; a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a failure. Is this what we teach our children? That a good life, a successful life, can only be made up of big accomplishments and lofty goals, and that anything less is failure? I may be guilty of this. And parents out there who push your kiddos too hard in sports, academics or performing arts may be guilty of this too.

I’m not suggesting we tell our kids, “don’t try” or “go ahead and settle for mediocrity.” I’m simply wondering if we should demonstrate more appreciation for smaller lives. Do we dare tell our children it’s okay to grow up to be “average?” Is that even allowed anymore?

In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel notes how the culture seems to label children as either gifted or learning disabled. Any middle ground, any room for average, is disappearing and parents clamor to boost their kiddos onto the high achievement train before it leaves the station and their offspring are doomed to live small lives.

Well, guess what? A life filled with average activities like sewing a button on a shirt, preparing a home-cooked meal, walking the dog through the park, reading books, volunteering at homeless shelters or working at a job where you most likely won’t discover a cure for cancer, may be a small life–But it can still be a great life, a blessed life, an earnest life most worthy of living to its fullest.

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Living a Small but Full Life

  1. Hallie Sawyer says:

    I like your train of thought on this post, Angela. There is nothing wrong with appreciating life’s simple pleasures and if that provides fulfillment for them, then they lived a big life.

    I tell my kids that I want them to grow up and just do what they love. Whether it is photography, professional sports, coaching, writing, etc., just do what you love and it won’t be work. It will be your life.

    We tell our kids when things get tough, quitting isn’t acceptable. Life is hard. If they can persevere through what they think is hard now, it will make them mentally tougher later.

    As I’ve gotten older, I feel overwhelmed by the every day responsibilities and my sense of purpose gets glazed over. Taking life to a simpler level seems to be where the true happiness lies. Seeing baby birds hatch in spring, witnessing the sun set over the mountains, lying on a blanket with my kids under the stars, sharing stories over a fire and a glass of wine. These are the things I cherish. Now if those things would just pay the mortgage. 🙂

    • Amen Hallie!
      It’s just the pressure to live a larger than life life that minimizes the smaller yet fulfilling aspects of being alive. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  2. Your post resonated with me. “how the culture seems to label children as either gifted or learning disabled. Any middle ground, any room for average, is disappearing”, In fact a large number of us must be average. And of course the giftedness or ability can be so relative, depending upon the group you are in. I want my children to be happy and proud of who they are and I hope that they will be good, kind, loving people no matter the “size” of their lives.

    • I agree wholeheartedly but admit I’m often tempted to push my children to be more than average out of fear that otherwise they are somehow lacking. But that’s awful thinking because all people are valuable no matter their level of achievement and success.
      Thank you for reading and your comment. I’m sure your kiddos are gonna do well with such a thoughtful mama.

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