Make today count.

When I was in high school, I remember giving myself a pep talk every fall right before the school year started.

“This is it. This is the one. I can feel it. THIS is going to be the semester I get all A’s.”

And I’d really believe it…for a day. Sometimes even a week or two. Fueled by optimism, I’d plug away enthusiastically for a while, taking faithful notes, studying every night, carefully completing my homework.

But by the time I reached the end of September, the marking period seemed to stretch out endlessly in front of me, and things would inevitably start to slide. I’d forget to take my books home, or neglect to write down a deadline on my calendar; and with each little slip-up the more my motivation would slump.  I tried to “keep my eyes on the prize,” but the prize I’d set my sights on seemed too big and too far away.

Now that I’ve got the benefit of fifteen-plus years of hindsight, I can see more clearly why, despite my best intentions, I never managed to get straight A’s in high school – why, in fact, A’s were few and far between for me, capable though I think I was. I saw my academic life as being made up of marking periods and semesters – large expanses of time during which I could accomplish anything…but I somehow didn’t register that, in order to get there, I’d have to apply myself again and again, a class period at a time, a day at a time.

This month’s theme for Hallmark “Life Is A Special Occasion campaign is “encouragement.” And when I got thinking about the most effective way to encourage myself, my children, and my entire household to do our best this fall, I realized so often we (the universal, cultural “we”) are conditioned to equate “success” with the end game. The semester report card. The big weight loss goal. The remodeled kitchen.

We don’t always encourage ourselves – or others – to take much pleasure and pride in the smaller accomplishments: the day your child really wanted to go to a friend’s house, but decided to stay home and put in a little extra study time; the morning you took a few deep breaths when you were running late instead of griping at your kids all the way to drop-off; the evening you really wanted to zone out on Facebook but instead decided to rip up those hideous vinyl tiles.

All those little choices, small efforts, days where you gave your best, can add up to big things. And even if they don’t, a day well-spent, a small goal met, is a worthy effort in itself regardless of where it leads. That’s easy to forget when we’re so doggedly focused on pursuing the Big Things.

As I look forward to transitioning from a lazy summer to a much busier fall, I can see that our household is already bustling with ambition. My oldest son Jacob is moving into the 8th grade, while Isaac, my second, will enter middle school this year. William is looking forward to getting “real grades” as a second-grader, while Owen will be getting on that bus for the very first time to start kindergarten.

And I am looking forward to filling those hours with plenty of projects of my own. Just like autumns past, my optimism runs high and it’s hard to keep myself from visualizing a long list of accomplishments by October or so: My house will be cleaner! I’ll blog more frequently! I’ll re-organize all the bedroom closets! I’ll teach Clara the alphabet! I’ll finally learn how to use Photoshop! Perhaps even write another book!

I’ve written before about being a big-picture thinker, and those ambitions are the spark that get me excited about day-to-day life. But what I sometimes forget is that life is made from day to day. In the end, the only real way to be a better: mother, student, friend, employee, homemaker, business owner, closet-cleaner…is to start each day with the intention to do the best I can today. And then do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

A few good days in a row can add up to great accomplishments. And no matter how badly this day goes, there’s another one less than 24 hours away. Another chance for my bigger kids to pay better attention in class, to be kinder to others during recess, to take more detailed notes. Another chance for the little ones to sleep all night in their own beds or check everything off the chore chart. Another chance for me to really listen when my kids are trying to tell me something, to attend to my daily duties and deadlines with cheer and good humor, to give my best to what life brings.

“Make the grade,” “Make the team” and “Make dinner at home every night for a month” are great goals. But just as important – and a million times more manageable? Make today count.

And that feels like the best kind of encouragement to me.

This post is part of a themed conversation sponsored by Hallmark’s “Life Is A Special Occasion” campaign, but the ideas and words expressed are all mine. If you’d like to keep up with the rest of the bloggers participating in these posts and find out more about special promotions from Hallmark, sign up for the email list.

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