This post is by Heather Caliri, regular contributor to The Happiest Home and blogger at A Little Yes. Heather writes about saying “yes” to little things that scare us. You can read all her posts here.
I’ve taken what look like big, risky steps in my life.
I’ve moved abroad twice, once with my entire family in tow. I gave birth at home to two kids, and a few years later, I decided to homeschool them.
When I tell people about these decisions, I see a lot of raised eyebrows. People will say, wow, or I could never do that.
What’s funny is those very same people have taken steps that make me feel woozy. Friends hold onto challenging careers while raising their kids. They publish books or lead the PTA. They’ve battled addictions, paid down a mountain of debt, or are surviving divorce.
Here’s the truth: a wild life doesn’t feel wild when you’re living it. Sure, there are times of stress, of too many things happening, but a life full of change and big steps still involves washing laundry, shopping for a gallon of milk, and paying the electric bill. If you’re in the middle of it, a ‘wild’ life is just normal.
But here’s the thing: what looks like a big change on the outside is really a series of tiny, almost imperceptible decisions. Healing from anorexia happens one Oreo cookie at a time. A whole new health routine begins with a small dot of moisturizer. Publishing a book happens years ahead of time when you write one sentence after another—or, even before that, you open up a blank Word document and save it to your computer.
After a few years of thinking about baby steps, I’ve come to an odd conclusion:
There’s no such thing as a big step.
What the rest of us see from the outside is never the whole truth. Life change doesn’t happen one day to another.
If we concentrate on the big changes everyone else is making, we might think we’ll never be as brave, passionate or lucky as they are. And surely luck plays into it—I’ll own the unearned privileges that have given me so much agency over my life.
But the more I’m learning, the more I’m seeing that “big change” is a mirage. It’s much more honest to look past the surface and see how big change happens in the everyday life that all of us are living. We must celebrate all changes: the sexy, public ones and the quiet revolutions that transform our hearts.
Before Thanksgiving last year, I stumbled across writer Anne Lamott’s Facebook post about her early sobriety. Her first months without alcohol fell right before the holidays. As T-day approached, she started panicking. How would she keep from drinking when surrounded by all the stress (and alcohol) of her family?
Lamott writes, “The night before Thanksgiving, a sober gay man with AIDS took me aside and said, ‘Annie, another word for Thanksgiving is Thursday. Just don’t drink tomorrow. Just for one day…’”
It changed my life. Just Thursday? What a concept. He said all I had to do was show up, and no matter what, not drink. Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.”
Here’s what recovering addicts know: if we look at the big picture, we’re sunk. There’s no way we can handle fifteen years of sobriety, a new commitment to healthy eating, a plan to become a writer, the year(s) of sleep deprivation with a new baby all at once. There’s no way we can stick to our commitments to our passions, our families, and ourselves now, always and forever. If we have to take a big step, we’re doomed.
But that outlook is a lie, because there’s no such thing as a big step. There’s only the choice we can make right now, this minute, to stay true to ourselves, to honor our gifts and those we love.
There’s only saying one yes—or no—at a time. That’s all that we’re capable of.
And, to my relief, it’s all that’s required.
Image credit: Alec Couros