My wife often is too fatigued from her breast cancer treatment to grocery shop, so I do it. On one such excursion, I was in the produce section, pulled on the roll of produce bags to tear one off, and the entire roll fell off of the spindle and onto the floor.
When I picked it up I was startled at how heavy it was. I’m not saying that it was hundreds of pounds, but considering how each bag on that roll weighs practically nothing I was surprised that all of those “nothings” added up to a significant “something.”
And therein lies the lesson; the little things that we do for our friends and our loved ones that don’t seem to make much of a difference, add up and make a BIG difference.
For example, we chose an oncologist that was 100 miles from our home. (I didn’t want to sacrifice long-term results for short-term convenience.) She was often very tired from her treatment so I did most of the driving. Driving back and forth one time isn’t really a big deal. Consider this, however: we have now logged over 30,000 miles related to her treatment. That amounts to over 600 hours of driving; 600 hours that she was able to rest. Now THAT’s a big deal.
Here’s another example. I played the clarinet from the 6th through the 12th grades, and even in my freshman year of college. During that time I was in orchestras, wind ensembles, Dixieland bands, and marching bands. I even had recordings of several clarinet concertos, minus the clarinet, which allowed me to play the concerto backed by a full, professional orchestra. My parents were always very supportive and put up with all the screeching and frustrations as I took lessons and practiced.
Every week they drove me to and from my lessons. None of those trips were a big deal.
They listened when I had perfected some difficult scale or piece of music. None of those “sit-downs” in the living room were a big deal.
They went to just about every performance of every type of musical group in which I played. That included watching the marching band perform at football games and in parades. And it included concerts, a couple of which I was privileged to play solo parts accompanied by the rest of the group. None of these events were a big deal (well, the solos were a big deal!), especially the football games where I was but a speck out on the field. But they were always there when it was over, full of compliments and enthusiasm.
What was a big deal, however, was the fact that all of those little things added up to enable me to have a musical “career” of sorts during my schooling, built my self-confidence (arguably one of the most important traits to have in life), and has given me a skill that will bring me pleasure for the rest of my life.
So, the next time you are overwhelmed with all of the little things that you have to do, remember to look at the big picture and remember how those little, almost-lighter-than-air produce bags make a heavy roll when they are all put together.
Knowing the difference you are making will help you cope as well.
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I use that technique all the time - in fact, wrote a recent article about it called "How to Eat an Elephant."
Example: the workbench in my garage is piled high with stuff. The thought of cleaning it up is overwhelming, so I decided that everytime I see it I will put away two things. Only two.
It was cleared off in no time... largely because I rarely stopped at just two once I got started!March 22, 2010 - 8:58am
You're on! I will apply this philosophy to the elephant that is my home office/ studio and see where it takes me!!March 22, 2010 - 10:14am
I like the metaphor about the produce bags. And in addition to seeing it in the frame of what we do for others, I can see myself using it in helping myself to accomplish big tasks. Sometimes I resist getting started on something when I don't have a lot of time. The job's just too big, you know? But if I treat each tiny piece of the task as a produce bag -- a little bit of nothing that does add up to something -- maybe it'll help me start moving forward on the big things as well. Thanks, Dave, as always, for a new perspective.March 22, 2010 - 8:43am
What an interesting observation - thank you for that. Sometimes we need a reminder like that to help us appreciate our own contributions.March 19, 2010 - 6:12am
I love how you said 600 hours that she could rest instead of 600 hours that you had to drive. You're lucky to have each other. God bless you both!March 19, 2010 - 2:36am