Little victories

I had a little victory this week: I created Living room philosophy’s new website (with a little help from WordPress)! I call it a little victory because I guess it is a relatively small achievement. But, as I will explain, a little victory still counts.

In his article Small victories, Oliver Burkeman writes about how small victories can yield better results of well-being than big ones: they are easier to achieve, and they can also break down the big ones into manageable pieces. One poignant illustration is his reference to the organisational theorist Karl Weick, who claimed that some of the big shifts in society came about through small victories. That in fact, having big goals can be so daunting that they tend to put people right off having them, let alone doing anything about them. He sums up Weick’s advice like this: “Want to change the world? First stop trying to change the world.” Advice, which no doubt chimes with me.

I had a day of little victories last October. My friends and I participated in a relay marathon, with each of us running a part of it. When it was my turn, the heavens opened up and showered me in all their glory, lasting the full length of my run. Not only was I getting soaked to the bone; I was trailing miles behind extremely seriously-minded and fast runners; and I had a big hill waiting for me at the end of my route. Naturally, there were moments when I was close to hyperventilating with panic, but I knew that the only way I was going to get through it was to focus on my breathing, try to enjoy the green scenery and possibly the rain. I completed my run: little victory no. 1.

I had not brought a change of clothes. My team-mates were all stationed outside in the stadium warming up, warming down or cheering on others. Being drenched and beginning to feel the chill, I headed to the changing room to seek warmth. It was fairly small and cramped with people desperate to get dry. There were two big, bare radiators beside the showers. I wondered why they hadn’t been snapped up by bodies or wet clothes. Like a shot, I flew over to them. They were stone cold. Assuming at first that they were broken, I was about to walk away, crestfallen. I then noticed that the dials were on zero. I twisted them: the heat began to warm me up and dry me out. Little victory no. 2.

Once I was dry, my team-mate suggested getting a complimentary massage. In the queue, we started talking about relationships when she asked me what I look for in a man:

“Well, er, someone, ” I hesitated, “nice?” I replied meekily.

“What do you mean by nice?” She retorted, “like, nice – as in – nice and boring?!”

“No!” I exclaimed and then I began to fumble my words, coming up with a vague description of my ideal man.

“You need to be specific,” she advised, “it’s all about visualising what you want and sending it out there, because that’s how you’ll get it.”

She then pointed to the three male masseurs and asked me which one I liked. There was one guy who stood out, he was about 5ft 11, with a pale complexion, tightly cut auburn hair and slightly scruffy stubble. He looked French. I pointed to him. She then did some clever manoeuvring in the line in the hope he would massage me.

As if the Universe was proving her theory, the cute masseur did end up giving me a massage. His name was Olivier, he was from Brittany and had recently moved over to Brussels. We had a nice chat. When my massage was over, my team-mate remarked how Olivier had spent longer with me than her masseur had done with her. She patted me on the back and called it a little victory.

At the time, I thought that my encounter with Olivier was my first little victory of the day, but actually it was just one of several. It is important to recognise and remember the little victories – no matter how trivial they appear – since they are victories nonetheless.

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Making the world a better place

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
– Rumi

I always thought my mission in life was to make the world a better place. I tormented myself with these dreams and ideas and questions. The endless stream of questions was what tormented me the most: “How was I going to do it? Should I start my own charity? Maybe it’s by becoming a human rights lawyer or campaigner? How would I get there? Would I make my mark in this world? Would I save the world and would people remember my legacy?”

Gosh. Those are extremely demanding questions to ask of anyone, let alone of myself. I used to get extremely bogged down by these questions to which I had no answers to. Of course I would try: I did the volunteering, interning and working; I did the studies, I read the books, I even marked out a plan to my Mum, but I always felt lost, out of my depth. And when I started to feel all those things, I felt pretty useless and then I felt like a failure.

I remember one morning late last year when I was hanging up some clothes in my wardrobe, that a clear realisation hit me: perhaps I am not supposed to make the world a better place. Suddenly, with the weight of those words falling from the tip of my head to the depths of my stomach, I felt at peace. I accepted it and it felt ok.

That afternoon, a friend came round for a cup of tea. A lot had been weighing on her mind but I got the impression that she was at pains to talk about it. I had asked after her family. What I thought was an innocuous question opened the floodgates of tears, fears and regrets. I sat with her on my comfy couch, I held her hand and gave her a big bear hug, with all my might. She let it all out, and I was grateful.

When my friend left I suddenly knew. Making the world a better place is most of time not “saving the world”. Most of the time it’s the little things like telling a friend that you are there for them and are proud to be the person they opened up to.

It’s funny, you have an idea of what something ought to be, and then life turns round and shows you how limited in your thinking you were.