When I was in my twenties I thought I would change the world. I was surrounded by world changers. I was dedicated to being “the change you seek in the world”. I had taken a sip of the change the world Kool-Aid and I was full on drunk with the idea that my little life HAD to count for something.
During this time period of taking myself way too seriously and refusing to admit that not every speech that I heard or book I devoured really didn’t need to shift my paradigm, I had a friend who just wasn’t buying it. “What if I don’t want to change the world? What if I want to get married, have some kids, raise them to be good people and live my life here, in our little town? What if I just want to change my neighborhood simply by living in it?” I remember trying to convince her to dream bigger. I remember telling her that that sentiment was all well and good but she could aim higher. And that maybe she SHOULD aim higher. I remember challenging her to be more, try harder, and live better. And I remember that small, little voice inside me that wouldn’t shut up and that kept asking, “What if she’s right? What if it’s ok to NOT want to change the world?” And in the still quiet moments I would think about how freeing it would feel to not want to change the world. I would relish in the liberties that came with not taking myself so seriously all the time. And I would feel the pressures that I was holding on my own shoulders just disappear.
Now that I am safely entrenched in my mid thirties, I wish I could go back and tell 25 year old me to listen to my friend a little bit more. I wish I had realized sooner that not everyone will actually change the world and that that is completely 100% most definitely ok. Dear current twenty-somethings, you might not actually change the world one day. Some of you might invent massive vacuum cleaners that cleanse the world’s air of all bacteria and thus end the common cold. (And if you do, I’m going to need some royalties passed my way for just giving you that idea.) And some of you might simply manage to show up to work every day, on time and work hard and own a house and teach a kid to ride a bike and take great vacations that make you go, “Wow!” And both are completely, 100% most definitely ok. Life is not all about the big world changing monumental moments. It is comprised of a series of seemingly mediocre ones that somehow supernaturally add up to definitely changing the world…because it changes your world. Your life is changed by those moments. And that is significant enough in and of itself.
I was watching my husband play his guitar this weekend. He is a very talented musician. He’s the kind of musician that other musicians in the audience notice immediately and are gravitated to. But he doesn’t sing. In our 12 years of dating and being married I have heard him sing only one time. I don’t think he has a bad voice but he knows what he wants a voice to sound like musically and he knows that his isn’t it and so he doesn’t sing. In fact, most of the time when you might see him playing his guitar you would suspect that he plays nothing but a supportive role musically. Very rarely is he front and center and most often you will find he and his instrument tucked away in the back corner of the stage. I was watching him this weekend and chuckling to myself about how this band of musicians looked to the audience. I was realizing that not one soul in that audience knew that at that moment my husband was in complete control of the musicians standing on that stage. He had selected the set list that week. He had run rehearsal and written parts and every idea had to get his final stamp of approval. But the audience was none the wiser. Because he was leading from the back.
Why do we think that the ones on the stages, in the limelights, or holding the microphones are the only ones “changing the world”? Why do we define success by how many “likes” your photos get or the number of books published or the number of records sold or stocks exchanged or the amount of money in your bank account? Why do we all try to lead from the front, even still now, fully entrenched in adulthood? What if your life will be summed up by how well you loved, how hard you worked and how many scraped knees you made all better? Can you be ok with that?
I want so very badly to be ok with that. I’m realizing that my friend ten years ago was so much wiser than her tender years. I am working so very hard to be ok with that. Not because I am giving up or selling out or settling for anything at all. But because I am learning that life is richer and has more meaning when I add up all the seemingly mediocre moments and allow myself to realize that they are not at all mediocre. They are world changing moments. My life has been changed because of them.
We are facing the holiday season and I already feel the pull of its hustle and bustle. I feel the pinterest sirens calling me to make this Christmas season the best one yet! I am on the verge of falling victim to the advertiser’s declarations that more is always better! I feel the pressure of the clever elves on the shelves, mocking me for my lack of creativity and judging me for stifling Levi’s imagination. It is so easy to get sucked into the idea that I am responsible for all of Christmas magic and fun. It is so easy to believe that I am supposed to lead from the front and deliver to my family a holiday that is worthy of all the Christmas card pictures and all the Instagrammable moments.
But this year I am dedicated to leading from the back. I am committing myself to catching all the little moments. I want to see all of the little smiles that my son makes throughout this season of his life. I want him to see his mother enjoying the slower pace of life that vacation time should bring. I want him to watch his dad and I love each other and sneak a kiss under the mistletoe. I want him to remember his holidays as being a season where time stood still for a while and the stockings didn’t match perfectly and the tree leaned a little to the left all month. Because I want him to grow up realizing that we make decisions that change the world all the time, they just aren’t as monumental as we think they are. And they are often disguised as a mediocre one.