The Power of Small

A friend of mine put up a flyer in her apartment complex asking if anyone wanted to exercise with her. A resident responded and said she had lived there for five years and still didn’t know any fellow resident. My friend said, “well, now you do.”

Another friend wanted to do a clean-up in their neighborhood and asked if he should set a date a couple of months in advance, make flyers, and begin preparing for a massive event. I said, “how about you and I go out next Saturday and start picking up trash and see where it goes from there?”

Once a month, I take a bucket of food scraps collected from our kitchen and dump it in a food composting bin my neighbor has set up. Will it prevent climate change? I don’t know, but it will be a solid cubic foot of carbon material that won’t go into a landfill but will be used to make some great soil.

I am discovering the power of small. Big things seem to matter more than small things but only because we have removed the element of time. Small things, done conscientiously and consistently over time, have big impacts. We can’t see the big impacts because they are shrouded in time – sometimes lots of time. We need faith to believe that small is significant.

I am reminded of the entrepeneur’s mantra: ‘on average, it takes about 15 years for an overnight success.’ Small, steady steps make big things happen.

The problem with big is not that it is not significant but that it is likely not to take place if we have to start there. Small = more likely to actually get done by us. Hence, small is bigger than big in the end.

I would like to thank Terry Young for introducing me to the story of the Starfish, one many of you have probably heard but is worth repeating. It represents faith in the power of small. It is adapted from The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley and it goes something like this:

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,

“Well, I made a difference for that one!”


  1. Alesia says

    Thanks for the reminder on small, consistent steps turns into big things.

  2. Vickie says

    Norm I always come away from these writings feeling uplifted, or tuned into another way of seeing things. Thanks!

  3. joyce mason says

    I am on the Buy Nothing Facebook page for west Germantown. You can post things that you want to give away or find things you may need. Recently, while going through my attic, I found a bag full of stuffed animals, mainly Disney characters, from about 25 years ago. I put them all in the washing machine, which they handled really well.
    I posted on Buy Nothing, and a couple said that Donald Duck and Louie were one of their favorite memories from childhood and that I had made their
    weekend! They will pick Donald and Louie up later this week! Helps me clear my house and gives someone joy. Win/win

  4. Norm Gordon says

    Great example, Joyce! Keep up the good work!

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