E13: Think big, start small
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Everyone - even moms - should feel confident to think big about their dreams and aspirations. Too often, we limit our potential and assume we’ll fail before we even start or that our dreams don’t matter. But even the most successful people fail! The key is to start with small, achievable steps, so you can learn to manage failure well along your journey to your big dream.
This is another “Lesson from a Corporate Life.” The other episodes in this series are episodes 2, 4, and 11.
In today’s episode:
What does it mean to “think big?”
Develop your vision or dream
The power of vulnerability
How to start small
Failure is just a matter of perspective
“Think big” is yet another lesson from the corporate life. I recently quit my high pressure marketing consulting job and am so glad to be a stay-at-home mom now. It is a choice I made and am thankful I made, though I do not judge those who make different choices. I do not miss working at all, but I find myself utilizing some of the lessons I learned from the corporate life in my new role at home. I’ve learned ways to be more organized with my time and with projects, how to face huge stressors unemotionally, how to prioritize, how to end overthinking, and more. Over time, I hope to pass some of these lessons on to you. These are principles that I genericize so that hopefully you can apply them at work, at home, with friendships, or with hobbies. If you’d like to listen, my previous episodes in this series are episode 4, on overthinking and having a bias for action, and episode 11, on setting work boundaries. I have some blogs in this series as well.
As I said, today’s lesson from a corporate life is to “think big.” We’re going to talk about what it means to think big, how you could apply it in your life, and how on earth to get started on some big, scary dreams of yours because life is too short to let some of your big dreams lapse.
Thinking big was a core value at one of the Fortune 100 companies I did marketing for about 7 years ago. Thinking big means visualizing what you could achieve on a grand scale, with no limits. Admittedly, thinking big was the one of the things I was worst at. I could not think big. Or rather, I would not think big. This is largely due to my own insecurities and limiting beliefs about myself. I assumed I would fail. I refused to put myself in a position to fail because I feared failure and I feared the embarrassment that came with it. If I ever strayed from the prescribed path or thought outside of the box, I took a greater risk of failure. As a recovering perfectionist, I’d rather stay in the safe lane and get straight A’s than go down the uncharted path and risk a D or an F, even if that uncharted path offered great reward for success. I knew failure could be a good thing but I couldn’t handle it emotionally. It would devastate me. It’s one thing to know that growth comes from failure and it’s another thing to willingly put yourself in the position to fail. Furthermore, big dreams and ideas were daunting and overwhelming to me. It just felt like a lot of work and I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to get started. So I stopped myself before I ever got started.
Over time, I’ve learned the power of vulnerability and of failure and will share more about that later. Let’s turn to you, though. What is something you would love to accomplish in your personal life or work life that you don’t do because you’re scared, overwhelmed, or don’t believe in your potential?
Thinking big could start with your business or career. Maybe you have a side hustle that could really take off or want to change careers but are too scared. But thinking big is not limited to business. Think big about what you could accomplish physically - a marathon, winning a bodybuilding competition, losing a lot of weight, or summiting a mountain.
These are all big ideas that could be possible for you, though they may seem out of reach right now. Think big about what you can do at home, too. Can you learn to tile and redo your bathroom without hiring anyone? Can you build a garden and eat only the produce you grow? Think big about your personal dreams and passions. The dreams you don’t tell anybody. Do you want to publish a novel? Paint? Start a podcast? Think big about mothering. I feel like, as stay-at-home moms, it’s very common to think of yourself as “just” a stay-at-home mom. As though what you do is small and what you could accomplish would also be small. But you can think big, too. Do you want to run a homeschool co-op? What dreams do you have for your children or for your life after children? Do you want a project or a hobby that is not related to your children at all? Do it! My point is, you aren’t limited by your role, and you get to think big, too.
If you struggle to think of what your biggest dreams are, then you might be limiting your potential. You aren’t stuck with your current lot in life but your thinking might be limiting you to it. If you’re used to thinking that you are “just” a mom or “just” whatever your job is - a teacher or a dental hygienist - then it can be hard to think big. But life is too short and too full of unenjoyable things to go on forever ignoring the dreams you have for yourself and to not believe in your potential.
In one of my more recent jobs, I was tasked with helping executives develop a vision for their organization. Essentially, I helped them “think big” by producing a vision that they could all work toward. Most companies have vision statements that are supposed to be really big ideas that they could always be working toward - they are aspirational. For example, Amazon.com’s vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company. That’s huge! A vision is supposed to be so big, it feels out of reach. It’s not necessarily a measurable goal but you might reach it through a series of smaller goals. It’s not tactical. Meaning, it’s not “how” you’ll do anything. It is directional. It is where you are going - sort of a north star for you to point your actions and decisions toward. Every day, every step you take and every goal you make, brings you a little closer to your vision. Visions aren’t limited to companies though. You can think big in your personal life and come up with a vision to work toward, too.
Developing a vision for a multinational corporation is a lot of work. But you can come up with something for your personal life with relative ease. If you aren’t sure how to think big or get started with your vision, I suggest writing down each major part of your life. For me, that would be family, house, faith, friends, exercise, and podcast. I would order them in terms of priority. Then I would consider what my ultimate accomplishment for each category could be. In the house category I might write “remodel the kitchen without hiring anybody,” in faith I might write “sing on the worship team at church,” and in exercise I might write “summit a 14,000 foot mountain.” To some people these might not sound big. To me, they are.
When you write down your visions, all that matters is that it’s a big idea to you. It doesn’t have to be big compared to anyone else. Some people may want to get on the New York Times’ bestseller list and you may want to start a blog. Any dream is fine as long as it’s yours. Once you have your visions for each category, pick one of them to pursue. And just...start.
There are many common pitfalls along the way to achieving your dream like fear of failure and lack of vulnerability. Most people get so caught up in worrying about whether they’ll succeed in the end, that they let it get in the way of them even getting started. Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll succeed. Succeeding in thinking big isn’t about assuming you’ll succeed you’ll succeed anyway. It’s about having the right mindset about failure.
There is a lot of advice out there about positive affirmations and believing that, if you just put your dreams out there in the universe, they’ll come to pass. All you have to do is believe that you’ll succeed. And sure, it isn’t wrong to believe you’ll succeed. But it’s wise to plan for failure. People who succeed in the long run manage failure well. Look at any successful visionary or innovator. They don’t often graduate from high school and then march straight into a series of successes. They face adversity, they are called fools, they fail multiple times, they might feel like giving up, but eventually, they learn and grow and become successful. You have to plan for failure, and have great tenacity to work through it. You have to believe in your vision for your life.
Samuel Beckett, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." If people in very public positions can be vulnerable and put themselves out there to fail, then what is our excuse?
Take Thomas Edison as an example. His teachers said he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from his first two jobs for being "non-productive." As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."
Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life to the sister of one of his friends for the equivalent of $50. He was not successful in his lifetime and yet he pursued his passion. This didn't stop him from completing over 800 paintings.
What these failures - I mean, visionaries - had in common is a willingness to be vulnerable and put themselves out there because they believed they were working toward something so important to them that they had to do it no matter how others thought of them or how they might fail. Maybe you don’t dream of making some major invention or of painting or writing your whole life. Just because your dream is smaller or less impactful on the world doesn’t make it any less important or scary to you.
And the principles that drove these people to achieve are the same that will drive a person to try to accomplish their big dreams - to learn a challenging new skill, to try to run a marathon, to try to lose 100 pounds, to go back to college, to change careers, and more. We should all have something so important to us that we don’t care if we fail along the way or if people judge us. We can’t live our lives in fear of these things - it’s inauthentic and stifling.
My firm belief in my dream drives me to pursue having lots of babies, though it seems super daunting and I’m not confident in my ability to manage it. It’s also not common where I live to have more kids than you can fit into a small SUV. I know I only have 1 baby now but he’s young and I want many more! It drives me to do this podcast, which was a very scary venture and takes a little more courage for me to do with each passing week.
The concept of dreaming and thinking big might be super foreign to you. Maybe you’ve limited yourself to your current circumstances. What is stopping you from thinking big? For me, this was a problem of vulnerability because I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of failure. So I didn’t put myself out there to be embarrassed. But by shielding myself, I also limited creativity, innovation, and success. These are by products of vulnerability.
People like Thomas Edison or artists like Van Gogh or regular moms like me who make podcasts are willing to put ourselves out there. We have a willingness to be vulnerable. In episode 3 of this podcast, I talked a lot about vulnerability as a driver of human connection. Vulnerability in general is so constructive though. Very few achievements, no matter how small, exist without vulnerability. Every time you ask for a promotion or run a meeting at work, you are putting yourself out there. Every time you dare to dream big and decide to believe in that dream, decide to pursue it, you are being exceptionally vulnerable. You are vulnerable to failure and to the emotions that could come along with it like embarrassment. But that vulnerability also opens you up to achievement.
If you have a dream to lose 100 pounds and no one in your life believes that you can, then you are thinking big with that dream. When you tell people and they tell you you can’t or don’t support you, you have to be very courageous to get through that vulnerability. When you fail - and you will have small failures along the way - it’s best to just start the day over.
It’s easy to tell someone to dream and to just be more vulnerable. It may even be easy to write your dream down and imagine what it would be like. But how do you start? When the rubber meets the road, it’s very hard to know how to start and what path to take.
Earlier I said that when you think big and come up with a vision for what you want to accomplish, it isn’t really a goal per se. The way to reach your vision is to break it up into lots of tiny goals and tasks that feel very achievable and manageable. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. When ultra marathon runners set out to run their 100 mile race, they don’t start with the race. They start small. They start wherever they’re at - maybe it’s 1 mile or 5 mile training runs - and they slowly build from there. Your vision seems daunting because it is not achievable right now. But small steps toward it are. It’s like how Thomas Edison said he didn’t fail 1000 times, he just took 1000 steps.
In many ways, accomplishing some big audacious thing in your life doesn’t take any more effort than a small project because you don’t do it all at once. You just take a little step everyday.
When I decided to start a podcast after I quit my job in early October 2020, it felt really overwhelming and improbable to me. After all, I had pushed off doing anything like this - like doing a blog or having my own website - for years despite my husband encouraging me and telling me I should. Several things stopped me over the years. I thought that for sure no one would listen or read my stuff, so there was no point. I was more concerned about other people and what they’d think than myself and what I wanted to do. It also felt like way too big of a project for me to be able to do. I doubted my capabilities and therefore limited my potential from the start. I was super overwhelmed by the idea because, if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. I wanted a whole website, cohesive branding, professional sounding stuff, and more. It just felt so big and I knew nothing about it. Then my self-sabotaging nature stepped in. I knew that, even if I started to do it, I would fail along the way. So what’s the point of trying? Finally, I had the age-old excuse that there was no time for me to do it and do it right. But it’s not that there wasn’t time - it’s just that my life was too full of the wrong things and I needed to simplify it to make room for better things. See last week’s podcast called “Turn the busy life into the simple life.”
I suddenly had the urge to just dive in and try to do this podcast when, after I quit my job, I was purging a bunch of items in my house. I was creating these small successes like making my bedroom livable and organizing a closet and, along the way, felt super empowered to tackle other projects that mattered to me. So I just decided to take the plunge and start a podcast, despite knowing nothing about how to do it.
I knew about my history of self-sabotage and how I tend to get discouraged when I consider what others think of me so I intentionally spent the next several weeks with big blinders on to my own self-doubt and the doubt of others. I did not allow myself to overthink any decisions.
After I decided to pursue my big dream, I just got started! I set a launch date kind of arbitrarily. I decided that, on November 11th, I would have 3 podcasts and 3 blogs live...somewhere...and that I would post 1 weekly after that. Without knowing how to get there at all, I had to start small. I set daily goals for myself. One day I would buy a domain for my website. Another day I would research how to publish a podcast. The next day I would research and buy a microphone. And so on. Each individual task was fairly small. As I completed each one, I gained confidence as my big scary deadline of 11/11 approached. Then the biggest fear of all came - publishing it. The embarrassment I might have as a result of people’s judgment. The fear I had that no one would like it. But I didn’t let it stop me. With my blinders on, I published it, sharing things about myself that could affect what others thought of me. And now I’m so glad I did.
Did I have small failures along the way? Of course. But when you fail on a small task in pursuit of a big idea or vision, your small failure feels really insignificant compared to the big journey you’re on. It’s all relative. It’s not a total failure if my first attempt at recording something sounds awful when it’s just one tiny step in pursuit of a grand goal. I just tweak the way I record and try something else. The bigger the goal, the more trivial is anything that might slow us down. We automatically prioritise what is important if the goal is large enough.
So, expect to fail. I talk a lot about failure in Episode 4. It’s good for you. Essentially, failure is just a lesson. It’s a fact finding mission.
Or maybe this story will resonate more with you, especially if your big dream or vision is a physical one. Before I ever started fighting Muay Thai, I was just training for fun. I would spar once a week, but never very hard and not with any specific intent or goal in mind. It had crossed my mind a couple of times to fight but I really never thought I could so I didn’t talk to anyone about it. Then, my coach told me I should fight. I told him I wasn’t ready and wasn’t sure I could do it. He was like, “Duh, you are not ready now. But we will train for it and you’ll get ready.” You see, when you decide to fight, you don’t step into the ring that day. Or when you decide to run a marathon or climb a mountain you don’t do it right away. Of course you’d never finish if you bit off more than you could chew. Instead you start small and take incremental steps daily. Each day you push yourself slightly harder than the day before until you’ve made so many incremental improvements that you’re ready. Along the way, you get knocked down, injured, and don’t always nail the techniques. These failures are small, though, in relation to the big fight. We always said that it’s better to get hit hard or knocked down before you enter the ring. The fight should not be the first time you’ve ever had your bell rung or else you won’t handle it well. You actually NEED failure in training in order to learn how to get back up and push through it. The greatest successes are built on the back of a string of failures.
If there is any dream you’ve ever wanted to pursue or any big goal that just felt too out of reach, I strongly encourage you to just get started. You don’t have to have it all mapped out or know exactly how you’ll achieve it. Just take a step today. And another tomorrow. If you believe in it enough, you’ll weather the little failures along the way and learn to grow from them.
Life is too short and too full of unenjoyable things to go on forever ignoring the dreams you have for yourself.
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