Why We Need to Celebrate the Small Successes

I recently came across a post being shared on Facebook. The blog post, written by a former competitive ice dancer, was titled Yes, My Thighs Touch (And I am Absolutely Fine). That post really struck a cord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The world of competitive skating places a lot of importance on personal appearance and weight as being major factors in how well you will succeed, so it is not surprising to me to read that blogger Jamie Silverstein has recovered from an eating disorder. I grew up in a household with someone who had anorexia. I know intimately what that is like, what havoc it wreaks not only on your body, but also on everyone around you, too.

What struck me was how healthy and reasonable Silverstein’s attitude was toward her body now. That is something I still struggle with myself, even though I was not the one with the anorexia. I don’t often post pictures of myself on the internet. A) I think that’s asking for unwanted commentary and B) I only have about four pictures of myself that I do not utterly loathe. In fact, one of the few things that can make my boyfriend angry with me is if I go through the photos on the camera after one of our trips and delete all the ones of me. “Those are my memories,” he said once, when I had deleted every picture I was in.

I see his point. That doesn’t change the fact that I have always believed myself to be an unattractive person and inherently unphotogenic. So I am posting this picture here taken of me in my twenties to prove a point. At the time this photo was taken, I was convinced I was the ugliest girl on the planet.

Beach 3_croppedI’m posting this picture because, while I could never lay claim to Super Model status, I obviously was not a troglodyte either. But you could not convince me of that. I’d grown up my entire life hearing how plain I was. How I would need to work extra hard to make friends because I wasn’t attractive. How I would need to be tough and independent because I couldn’t count on some man coming along to take care of me. I wore glasses and braces, therefore, I was ‘doubly handicapped.’ I was as ‘homely as a mud fence’; something I’d never seen but it sounded dirty and disgusting. And I once overheard a neighbor comment to my grandmother how beautiful my sister was, but that I ‘grew on you after a while.’ Like I was mold, or something.

I’m sure the messages I received were not intended to be hurtful. I suspect my mother simply wished for me to be a strong individual and to aspire to be more than an extension of a husband. In many ways, I’m glad I learned this lesson. I do *not* let my self-worth depend on the presence of a man in my life. I studied hard in school, got a professional degree, and work in a challenging career. I have a wonderful relationship with a man that I love that is based on mutual respect. I don’t expect him to ‘rescue’ me. We take turns taking care of each other.

But I do not think I am an attractive person. I’d reached a sort of resigned peace with my personal appearance until the last couple of years, when health issues began to erode my trust in my body. This has also been compounded by the fact that I am getting older. In fact, if there was such a thing as Aging Anorexia, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it. Every fine wrinkle, every new ache or pain, each tiny suggestion that I am not as young as I used to be is magnified in my eyes. I can go from “Damn, my knee is bothering me a bit,” to “I’ll have to give up horseback riding” to “I’m going to lose my independence” in a matter of minutes. I know it’s not rational. That’s the insidious thing about these wild misconceptions we hold over ourselves–even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the belief, we persist in holding on to it. When I was younger, I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough. Now that I’m older, I am not successful enough. I’m packing twenty extra pounds I don’t know how to get rid of, and I would give anything to look like the younger me again–the one I thought was so ugly. And my irrational fear of losing my independence? Well, my independent self was the only thing I was taught to rely on.

Bridge_Abbey resizedKind of ironic, eh?

So this post by Jamie Silverstein really resonated with me. Because here she is saying, “You know what? I’m not perfect–and I don’t have to be. What I am is pretty darn good as it is.” What she is, by the way, is not defined by her body or her appearance. It is who she is as a person.

I do see the value of such self-acceptance, much as I see the BF’s point about not deleting pictures of his trip simply because I don’t like them. But up until Silverstein’s post, I couldn’t really buy into the self-acceptance thing because it has always felt like an excuse: a reason to toss up your hands and stop trying to be better than you are.

It wasn’t until I read this post that somehow a little light bulb clicked on and I realized that if you truly accept yourself for who and what you are, you’re going to try to take better care of yourself. You do this because you care about your body and what you put into it and no, Goldfish crackers and a can of Sprite doesn’t qualify as a decent breakfast by anyone’s standards over the age of twelve.

You know what else I got out of this post? It’s the little goals that count. You know why? Because there are more of them in our lives than the big ones. You might never win an Oscar, or have your book turned into a movie, or be awarded a Nobel Prize. But every day is filled with little goals hard-met and won, and for some reason, because we live in this mindset of Mega-Success or Go Home, we discount the little things as not being meaningful. Not being worth mentioning

Snow_Casey resizedThey are the only things that really matter.

Because the problem with only celebrating the Big Goals, of only valuing the Big Goals, is that we use them as an excuse not to attempt anything. If I can’t lose twenty pounds in two weeks, then attempting to get healthier by making better food choices and getting more sleep and making time to exercise, well, that’s just pointless, isn’t it?

If my next release isn’t the breakout novel that puts me on the top of the bestseller list on Amazon, then why bother writing? If the horse has to be retired from competition before we ever made it to a Three Day Event, then why bother riding her anymore?

The truth of the matter is that most of us will never be bestselling authors with Hollywood banging at our door begging to turn our story into a movie. We’re not going to the Olympics. We’re not going to be Super Model thin or Super Model pretty and we’re not going to be ridiculously wealthy.

But I wrote and published a novel within the last six months–and I really don’t know many people who can say that. The Boys of Summer is my first independently published novel. Yes, I made mistakes, but I am damn proud of that work and it is getting some fine reviews. I might not have ever made it to a 3-day with my mare, but I have participated in a riding clinic taught by an Olympic coach with her. And tonight, I climbed the ridge behind the house with the dog trotting alongside. The sun was setting behind me, and the pale ghost of the moon was rising in front of me, and there was row upon row of mountains in varying shades of purple and blue all around as far as the eye could see. I felt as though I was looking at a photograph of the ocean, and the mountains were waves caught on film. That made me one of the richest people on the planet.

redbud resizedYou know what else celebrating the small successes does for you? It keeps you here in the moment. It anchors you to the present. It’s what makes you feel accomplished when you crank out 1500 words at the end of a brutally exhausting day–and count that as an achievement instead of berating yourself for not having written more. It’s recognizing that the most important thing you could be doing right now is acknowledging the dog that just placed his head in your lap to be petted. There is no room for regret or fear for the future when you are living in the moment. Animals do it all the time. The walk that the dog is on right now is the best walk ever. I want to learn how to hold such moments in my heart for longer than a few seconds.

Denying ourselves the value of the small successes sets us up to be disappointed again and again. Because it’s like saying that unless you can climb the sheer cliff face without using any finger or toeholds, without pausing on a ledge to catch your breath, that you’re not really a mountain climber at all. We’re lying to ourselves when we discount the small successes. We’re telling ourselves that the Photoshopped image of success is the real one and that if we were without imperfections, we could have that life too.

The best part about celebrating the small successes is that they are different for each of us. Everyone of us has the potential for a small success. Maybe you went for that walk after dinner when you are normally too tired to get off the couch. Or you finished that home improvement project you’ve been working on for weeks. Maybe you walked away from that doughnut. Maybe you ate the doughnut. It could be the thoughtful gift you mailed off to a friend who’s been down, or you said no to that drink, or you decided to see a counselor, or your gif is being reblogged on tumblr, or you called your mother, or you’re just having a Good Hair Day.

Recognize those moments for what they are: a great beam of sunlight breaking through the clouds. They are what life is all about.backlit clouds resized

Because I could spend the rest of my life mourning what I am not. I’ve already wasted a lot of time doing that. To continue to so so will only prevent me from being what I can be.

12 thoughts on “Why We Need to Celebrate the Small Successes

  1. Self-acceptance is such a difficult thing. You can tell yourself all these things about how other people’s opinions don’t matter, how you’re fine the way you are, but you have to really *believe* it. That’s a difficult thing, especially with the society we live in, where if you aren’t beautiful and thin, you aren’t attractive, where if you’re not successful, you’re not important. It’s so difficult to overcome what a lifetime of the world telling you these things, but it *is* possible. And when you finally reach that point, there’s nothing better.

    I’m still working on it.

    But this is a great post, gets people thinking, reminds people that you don’t have to hate yourself.

    • Argh. I typed out this long reply and the website ate it. πŸ˜‰

      I think the *believing* is the hard part. I think there is a fine line between spouting a “Power of Positive Thinking” philosophy (which has merits up to the point where it suggests that you can mantra your way out of really bad situations) and changing a negative inner dialog that may be making you unconsciously place yourself in bad situations–but that line is a fine one most days and I often waffle on the wrong side of it.

      I think bad things happen to good people and they didn’t ‘bring it on themselves’ with bad thoughts. I think that more often than not, good things come your way but you don’t reach for these opportunities because they don’t agree with your inner view of yourself–that’s where I think your thoughts can block and hamper you.

      I’m still working on this myself. I suspect it will be a lifelong project. πŸ˜‰

  2. What a beautiful blog post! I only wish I could reblog it, but there is no button for that. It’s an unfortunate truth that most people don’t learn self-acceptance until well into their lives. Our culture is always pushing pushing pushing for its members to succeed. We’ve built a cult around “being #1” and “getting to the top” and making a lot of money. It’s a shame, really, because, as you point out so well, we forget to celebrate the little things that happen every single day.
    fenraven recently posted..CG Suffers a SetbackMy Profile

    • Thank you, Theo! The lack of the reblogging button is one of the disadvantages of going with WP dot org instead of dot com, but then it allows for all kinds of plug-ins that WP dot com doesn’t allow, so it’s kind of a trade-off. πŸ™‚

      I think you’re right–we’re a cult built around being #1 or staying home. I see that all the time in kid’s sports, too–I’m noticing a disturbing trend where every league has to have its own tournaments, and sometimes the schedule has the kids playing three games in a single afternoon. Honestly, that would take the fun out of it for me! Not to mention my concerns for injury go up with that kind of repetitive play.

      I decided to retire my horse from competition while she was still sound enough to enjoy a long life at a slower pace. That doesn’t mean she is any less than what she was before–and yet as far as many of my former competitors are concerned, we no longer exist. It’s sad, really.

      Every day I have with her is a gift–she’s nearly died three times in the last few years. Just walking out into the field and having her lift her head and whicker at my approach is ‘award’ enough for me. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Five Stars and a Top Pick for the Boys of Summer from The Romance Rewiews!My Profile

  3. This SO hits home for me!!!! I spend far too much time berating myself for not being More and Better than I actually am. For not being the Chief of Whatever Department like several of my classmates are, for not having the energy to Dive Into Each Day and get 100 things done, for not organizing my office and my craft room and the darned closet. And don’t get me started on that 20 pounds πŸ˜‰

    Your post reminds me to focus on the positive things, the small successes. Email exchanges with a really dear friend. Making sure I tell my spouse just how much I love him. Snuggles with my cats. Taking photographs of those cats, and the birds and flowers around my house, and certain action figures just for fun πŸ˜‰

    Thank you for reminding me to be thankful for the good things in my life!

    • So did the original article with me! Thank you for sharing that with me–it really had an impact!

      Oh man, I know what you mean about the “Chief of Whatever Department” syndrome. Sometimes I look at my time on this planet and wonder why I do not have more of the trappings of success: the nice home, the brand new SUV, the vacation condo at the beach…and then I realize I chose not to have those things because I was more concerned about the daily quality of my life than mere possessions.

      Then things got tough–for everyone, not just me! But when you are working as hard as you can struggling to pay your bills, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking ‘oh, if only.’ If only I’d taken that high-paying job in the big city. If only I hadn’t gone home to be my dad’s caretaker. If only I’d saved all my money instead of spending it on horses, or sci-fi conventions. πŸ˜‰

      But if I’d done those things, I would not be where I am today. I would not have re-discovered my love of writing, or met you, or be with the BF. I wouldn’t have the horse, or this particular dog, or have found what my passion in life is. And these things *count*. They are valuable in my eyes, if not in the world’s.

      I think enjoying the little things is what makes fandom so wonderful. It’s what makes life, which is so often a daily *grind*, more than just bearable. It’s why we share LOL cats and make videos and write stories–because that little ah-ha! moment when someone else reads it and laughs or cries too.

      Thank *you* for being such a good friend!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Five Stars and a Top Pick for the Boys of Summer from The Romance Rewiews!My Profile

  4. Hello Sarah, I greatly appreciate your post as well as Cooper West’s followup commentary. Really hard hitting stuff.

    I admit I suffer from “Do-It-All-Itis” and are balancing too many spinning plates on those itty bitty sticks. On a good month, I CAN do it all. And it feels awesome. I can get interviews on my blog up, update my other blogs, write, keep active, everything! But if something comes up, like this year I’ve gotten sick, my parents each had a surgery, and my Dad is having yet another surgery in a couple weeks, it all falls to pot.

    I’ve battled life-long mental illness and because of it my self-loathing, body image, lethargy, and perpetual emotional eating have been constant. At 24 I weighed 288 pounds. And I had a choice, either DO something, or wallow in my self-pity. I chose to do something. I got down to 220 once, and then tragedy struck again five yeard ago, I shot back up to 270. I’d whittle it off little by little, and got to 250. That was a couple months ago and I learned I was pre-diabetic and despite losing weight, backsliding and putting it back on was no longer an option.

    I did join Weight Watchers for that extra bit of guidance, and I enjoy the supportive environment. I started a fitness blog that branches off my writing blog and weekly post my progress for good or ill to keep me honest. Because I am one of those people that if I don’t put it into public record, I will cheat and backslide myself into oblivion. Now that I’ve stuck with it–and if I’m being honest it HAS been a huge struggle this last couple weeks from drama happening–but I’m now down to 239. I have a pair of pants I put on yesterday that I haven’t been able to wear for the better part of a year.

    The tagline on my fitness blog is “Do something positive for yourself” and what I’m getting at is it doesn’t HAVE to be weight loss, it can be getting dressed in an outfit you like, playing with the kids, hugging the cat, taking a bubble bath, reading a book, just getting out of bed and being present with the day– For me, I regularly post over there my enjoyment of my local minor league baseball team. (The homeplate umpire is super dreamy. Just trust me on this. ;D) For you… That’s your horse. πŸ˜€

    And as we grow older, we finally discover what really matters: Dismissing the small stuff. Because in the end it’s just stuff. But learning to love ourselves, and each other. πŸ˜€

    -Lex

    • Lex: I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to respond to this very thoughtful comment. I’ve been with limited internet connection for the past week and am only slowly catching up with correspondence.

      I wanted to extend my sympathies to you for the year that you’ve been having–I know how hard it is to have to work a full time job, juggle being a caretaker for aging parents, and try to have any creative energy at the end of the day. I also know how hard it is to take the time to plan meals and pack them to take with you when you are utterly exhausted and pulled in several directions at once. I applaud not only your efforts to live healthier, but your candor in sharing this with us. I, too, am one of those people that am more likely to hold myself accountable if I put something out there, but man, it’s not easy.

      Just now, I had bread with lunch. I’m not supposed to have *any* wheat and I’d been two days without any and starting to feel better. But I’d just come home from work to a house with no food, the air conditioner is busted, it’s a hundred bazillion degrees in the house and I don’t have time to go to the store–I’ve got bigger priorities. But though I’m already slightly regretting the meal, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m going to get the AC working and then plan some meals that won’t leave me nauseous afterward. It’s not the end of the road–just a crack in the sidewalk. πŸ˜‰

      I know what you mean about the stresses of your life making it hard to make healthy choices though. Stress itself causes you to self-medicate with food, and those food choices aren’t helped by the little voice that says, “Damn it, after the day I’ve had, I *deserve* ice cream!!” Your ways of finding alternative rewards are brilliant. I’m going to have to institute them too. Right after I fix the air conditioner. πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Five Stars and a Top Pick for the Boys of Summer from The Romance Rewiews!My Profile

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