Editor’s Note: Thanks JK for writing this post!
When my brother and I were kids, we stayed with my Grandma at her house for a few days. When our stay came to an end, the toilet paper in the bathroom had just run out. A few days later, Grandma showed up at our house across town for no other reason than to have a “talk” with our mom, which we later found out was about the toilet paper. When Grandma had discovered the toilet paper had run out, she assumed it must have caused an inconvenience for us, and she was very distraught because we didn’t say anything to her about it, and she wanted our stay to be perfect. She had been stewing about it for days, but we didn’t even remember we had run out. Having worked a lot with seniors, I’ve observed similar situations where a seemingly insignificant issue can become very important to the person experiencing it. My theory is that we attribute a “range of significance” to our daily experiences, and when we have very little going on, even small experiences can fall at the top of that range – by default, just because we had nothing more important going on, making that experience the most significant thing that happened to us that day, week, etc. It’s great when a small thing like a smile can “make my day,” but it’s sad when an equally small thing like running out of toilet paper can also ruin it. Although I noticed this phenomenon at first in seniors, I saw it later in my own life when, after a seven year run of being in a job where I felt over my head, I finally got to step back into a role I was better equipped for. I felt great, but shortly after I noticed some “small” things started to really bother me that wouldn’t have even made a dent had I been as busy as I was the year before. One might be tempted to deduct a moral from this “story” something like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s good advice, but when our range of experience in life is limited, it shrinks our range of significance – the importance we attribute to our experiences – to the point where small stuff becomes big to us. A better deduction could be: “By making a habit of seeking out experiences that stretch you, you expand your range of significance, and become better equipped to deal with whatever life unexpectedly throws at you.” My siblings and I took the toilet paper example to heart and made a habit of saying “Yes!” to stretching experiences. As a result, each year we find ourselves places we wouldn’t have expected had you asked us earlier in life: at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, crewing on a 300 year old pirate ship on the Columbia River, building an orphanage in Honduras, and being the first generation of our family to make exercise part of our routine, bucking a genetic propensity toward obesity.
How do you think saying “Yes!” to stretching experiences has affected, or could affect, you?