Counting the Small Wins

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Claire Colvin -Counting the Small Wins3

A friend of mine graduated from university this month. She’s spent the past three years back in classes with people a decade younger than her, doing the work to get the degree she needs to make a major career shift. It’s been a long and hard and expensive road, full of sacrifice, and it is such a joy to celebrate this moment with her. On the day of her graduation she sent me a text that completely caught me off guard.

She was writing to thank me.

“Do you remember,” she wrote, “that night three years ago when you sat in Tim Horton’s with me for hours working on my application? I could not have graduated without you.”

I was stunned and so honored that she would say that. I had forgotten about that night in the coffee shop. Looking back on it I remember that it got late, really late for someone my age. I was tired and didn’t particularly feel like going through this long and complicated application. But I knew deep in my bones that she was chasing the right dream. This program was what she needed to do and as her friend I was happy to do what I could to help. This graduation victory is hers. But a tiny part of it is mine too.

It’s a small victory, but it’s worth counting. It’s easy to spot the big wins—weddings and promotions, graduations and babies and book contracts—and the big losses stand out too. The small wins can be trickier to see but it’s important that we don’t miss them. Most of us will not spend our lives skipping from one mountain top experience to the next. We will pass a lot of time in what can seem like ordinary days. If we’re not paying attention we can miss the little miracles when the truth is that God is saving us all the time.

When I stop noticing the small wins it’s all too easy to focus on the losses and start believing that I’m messing up my life. I start to feel that I am irreparably stuck and constantly failing. That’s dangerous ground to stand on. It leads to thoughts that nothing will ever change and that everything that’s happening—or not happening—right now is my fault. When I’m in a good place in my head I know that none of that is true. On the dark days it can sound like the truth and I’m learning that I need to take action to pull myself out of those thoughts.

There’s an artist named Hannah Daisy who’s done a series of pieces lately called Boring Self Care. They’re paintings done to look like the achievement badges you get in the Girl Guides. They celebrate things like doing the dishes, going outside, cooking a nourishing meal, and remembering to breathe. They are small and simple things but on the days when it feels like I’m failing, they are powerful reminders. Sometimes the days feel dark simply because I’ve forgotten to do any of the things that help. I get busy, or flustered, and don’t realize that I need to go outside, or stand up and stretch. You wouldn’t think that something so simple—so terribly ordinary—could make a difference, but it does. Every time.

As I write this, today has not been a particularly good day. It wasn’t awful but it has been stressful and hard and I could tell you a dozen things that went wrong. But when I take a moment to force myself to take an inventory of the good things that happened, there are a dozen things I could put on that list too. I want to learn to see the good things first; to go out searching for hope and love before I start counting off the disappointments.

Here at SheLoves we talk a lot about being women who love. I want to be a woman who knows how to love herself too. Not all days will be fixable with deep breathing and a good dinner. But maybe if we’re able to redeem some of the not-so-good days with good self-care we’ll be strong enough to handle those other days when they come.

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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  • sandyhay

    This is spot on Claire. This is also the time in the church calendar called Ordinary time. No holidays for the next 6 months. No special time to be preparing for. Boring days? Some may think so. Brother Lawerence tells about his days peeling potatoes and washing dishes in the monastery where he lived. He talked about inviting God into those moments, turning ordinary time into God time. xoxo

    • Sandy, I love this reference to the church calendar, and I’m going to hold on for dear life to the word ORDINARY for a while. Honestly, I’m running out of celebratory material and am thankful, Claire, for this post that encourages me to take a book to my Adirondack chair and spend some time re-charging empty batteries.

      • Time in a chair with a book sounds wonderful! There is much strength to be found in not rushing, not trying to push ourselves into an emotional state that we’re just not in yet. I am comforted to know that the Bible contains lament as well as thanksgiving. There is a time for all of it and I pray that you find your own path, in your own timing.

    • I had no idea the church calendar has Ordinary time that’s intriguing. The idea that everything is supposed to be a giant party all the time leads to all manner of suffering—from highly competitive one-upmanship, to lack of satisfaction, to debt and even divorce. I love the picture of actively inviting God into ordinary moments. Thank you for sharing that!

    • I love this, Sandy! Six months of soaking in the ordinary? That is holy work.

  • Stacey Pardoe

    Claire, thanks for sharing your heart. I deeply resonate with what you wrote. It’s been “one of those weeks” here, and the reminder to count the good things first is what I needed to hear today! I’ve been caught up on where I’m failing this week, but there are beautiful things happening all around me. It’s time to fix my eyes on the beauty!

    • I always think of that line in Pretty Woman where Julia Robert turns to Richard Gere and says, “The bad stuff is easier to believe.” I think that’s true. The bad stuff is easier to see and I tend to assume that the bad stuff is big and real and important and the good stuff doesn’t really matter. It’s a lie. The good stuff matters a lot.

  • Helene Burns

    So, so good Claire…I love all of this. I especially love that as you’ve taken care of others, you are learning to take care of yourself. Every needs a stunning friend like you… one who will sit in the tedious moments of filling out an application. It says so much – ‘I am here for you and I also believe in you’. xx

    • It is so much easier to start a hard thing when we don’t have to start alone. That’s a lesson I’ve definitely learned at SheLoves and one I’m happy to carry out in the other corners of my life.

  • Claire, this is beautiful. I so easily get caught up in the lack of bigness in my life. What struck me is when you said, “When I stop noticing the small wins it’s all too easy to focus on the losses and start believing that I’m messing up my life.” I get discouraged with the everyday losses of parenting and normal living. What a profound shift to focus on those small wins. Thank you.

    • Hi Annie, I’m so glad this was for you too. I almost always write the thing that I need to hear and it’s so encouraging to know that there are others who needed to hear it too. I am not a parent, but I’ve heard from many who are that it is exhausting, beautiful but exhausting. I hope that you too can see the love and hope in these ordinary days and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is saving you (and me) all the time.

  • Tracy Nelson

    excellent. our pastor was just talking about how we are all connected, and how when we get to heaven there will be all these people who will thank us for things we thought were nothing – were tiny – but were huge to them – holding their child for a moment’s break, a smile at the grocery story – a shared laugh ….. although we may not know our impact this side of heaven, it gives us incentive to keep fighting the good fight, keep being kind, loving, smile at everyone …. so good.