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Welcome to this Navigate the Chaos blog post. To hire Michael for a keynote speech, workshop, or presentation be sure to visit the Contact page. You can also purchase a copy of the latest Navigate the Chaos collection and download the Google calendar for free.

How often do you bring small things together?

Today is August 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you bring small things together?” One common strategy many people who navigate the chaos use is to bring small things together one step at a time. Authors who write their first book do this. So too do artists who use paint, ceramics or any other medium. Additionally, athletes train daily for years to accomplish a goal. As discussed in another Navigate the Chaos post, since there is no such thing as an overnight success, bring small things together is often the result of years of hard work.

Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh made such an observation in an October 1882 letter to his brother Theo:

“For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone and is a succession of little things that are brought together. What is drawing? How does one get there? It is working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall since hammering on it does not help at all? In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently. And behold, how can one remain dedicated to such a task without allowing oneself to be lured from it or distracted, unless one reflects and organizes one’s life according to principles? And it is the same with other things as it is with artistic matters. And the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.”

This observation from van Gogh offers several valuable points of reflection. First, greatness does not happen through impulse alone. The achievement of a goal, the accomplishment of a task, or the completion of a project is not done by some sudden stroke of fortune. One simply does not wake up one day and paint a great work of art, write a prize-winning book, or break a world record in some athletic competition. Second, if you are to achieve anything in this world you need to figure out a way to bring little things together. Just as one needs to walk many steps along the path of life, so too does one need to bring small things together in the pursuit of translating dreams into reality.

Third, greatness happens by working your way through an invisible iron wall slowly and patiently. The daily grind, especially when you do not feel like doing something, is what separates those who navigate the chaos and those who fail to accomplish their goals. Patience is indeed a virtue and never is that truer than when applied to the work required to achieve greatness. Finally, one must rely on their will to remain dedicated to the task until all the small things are brought together, and greatness is achieved.

To stay focused, undistracted, and dedicated to the end, that is what is necessary to bring all of the small things together in order to translate dreams into reality.

During an interview with Charlie Rose, actor Will Smith retells the childhood story of building a wall that echoes van Gogh’s sentiment. One day his father asked Will and his brother to build a wall out in front of his store with measurements approximately 16 feet high and 30 feet long. For two kids in elementary school, it was a daunting task. For a year and a half, Will and his brother would work on this wall every day after school. Unbeknownst to Will and his brother, their father had a good reason behind the request for his two sons to build the wall.

As Smith recalled: “As we laid the final brick my father stood back, and he looked at me and my brother and said ‘don't y'all never tell me that you can't do something’ and walked into the shop. I learned at a young age you do not try to build a wall you just say I am going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid there. You do that every single day and soon you have a wall. It is difficult to take the first step when you look at how big the task is. For me, the task is never huge since I take it one brick at a time.”

Both van Gogh and Smith discussed what is commonly referred to as the mosaic approach to life. To accomplish anything, one must see a daunting challenge as a series of small pieces. The phrase, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time,” oft attributed to Desmond Tutu, is synonymous with the mosaic approach to life. Such a strategy allows one to accomplish the impossible, the daunting, and the overwhelming by taking on just a little at a time.

As Dr. Denise Fournier wrote in an April 24, 2018, Psychology Today article: “If you have ever wanted to accomplish something major, you know that getting started can be a bit of a challenge. Maybe you have some vague idea about what you want but no clue how to get it. Or perhaps you sit down to think about everything you must do and get completely intimidated, freezing up and feeling incapable of taking the first step. This is a common experience, and it is the reason so many people fall short of turning their dreams into reality. They try to eat the whole elephant in a single bite.”

  • How often do you bring small things together?

  • How often do you remind yourself to ‘greatness does not happen through impulse alone?’

  • How often do you remind yourself ‘to eat the elephant one bite at a time?’

  • How often have you worked your way through an invisible iron wall slowly and patiently?

  • Have you encouraged anyone who was trying to translate their dreams into reality to bring small things together so they could progress forward?

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