When Dreaming Big Means Living Small
I’m not sure when the saying “Dream Big,” became a thing…when we started printing it in chalkboard font on sentiment signs to hang on our bedroom, bathroom and living room walls. It was after the gold rush and sometime before the Selfie Stick, but within the last half century. It’s the idea that we need more; that we should be reaching for the stars (so we can at least land on the moon). But the quest for living large is just that, a quest, a never-ending pursuit of bigger and better and larger and larger living and here’s the kicker—it won’t make you happy. You might as well put up a kitty poster, because at least that will make you laugh.
People who put up signs to remind them to go for the good life, probably already have the good life, they just don’t know it.
On our recent trip to Norway I had a life altering, game changing experience that drove home this point home quite clearly to my slow-on-the-up-take-sub-conscious, that is to say, to live small is to dream big. If it sounds contradictory it’s only because we’ve been conditioned to believe otherwise. I assure you, nothing could be more in harmony than to embrace the fullness of the life you already have, to savor the thousands of moments time is gifting you already. We all like gifts and since your life is a present; each moment you get to unwrap a part of it. Meaning-full experiences are well within your reach right NOW. To live small is to encompass all that you are in the present most fullest sense of the word without trying to be artificially BIGGER and better. Let me explain…
In Norway I met a woman who lives on the island of Skjerjehamn. Population: 6. That’s right. Six people total, two preschoolers and a few adults. Her main job is to greet the tour boat twice a day (in spring and summer), to welcome a handful of tourists ashore that want to see what life is like on an island. Included in the package tour, written in the brochures we’re all holding, is the assurance we will be feed waffles and coffee—and believe you me, we wanted those waffles. She counted us up, all 15 of us, and told us to relax in the garden while she prepared our food.
Some sat, others strolled, taking in the 360-degree ocean views, wondering to ourselves…how do people actually live like this? The experience was surreal, probably because most of us never dreamed of living on a relatively obscure island miles away from the nearest town. And yet, being there, seeing this incredible sight, ranks up with the most incredible places I’ve ever been, Sistine Chapel included. I’m walking along the island breathing in the ocean air, soaking up the sunshine while my kids rush up and down mossy rocks playing chase in the grass. They discover jellyfish and algae in the water and Maggie finds a swing that entertains her as much as a new app. We eat waffles and I’m thinking they must serve these in heaven because they’re so amazing with a touch of cardamom. I glance at my watch, time is ticking. We’re in the most idealic setting we’ve ever seen and we have forty-five minutes to enjoy it.
The boat doesn’t wait for anyone, we were warned, so we head back to the dock. Before leaving, I thank the woman for hosting us. In her sky blue eyes I search for a way to ask her the question that I can’t stop thinking…how do you live here, how do you exist in this place without freeways and fast tracks and worries about getting ahead and having more, don’t you want more? But I don’t ask her that, instead I say, “How do people around here grocery shop?”
She laughs. She doesn’t have a “Dream Big” sign in her home, but she meets people all the time who do, people who must ask her the same thing everyday. “Well,” she says, “people have large refrigerators and when they shop they get what they need for a long time.”
I nod my head, as if I understand completely. And I think on those words for the next several days and I realize she’s given me the answer to my real question. You get what you need when you need it and otherwise you occupy your life, you don’t want for more, you enjoy what you have—the good life. As she leads us back to the dock, she tells us they’re hosting a party that night. Several boats will be coming in from around the “fjord community” to celebrate with dinner and dancing till 1 o’clock in the morning as part of National Day. Can you imagine…dinner on an island, dancing under the stars?
One more question, I ask, “How did you come to live on this island?”
Her blue eyes are sparkling now as she tucks a strand of strawberry blond hair behind her ear and says, “My boyfriend is a cook at the restaurant. There’s a small bed and breakfast,” she points to the nearby distance, “and that is where he works.”
“Oh,” I say, smiling now. Love doesn’t need more of an explanation.
As our boat pulls away I looked back and marvel at how small and yet vast the island seems. As we ferry along, we encounter a hundred or more homes just like hers, tucked away in the mountainous fjords, built on impossible cliffs and isolated stretches only accessible by boat. I wonder how life is lived between waterfalls…nestled in fervent green hills, the ocean occupying your front yard. I don’t imagine anyone living there has a sentiment sign on their wall that reads “Dream Big.” They must know they’re already living a dream.
Women, like the one I met on the island, are courageous. They’re not front and center of social media. They don’t need endless “likes” to feel good about their choices. They simply live and like who they are. There’s nothing wrong with promoting yourself or getting a million views on utube, but it’s equally as valid to live quieter, off the grid, in a way that is both authentic and freeing.
It’s okay to want more, so long as you know you’re enough already.
The good life isn’t about reaching for the stars; it’s grasping the glory that they shine for you.
It’s knowing that this entire world, all of it, is created for you as you are right now. You can choose more or less. But it takes courage to choose less because so often we think we need more. It takes a strong identity and a keen inner voice to let go of what others think and be yourself.
“Do you really want to be happy? You can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you’ve got.” –The Tao of Pooh