No pressure, right?
No, really. Living your life matters. Period.
And where does the idea for this post come from, you ask?
First, I read a book last year called The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews.
More recently, I read one of his other books, The Butterfly Effect.
It was a really short read.
In fact, when I’d picked it up at the library, I thought it was a book full of quotes. I didn’t know there was a whole story wrapped up in the colorful and short picture book.
A Teacher Changes History
Let me summarize it. I recommend checking it out yourself.
Let me take you back to the Civil War – July 2, 1863, to be exact.
It was another day in the war, but standing in command of his infantry was Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a 34-year-old teacher from Maine.
He knew nothing about leading people in the military. He didn’t know about war tactics.
But, his perseverance would change the course of history.
Just one guy.
On that July day, Chamberlain found himself in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
And he was fighting a losing battle with charges from the Confederate Army.
He started out with 800 men. After repeated attacks from the Confederate army, his infantry stood behind a rock wall that served as a temporary place of respite.
The Confederates had already charged four times. And in each of those clashes, Chamberlain lost more men.
Now, they were reduced to eighty men. Eighty.
Chamberlain’s orders were not to retreat – at any cost.
CHARGE! He yelled at the remaining 80 men.
CHARGE! Even though he’d had been shot – but not seriously injured.
CHARGE! Even though if it was the fifth assault from the Confederates, and they were winning.
The Confederate army surmised that the Union army must have gotten reinforcements. Wounded and weakened units didn’t charge. There must be more over the top of that hill.
The Union men plowed forward with empty bayonets and engaged in face to face combat. Shortly after the skirmish began, they captured a Confederate captain. Other Confederate soldiers ran. And they surrendered.
Do you see what just happened there?
Not only did Chamberlain help to change the course of history – the Union would go on to win the war – but a single guy whose vision and temerity inspired his people to fight in the name of freedom, of unity, and for peace stood his ground, despite long odds.
Now, I’m not advocating for wars. On the contrary, I’m arguing that hundreds of years later, Chamberlain will still be remembered for the actions he took in that moment.
He could have disobeyed orders. He could have made the choice to surrender. He could have done any number of other things, but he knew that he would take action.
The teacher who was “just a guy standing on a battlefield.”
He was aware of his thoughts and aware that defeat was only an attitude.
Day to Day Actions Matter
Recall, if you would, my Gandhi post from last week.
I’ll briefly summarize his story (bear with me…I’ll get to the point soon, I promise).
Gandhi was a struggling lawyer in India when he got a one-year contract to practice law in South Africa.
Though he immediately witnessed the struggle between the British and Indian people and the ensuing discrimination based on skin color, he still wasn’t galvanized to act upon his dismay.
But when he was thrown off a train in the middle of the night, having purchased a first-class ticket, he sat there for hours on the platform, seething.
By dawn, he had resolved to fight the “disease of color prejudice.”
The one act of refusing to give up his seat (doesn’t this have a historic echo in the Rosa Parks story?), he not only would change his life and that of those around him, but he would go on to change the world – quite literally.
And because of the events of that night, he would heavily influence the road to civil rights equality in the United States through the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In fact, Martin Luther King Jr.’s parents couldn’t have known that their move from rural Georgia to Atlanta’s metropolis would create a chain of events that would give us the unifying message of equality from MLK.
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Actions in the moment have the power to change…EVERYTHING.
You Influence People and They Influence You
Those are crazy-big examples, you might think.
“I’m just an unknown person,” you might think.
Nothing could be farther from the truth: you are an example.
You are not unknown.
Think about your own life: who was your favorite teacher? Who is/was your best friend? What about that coworker that bugs you from time to time? Or the customers you see every day?
Each one of us interacts with each other and influences one another.
From the time we are born, people look after us, and when we’re ready, we look after other people.
If we have kids (and even if we don’t), we have a hand in directly caring for immediate family members.
We do actions each day that lead to another action, event, or…history.
Is There Truth to “Everything Happens for a Reason?”
I think the better question is: what has happened in the past that has lead to the here and now?
We all orchestrate our lives by the decisions we make. Every. Single. Day.
I didn’t really used to believe that.
Without totally thinking about it, I resented the idea that perhaps I was responsible for not making that much money as a teacher, for example, or that I wasn’t where I wanted to be financially – a classic case of comparing myself to others.
Mindless thinking, that is.
But then I started to think about it.
I became mindful of the sequence of seconds, moments and hours that equalled my life.
All the daily actions that led to this moment right now:
My decision to graduate from college early with a degree in anthropology.
My decision to work at a ski area subsequently.
My decision to date the man that would become my husband.
My decision to move across the country to a state in the American south.
My decision to study education.
My decision to go into teaching.
My decision to get a master’s degree.
My decision to run a program where I supervise up to 70 people (employees, volunteers and students) a day.
All those “events.” All those decisions.
Alongside those decisions, I started a blog.
I wrote a book (or two…or five).
I developed a love for meditation.
And the things that I have decided directly affect my life, the lives with whom I directly interact, and the lives of the people who interact with them.
The way I see it, a volunteer in my program spends an afternoon tutoring students. But it’s not just tutoring students.
That volunteer’s roommate might be intrigued as to what he/she is doing two afternoons a week.
That volunteer’s family has to respect the fact that he or she might not be able to go home immediately during a college break so that tutoring services won’t be interrupted.
You can see how my actions as a coordinator might begin to affect others in innumerable ways – ways that I can’t possibly measure.
I might not be famous, but I know a lot of people. I know I affect a lot of things.
And you do, too.
Your Life Matters
If you ever think that you don’t make a difference, you do. I’m being completely pragmatic.
The thousands of decisions you make during the course of a day all depend on you taking action.
Everything you do matters – even if you don’t think it does.
Those countless hours you spend on Facebook? They matter.
Whether you know it or not, you will have interacted with people.
Perhaps you feel like those hours are “wasted,” though.
It depends on how you look at it.
Did you need to zone out for awhile? Did you need to have some introverted-behind-the-screen interaction with people?
Perhaps you have a touch of “Facebook depression” after looking at the reel of “exciting events” of other lives.
So, perhaps you decide you’re not that happy about that “time wasted.”
Perhaps the realization sinks in that all those hours sitting hunched in front of an LED screen could be better-spent by doing something else…or not.
Living a Life of Intention
That brings me to my next project.
I won’t share too many details just now, but I’m in the process of doing research for an “Intention” project.
I recognize how everything I do does matter.
And if everything matters, then I need to be intentional on making the most out of every moment.
You may recall all the intentions I spoke of for my Tree of Life post.
Yes, I will be incorporating those intentions into a year-long project, divided into months.
I got the idea for this project from two sources: The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
These are both great books for different reasons.
Both have inspired me to take real, measurable action with things I want to work on personally.
I want to change the world, too, but on my own time and in accordance with my own personality type – me relentlessly traveling all over the world to find myself won’t suit me well in the long run.
Since I believe in setting intentions – not goals – I didn’t want to do a “happiness” project and effectively copy Rubin’s idea. I consider myself pretty happy, and that’s not the point.
I want to live a life I intend to live.
I want everything I own to be intentional.
I want everything I eat to be intentional.
Everything I say, or how I act, well, it all needs to be intentional.
The life I want to live: it needs to be intentional – not one where I’m wishing I did things differently.
In the same way I made it to Washington, DC – it was an unspoken intention until it absolutely became real – I want for as many things as possible to be the result of an intention. Of taking action.
Because as I get older – I know, I know, I’m not that old, yet – I have to ask myself about the legacy I want to leave.
I intend to leave the world a better place than when I started. I know I’m far behind: I’ve spent three decades using resources.
If I don’t wake up tomorrow after reclining into my pillow, do I have anything to say for myself?
Will I have left anything behind worth remembering?
I don’t just want life to be about work and taking a vacation here and there. I don’t want it to be about staying in my comfort zone.
I acknowledge that the times in my life where I’ve experienced the most growth have been when I’m uncomfortable.
I also find that that discomfort leads me to doing things I never thought possible.
The Butterfly Effect
According to Andrews’ book (The Butterfly Effect), when Edward Lorenz was speaking to a panel of scientists at the New York Academy of Science, he remarked on his theories of the butterfly effect.
Lorenz shared that when a butterfly flaps its wings, its movements change the air around it. Those now-moving air molecules move other molecules in a reverberation effect.
Lorenz went on to say in a published paper that that reverberation of wingflaps in Brazil could then be responsible for creating a tornado in Texas – just from the tiny movements of a butterfly!
That seems preposterous, doesn’t it?
You wouldn’t be the only one who thought so: other scientists did not take these theories well. At first.
But then what emerged was the new science of Chaos Theory and the reason that predicting the weather is an impossible task: tiny variations in wind speed and temperature drastically make a difference because those differences add up cumulatively.
In effect? Little changes (little actions) matter add up to big things.
To me, this very idea is profound.
And why I’m going to start a project of intentions.
I aim to incorporate little changes that add up over time.
Next week, I’ll publish the humanistic results of my meditation experiment (no, it wasn’t totally scientific – more like intuitive).
After that, I will be traveling and might post a poem about my travels.
But toward mid-March, I “intend” to reveal the scope of my intention project.
Andrews, Andy. The Butterfly Effect. Simple Truths, LLC.: 2009.