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The power of one

"We need to consider the whole child, all day, every day," my colleague one day said to me. This was many years ago and I then worked as a speech and language pathologist with children and teenagers and their families. This sentence is one of the most important things I have taken with me from all my years in that workplace. Even though there was almost always some kind of agenda behind every meeting we had, we also needed to be responsive to life at large: everything from how the morning had been to everyday stress, motivation, energy and dreams.

And so it is with everyone we encounter. We all have things that take up space in our thoughts and calendars. The other night the choir I lead had its summer concert. It was a nice evening and we got to sing the repertoire we have been working on for an entire semester. And as I looked out over all the people who had come, I was reminded once again that each and every one of us has a story – things we struggle with or worry about, enjoy, long for, would like to be seen or heard in, are grateful for for, feel embarrassed about, hope for, or are frustrated about. Everyone I meet walks beside me on the path of life, sometimes for a short while, sometimes for a longer distance.

It can sometimes be easy to get stuck in quantity and numbers, maybe especially in our work life. The bigger, the more, the better. A larger audience, more customers, increased revenue, a wider target group and more assignments. I find myself in that mindset, too, sometimes. But at the same time I believe that the most important number we have to relate to is 1.

An audience, whether it's a handful of people or one that fills an arena, is 1 person + 1 person + 1 person +...

A group, a class and a team are 1 participant + 1 participant + 1 participant +...

Multi-billionaire companies have been built from 1 customer + 1 customer + 1 customer +...

Expertise has been reached by 1 try + 1 try + 1 try +...

A finish line is 1 step + 1 step + 1 step +...

And to change a habit is to make a different choice. And then another one and another one... And sometimes reach for help.  

Some successes can be measured and kept statistics on. But many cannot. If my goal is to perform in front of a large audience, I can easily count the number of listeners who are there. But if my wish and hope is to touch people with what I do, to give them an experience to remember or to contribute to increased joy and well-being, then these results are harder to put into a graph. Evaluation forms may take us a few steps, but – I believe! - far from all the way.  

Instead, I think that it is about intention and trust. My intention is to do good and I trust that I will meet the people in whose lives I can make a difference. My intention is to grow and learn more and I trust the saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. My intention is to reach the goals I have set in life and I trust that one step at a time will take me there, even if at the moment I cannot see the full ladder.


Or if I turn it around: when what is bigger and more seems unreachable or overwhelming, does it feel easier if I break it down into smaller parts? If I'm nervous but remember that the group of people I'm giving a talk to is 1+1+1? If the hours for some reason feel excruciatingly long but I focus on the next minute and the next minute and the next? If something feels insurmountable and out of my control but I go back to what I can control: my breath, my words, my actions?  

Things can seem measly if we have an idea that they should be different and that different is better. But everything counts. Every step, every person, every encounter. The totality would not have been total if its parts had not existed. The goal wouldn't have been a goal if there wasn't a way to get there. And I wouldn't be me if I had not taken the exact steps and met the exact people I have, and if my my backpack did not contain the exact experiences, mistakes and lessons it does.  

In warmth and gratitude,


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