Consistent Small Actions Can Make a Big Difference
By Jake Becken
I will be taking a little different approach with this message than the past few I have written, as I think we all can use a little positive thinking and motivation. So, let’s talk about how small actions can make big change, one of Tracy Hodel’s goals for our association this year.
When I was younger, we took numerous family camping trips, not only in Wisconsin, but across the US. We would often stay at National Forest or National Park campgrounds, where we had the opportunity to see some amazing natural wonders this country has to offer. One life lesson that really stuck with me came from my dad, and I am sure it is very similar to lessons your parents offered. At every campsite we were at my dad would tell us that we needed to leave the campsite better than we found it. This often meant cleaning up the trash left by a previous camper or general organization of the site. Some sites needed a lot of work, but some not so much – it all depended on the previous occupant. Did it take a lot of effort and time to clean the trash from the camp sites and the hiking trails that we walked? Absolutely not. After some complaining to my mom and dad, we did the work and you could certainly see improvements. I remember asking, “Why we need to do this? No one else is.” If you think about it, that’s exactly why. What a strong message.
This lesson has stuck with me over the years, to my days growing up on the family farm to now in wastewater, as the lesson really is universal and goes beyond just simply picking up trash. I had a great trainer when I started my first full time job in wastewater. He went out of his way to not just teach us wastewater, but also how to conduct ourselves as professionals. One of the things he stressed was that a few small actions each day can make a huge difference. If you see something that needs doing, don’t just walk by, take action. If you have a huge project that seems overwhelming, just start chipping away at it a little each day. Regardless of what task it is, we all have things in our daily lives that we could be doing. With a slight change in mindset and focus on doing the little things right, we can all make a big difference. Maybe the small task involves stepping outside of your comfort zone, maybe you think you are unqualified and underprepared. It doesn’t matter; if you go into the task with work ethic and a drive to succeed more often than not you will. And if you do fail, get right back up, learn from the shortcomings and start working hard again by doing the small things right.
Don’t just take it from me, a few years ago someone pointed me in the direction of this speech by Admiral McRaven of the United States Navy and I found it very powerful. If you have not watched it, I think it’s worth the 16 minutes of time, and can be found on YouTube by searching Admiral McRaven Leaves the Audience Speechless. This talk drives home how small things can add up to big things. Give it a watch if you have some time.
One of the hardest things for most people is to engage in these extra tasks, even when no one is looking. The selfless act of doing what’s right can be hard to master, but doing these things for the right reasons can bring great intrinsic reward. Drive to make those around you and the organization better even when no one is looking. You don’t need a title to be a leader and you can be the change that rubs off on others.
Our industry often flies under the radar, unless something goes horribly wrong. This constant underappreciation can sometimes lull us into a sense of routine or mundane existence. The reality is that what we do is so important for our community and environment surrounding us. As we march forward, we need to remember we are carrying the baton that we will eventually pass to future generations. I hope we can say that we passed things on in better condition than when we took the baton and I hope the next generation strives for the same. Remember, it starts with the little things. Little things, over time, done by all creates major change. My challenge to you is to pick up one small task each day and stick with it.
As always, reach out with any ideas, comments, or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-438-1004.