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The Little Things

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch August 28, 2023

Post written by guest blogger Emily Grugan; Postbac IRTA fellow, OITE Summer Program Staff Assistant

There are so many things to do in this life, so many goals to be set and accomplished. Many of us are working towards several right now: graduate school goals, post-grad goals, publication goals, gym/fitness goals, wellbeing goals, financial goals…the list goes on. Sometimes though, our goals can feel daunting. Success in achieving them often involves establishing a list of many smaller goals which, completed one after another, lead to the desired “end”. These smaller goals function like steppingstones laid along the path towards success. This seems simple enough – and yet, we often struggle painfully along from one stone to the next, sometimes pushing them all up to the last minute until they’re more like a confusing pile rather than a neatly laid out path.

Though we hear it often, it can be difficult to remember that the little things add up. But they really do. There are only so many hours in a day, yet each of them gets woven, one into the next, to culminate in the vast and complicated thing we look back on and call “life”. Perhaps because of the vastness, this current hour can feel deceptively insignificant. You think to yourself, “I’ll get to it tomorrow”, or “It’s a Friday; I can put *insert task/goal important to you* off for next week”.

The hard part is, in the moment, it might not feel like we’re making much progress. And perhaps that’s why we put it off. Writing one more paragraph of your paper, for example, but knowing it’s the first draft and likely will be edited down, doesn’t always feel like something we can check off the To-Do list for the day as “progress made”. But the thing is, that is progress. It’s a necessary part of getting from where you are to where you’re going. Furthermore, we might be overestimating our stride, setting steppingstones so far apart they become more like leaping-stones – a path far too strenuous for enjoyment. For example, we may set down “complete literature review” and then nothing until “get first draft written”. However, we have to remember that each of those is comprised of a multitude of steps themselves. You can’t write the first draft without writing the first sentence. And writing the first sentence, even if that is all you do in a day, is progress. It is one of the very many little things you will do to get where you want to go. It is another minute within an hour of your life which is being strung together with the next so that, if spent right, that vastness you look back on in the future will be one which includes, “Published Paper”.

Google says the length of the average sentence is 15-20 words, and that the average length of a scientific article is 4,000 – 6,000 words. If you wrote only one sentence a day for a year, you’d have over 5,000 words: a full paper.

Remember, all you have to do is take one little step at a time. Eventually you’ll find yourself stepping right over one goal and into the next. And don’t forget to acknowledge the former goals, which once seemed distant and out of reach, which you are likely living right now.  


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