Great Things Are Made of Little Things

At a recent lunch in downtown Detroit, I received a very thoughtful fortune inside my after-meal cookie. Unlike the platitudes that often fill these crunchy treats, this ‘fortune’ really got me thinking. The crumpled white paper read, “Great things are made of little things.”

This simple, yet profound thought stayed with me for days. It got me thinking about success, health, relationships and our community. When we dream about the changes we want in our lives, we visualize the enchanting end state. We’re all billionaires with chiseled bodies. We enjoy idyllic relationships with our spouse, friends, family and neighbors. We live in a utopian community. Few of us have a hard time dreaming big dreams; the challenge is going from here to there.

Too often, we look to the other side of most fortune cookie discoveries — the side that offers us the winning lottery numbers. In other words, we hope that some gigantic, onetime, effortless force will propel us to fame and fortune. These show up as get-rich-quick schemes, temptation to cut corners, or relying on hope instead of action. When our every desire fails to materialize with the snap of a finger, we can feel deflated, incensed and rejected, causing us to stop trying and stop dreaming.

The seven words of wisdom from my fortune cookie last week illustrate a better approach. The small decisions we make combine to form bigger outcomes. Each little step in the right (or wrong) direction shapes our bigger future. The daily habits we practice are the ingredients of the success we seek, not random chance as some may think. As Aristotle so perfectly stated, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The real wisdom lies in knowing that anything worth doing requires work, sacrifice and discipline. So if we want to enjoy the spoils, we need to break down our big goals into small, manageable pieces and then attack them with vigor and persistence. The great things we want in life are there for the taking. To seize them, focus on conquering the little things with rhythmic consistency.

Let’s stop waiting for a big bang of sudden change. Wishful thinking is not a winning strategy. Instead, pursue the measured approach of systematically delivering on the small things. You’ll soon find the big things are revealed over time, in the same way a sculptor’s work takes form after chiseling away consistently.

The wisdom from my cookie is easy to understand and embrace. Simply delicious. Almost as delicious as my Szechuan chicken with fried rice.