Day to day life is the perfect opportunity for self-growth.
We tend to measure our lives in terms of milestone events such as graduation, marriage, job promotions, the birth of children, moving, health-related events, and the passing of people we love. We often reflect on how those milestone events have affected us, how we’ve changed since then, or how they motivated us to seek change. We also often use upcoming milestones as a sort of deadline for personal growth goals we may have or indicators of our happiness. For example, you may tell yourself that you will be happy once you’ve lost a certain amount of weight, once you’ve gotten that promotion you’re working long hours for, or once you’ve gotten married and have children.
While it’s true that your life will likely be enriched by these events (e.g. you’ll likely have more energy and sleep better if you lose a healthy amount of weight; having a healthy relationship and children will likely provide meaning to your life, etc.), you risk putting your life on hold in between these abstract milestones in your life. When this happens, it can feel like life is just one giant waiting room where you are passing the time until your next big moment.
Biding Your Time
But just biding your time isn’t going to get you any closer to the self-growth and happiness you are looking for. You don’t have to wait to be happy and to feel fulfilled. While life’s milestones can serve as helpful benchmarkers for change, we don’t have to wait for big events like these to seek self-improvement and growth. Far from mundane, the everyday life can also be the place to foster self-improvement. In fact, the rhythms of day-to-day life can provide the ideal canvas for creating and sustaining lasting change. Additionally, it can prepare us for facing those life-changing events with confidence.
I’m reminded of a scene from the miniseries The Crown where the new Queen is tasked with appointing members of her staff. She wants to appoint a man who’s been with her since the beginning and pushes for his advancement. But when he starts to prematurely make changes to his soon-to-be office, she is forced to consider someone else. Someone wisely tells her that being faithful in the little things proves that we can be faithful in the bigger things (meaning, when he started to put his own comfort before the Queens in the small matters, he may do the same in the larger matters). This sentiment, being faithful in the little things, can be a helpful mindset to take towards the patterns of day to day life.
St. Therese of Lisieux is a helpful example here. She dreamed of being a martyr and missionary who would travel to far off lands, spreading her faith. But instead of a life of adventure and travel, she spent most of her short life in a cloistered convent, away from the outside world. She is the champion of embracing what she called “The Little Way”—seeking holiness in the everyday moments of life and not in the grand gestures. And now she is a Doctor of the Church. We can certainly follow her lead when it comes to self-improvement and growing in holiness.
When we are faithful with seeing through the little things in life, we can be faithful in the larger things. For example, maintaining friendships in the midst of the busyness of life means not only that we are able to be there for our friends when they go through life-changing events, but it also means that we will be able to lean on them when we experience those significant events. Similarly, being kind to our family members and spouse in those small moments instead of giving into those little annoyances provides an opportunity for self-growth. Your daily commute is the perfect training ground for patience while the dirty kitchen is your place to grow in perseverance. Everyday life is full of opportunities for fueling self-growth.
Faithful in Little Things
Yes, staying faithful in the little things take self-discipline and perseverance but isn’t that what we all seek to cultivate? It’s these slow and steady changes to our attitudes and behaviors that create consistent and sustainable change. Going to the gym one time for three hours once every few weeks doesn’t provide the same benefits that going five days a week for a half hour. Yes, it’s harder to go almost every day but you will see the benefits. On the other hand, going to the gym sporadically for intense workouts is more likely to leave you feeling discouraged and sore rather than motivated to keep going.
The same applies for your spiritual growth. Annual retreats are helpful and very much beneficial but daily spiritual practices also have great value. Regular prayer, meditation, and the Sacraments help provide you with a constant thread of connectedness that a yearly retreat cannot provide.
So don’t write off the seeming mundaneness of everyday life. See it as a daily gift of opportunity to become a better version of yourself. You don’t have to wait until your next promotion, vacation, or other life event. Real change can start right now in the small moments of life.