The joy of tiny projects.?php>
About seven years ago, I released my very first e-book.
It was a tiny book. Ten pages long. Just a wee little thing.
It didn’t take very long to create. In fact, the whole process took less than two days.
First, I drove to my favorite coffee shop. I ordered a triple-shot latte. I was lucky enough to snag a big, cozy, velvet armchair right by the fireplace. I snuggled deep into the cushions. And then I wrote the book in one afternoon. (Again, we’re not talking about War & Peace or Anna Karenina. This was a micro, mini, pint-sized book.)
While working on the book, I pretended like I was writing an extra-long email to a friend.
I didn’t think, “Oh my god, eek, I’m writing a book, I don’t know how to do that…”
Instead, I told myself, “I’m just writing to a friend to share some advice and encouragement. I know how to do that. I do that all the time. No big deal. Easy!” That mindset helped things to flow along pretty quickly.
The next day, I read the Word document aloud to make sure it sounded like “me” — conversational, human, not robotic. I cleaned up a few typos. I added a very basic cover page with the title, my name, and my website. Then I clicked File > Save As > PDF.
And just like that, my very first e-book was… all done!
It was a tiny project, yet it brought me big buckets of joy. Joy, and also satisfaction, pride, and a big boost in confidence. I felt like a “finisher,” not just a “starter” or a “dabbler.” It shifted how I felt about myself as a writer, as an artist, even as a human being. A tiny shift — yet, a big deal.
I love projects of all sizes. But I especially love tiny projects.
A tiny podcast. Each episode could be just five minutes long.
A tiny book. Just twenty pages or less.
A tiny audiobook. Thirty minutes of love.
A tiny event. Six people gathered in your living room.
A tiny mission. Write one “thank you” card every Friday and mail it off.
A tiny moment. Journaling in your diary and writing a poem for nobody else. Just for you.
Once I decide, “I’m going to do a tiny project. Nothing too crazy. Simple and small,” it’s amazing how much R – E – L – I – E – F floods into my body.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel focused, light, and energized. Instead of giving up, I march forward. Instead of feeling inadequate, I feel capable. When I set tiny goals, ironically, I make big moves.
If your heart is feeling heavy… if your to-do list is feeling monstrous… if you’re sick of starting projects and never finishing… I encourage you to hit the DELETE key on everything and switch to a tiny project instead.
Tiny projects can get you unblocked.
Tiny projects can lead to surprising opportunities.
Tiny projects can change many people’s lives. Including yours.
Tiny projects are a big deal.
Schedule “life” first.?php>
Every year, on January 1st, my year begins the same way.
I sit down with a strong cup of coffee, a very official-looking clipboard and a Sharpie pen, and I map out my professional goals for the upcoming year.
I write down:
— The books and articles that I want to write.
— The workshops and retreats that I want to produce.
— The clients that I want to collaborate with — and how many clients, and when.
— The exact dollar amount I want to earn — and the composite of books, products, services, and tickets that I’ll need to sell in order to reach that goal.
I write it all down. Then I schedule everything onto my calendar. Then I finish my coffee — and begin the hustle-bustle-rustle of making it all happen.
The weeks and months evaporate so quickly. The calendar moves from January to June in a flash of emails, phone calls, documents, plane tickets, and “I’ll be ready for dinner soon, sweetheart, I just need to finish one more thing…”
I work hard. Goals get achieved. My calendar is packed full of work. Beautiful, fulfilling work. But still… work.
Work comes first. Always first. And then — in the little cracks, corners, and crevices that still remain on my calendar — I try to insert “the rest of my life.”
“Life” gets pushed to the perimeter. “Life” is constricted and squeezed into a few hours here, a few hours there, a few stolen minutes in between this and that.
But this year, I decided to do things completely differently — a total reversal of what I’ve done in the past. This year, I decided,
“Instead of scheduling my professional goals and projects first, what if I do the opposite?”
“What if I schedule ‘life’ first?”
To me, it seemed like a radical, disruptive idea. Schedule life… first?! It’s almost scandalous. So un-American. So European!
This year, on January 1st, I sat down with a cup of coffee and my clipboard, and I wrote down a list of “life experiences” that I want to have this year.
— Quiet mornings reading in bed with coffee and stroopwafel cookies.
— Taking Dudley to the park, watching him chase sticks and go berserk with excitement.
— A trip to see my brother play jazz at the Village Vanguard in New York City. (I know I’ll burst into tears of pride, joy, and excitement when he takes the stage.)
— Time for whatever-ing. Time for spontaneity. Time to arrange flowers, fluff pillows, light candles, putter around, and just… exist. Time to think about nothing and everything. Empty space for surprise invitations that might arrive later. Or not.
This year, finally, I am remembering that I am a whole, entire person. I am not just a worker. Not just a writer. Not just a consultant or entrepreneur or teacher or any other professional title. I’m a whole person living in a big universe — a universe full of songs I’ve never heard, and books I’ve never read, and pine cones scattered across forest trails, and the scent of a sopping wet puppy after he’s skittered through the garden on a rainy morning.
I love my work. I love my life. Both deserve space on my calendar. Just maybe… arranged in a different order than I previously thought.
This year, I scheduled life first — and work second.
This year, everything feels different.
Get out of the cart.?php>
As a business owner, the only thing that feels worse than getting a terrible review… is getting no reviews. No reaction. No sales. No interest. Silence. Feeling completely invisible.
On October 4, 2015, that’s what happened to me.
Brandon and I wanted to open a restaurant together. We had humble goals. We figured we’d start small. Not a full-fledged restaurant. Not right away. First, we’d open a food cart. An 8-foot long wooden box, parked on the concrete outside a sandwich shop.
We worked hard to get ready for opening day. Brandon calculated food costs and crunched the numbers. He spent hours and hours refining each recipe. I drew a logo, printed a sign, and painstakingly wrote our menu on a chalkboard.
And then, one crisp autumn morning, we hauled our gear and supplies to the cart.
We opened the window.
Just like that, we were open for business.
A few minutes went by. Nobody came up to the cart.
An hour passed. Nobody strolled up. Another hour. No customers. Zero.
People kept strolling by the cart — chatting with friends, holding shopping bags, scrolling on their phones — but nobody looked up at us. Nobody came over to purchase our food. They didn’t even glance in our direction. It was like we were wearing an invisibility cloak. Like we didn’t even exist.
As each hour passed, dread pooled in my stomach. Our business was a complete failure. And we’d barely even begun.
After standing awkwardly inside the cart for, oh, three hours — with ever-growing anxiety — I had a realization. I said to Brandon,
“We have to get out of the cart.”
I explained, “We can’t just stand here inside the cart. Nobody’s noticing us. It’s not working. I’m going to walk up and down the street and hand out free samples.”
For the rest of the day, that’s what I did. I passed out hundreds of samples — bite-sized chunks of whiskey-infused brownies, peanut butter cookies, lemon cakes topped with sugared rose petals, broiled bacon chunks dusted with brown sugar.
I introduced myself to everyone who passed by. I handed out menus. I smiled at babies and shook hands with neighbors like a politician running for office. I pointed towards our cart. I made sure everyone knew, “Hey, we’re new, and we’re open for business.”
I will be honest. It was not fun. I’m highly introverted. Prancing up and down the sidewalk — chit-chatting with complete strangers — is basically my idea of hell. At least a dozen times, I thought to myself, “This sucks. I don’t want to do this. I would rather clean toilets. I would rather smell someone’s armpit. I would rather be doing literally anything but this.” But I knew in my hut (heart + gut) that it needed to be done. We had no other option. I had to get out of the cart — or we wouldn’t have any customers.
And it worked.
By the end of the day, we had a trickle of people lining up to purchase our food. Not an avalanche of sales. Just a little snowball. But it was something. It was a start.
In the years that followed — with a ton of hard work, grit, and buttermilk biscuit crumbs — our little cart expanded into a restaurant space. Then a larger space. Today, Brandon employs a team of eight part-time employees, serving hundreds of customers each day they’re open. HunnyMilk has been featured in local papers and some national publications, too. It’s a thriving, profitable restaurant. A dream come true.
I often think back to that very first day. Back when nobody knew we existed.
What if I had stayed inside the cart?
What if I had been too timid to step outside?
What if I had allowed the fears inside my head to drown out my courage? (Because I almost did.)
Our story would be very different.
The cart is comfortable. The cart is safe. The cart smells like brownies and peanut butter and it’s warm and cozy. The cart is a place where nobody can reject you — where you’re sheltered from prickly, uncomfortable emotions.
But in order to launch something, to build something, to create something — a business, a podcast, a book, a revolution, a community — we have to be wiling to step outside the cart.
It’s not always comfy. It’s not always fun. But it’s necessary. It’s a mandatory requirement. And the pay-off is worth it. Miracles happen when we crack open the door, take a deep breath, and march out of the security-box.
Who knows what might happen for you, for your career, for your art…
… if you get out of the cart?
As long as it takes.?php>
Iwalani’s classroom is not fancy. No chic furniture. No Apple computers. No Wifi.
There’s a set of homemade green curtains, a few instruments made from pebbles, gourds, and bamboo sticks, and a wooden cubby to store your shoes. That’s about it.
But Iwalani doesn’t need much. Just a simple space, and her voice, and her knowledge — fifty years of practicing, preserving, and teaching the ancient art of hula dancing.
Fifty years of devotion. Fifty years of love. Fifty years of patient, steady work.
She begins with a demonstration. The music begins. Her long, slender fingers move in a wave — folding and unfolding like an enchanted flower — while her feet keep time with the rhythm. Her hips swivel in a precise spiral. Her face beams with a serene smile. She makes it all look so effortless.
I focus my gaze on her hands — so lovely and graceful, like a ripple of silk — and I wonder how long it took for her to master that one small hand motion. A month? A year? A decade?
We live in a world that’s outrageously impatient.
We send emails and expect an immediate response. We set ambitious goals and then grumble when things take longer than two weeks to complete. We lack the attention span to finish reading anything longer than a text. We want life-changing results and we want them instantly — and of course, with minimal-to-zero effort.
Watching Iwalani dance, I’m reminded that behind every seemingly effortless motion — behind every extraordinary work of art, every project, every business, every shining victory — there are thousands of hours of effort. There are bruised toes, scraped knees, sore muscles, crumpled first drafts, disastrous attempts, moments of doubt and frustration, and moments of sheer grit. Most of all: there’s patience. So much patience.
Iwalani’s troupe is preparing for a prestigious hula competition. They’re in the midst of rehearsing for the big event. I ask, “How long do you and your students practice every day? Four hours? Five? Six?”
Iwalani’s eyes crinkle and she smiles and tells me:
“As long as it takes.”
Today is a great day to be alive.?php>
I boarded a plane headed for Hawaii.
It was a smooth and uneventful flight. I watched an episode of Poldark. I sipped some guava juice. A teenager dozed off and quietly snored in the seat next to me. His mom played games on her smartphone, and woke him up when it was time for soda and snacks.
After we landed, the usual flurry began—seat belts unclicking, happy chatter, passengers reaching for their phones to catch up on texts and emails.
But then came… an eerie announcement.
A voice on the intercom:
“Some of you may have received messages on your phone about a missile headed for Hawaii. We’ve received an update… these messages were sent in error. It’s a false alarm. Apparently somebody pressed the wrong button. It was a mistake. There is no danger.”
Despite these reassuring words—“no danger”—a hush fell over the plane. Everyone exited quickly and efficiently. I grabbed my bag and made a beeline for the car rental desk, suddenly feeling very eager to get away from the airport.
I asked the car rental attendant, “Are you feeling OK? I know it’s been a scary day.”
She said yes, the false alarm was frightening. Everyone was panicking. Shops closed. Parents rushed frantically to get home to their kids. “Scariest day of my life,” she said. And then she added, “But… it’s a great day to be alive!”
I laughed with her and agreed. Yes. Yes, it is.
Today is a great day to be alive.
Today is a great day to lace up your sneakers and break a sweat.
Today is a great day to write a letter for your son or daughter to read on their 18th birthday.
Today is a great day to get a public library card and check out all those books you’ve been meaning to read.
Today is a great day to hold your loved ones very, very close.
Today is a great day to turn off your phone, go outside, lie on the grass, and feel the earth holding you.
Today is a great day to ask, “Will you marry me?” or “Will you forgive me?” or “Can we begin again?”
Today is a great day to eat a hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream. Or a fresh, crunchy salad. Or a cheeseburger. Or whatever you desire.
Today is a great day to learn the name of a constellation in the sky.
Today is a great day to be alive.
Most of us love to meticulously map out our lives. We schedule dates. We make resolutions. We try to stick to the plan.
And yet, ultimately… this life, it’s all just a big chaotic mystery. Cancer strikes. Trains run off the tracks. Missiles launch. Canyons collapse. Volcanos erupt. Guns fire. Deer leap into the road. People do wonderful and terrible things. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
So, what do we do now? In this frightening world, full of so much uncertainty?
What do we do? The only thing we can.
We go live.
What if your job didn’t exist?
I was 25 years old, struggling, and frightened.
I was trying to make a living as a self employed writer, primarily by doing résumé and cover letter editing for people who were unemployed and job hunting.
I was pretty good at it, too. My tweaks actually helped people to get jobs. Cool.
Just one problem: I didn’t enjoy it. But I didn’t know what else I could do to make money quickly and consistently. I felt trapped.
I got on the phone with a woman that I admire deeply. She’s brilliant, rebellious, an unconventional thinker, and I figured she might be able to help me figure out my next career move.
I laid out the problem. I waited.
I expected her to say something like, “Maybe you’re not attracting the right types of clients? How could you fix that?” or “Is there some way you could tweak your process so that doing résumé editing is more fun for you?” or something like that.
She did not say that.
Instead, she said:
“Imagine that nobody needs a résumé. Every single person in the world is just fine. Their résumés are fantastic. Nobody needs you to write or edit résumés anymore. Nobody needs you to do that. You’re free. As of today, your job no longer exists. Now… what would you like to do?”
I found myself speechless, which is not a common scenario for me.
It was a mind-bending question.
I started blurting out ideas and — over the course of our conversation — I began to see how I could re-direct my career, package my skills differently, start working on writing projects that felt more meaty and interesting, and so on.
Shortly after that conversation I updated my website, removed “résumés” from my list of services, and I never did one again. For me? Best choice ever.
Now — many years later — I am facing a similar crossroads. Different this time, but similar.
I enjoy my current work — ghostwriting, copywriting and teaching writing courses — very much. I love my clients. My students rule. But I am sensing that there’s something… else. Something “new” or “more” that I could be doing. Some “other” contribution that I could be making to the world. It might not even involve “writing” at all. But what is it?
So I am playing with that same question again:
“What if your job didn’t exist?”
Then what? Then who would you become? What’s next?
How about you?
If you feel restless or dissatisfied with your current career, but you don’t really know what else you could (or should) do, this could be an intriguing thought process for you.
What if, as of this moment, you were… “free”…?
Nobody needs you to do accounting, or fitness training, or come up with marketing strategies, or childcare, or therapy, or whatever “job” you are currently paid to do. Everyone’s fine. You’re off the hook. Your job no longer exists.
Feel that freedom. Taste the wide open, dizzying, unexpected expanse. You’re free.