From beginning to end, life is full of some pretty amazing moments: taking your first steps, making a new friend, receiving an acceptance letter, landing your first job, marrying the one you love, getting a big promotion, holding your first child or grandchild, settling into retirement, and also – a moment I recently experienced – graduating from college.
But life isn’t always these mountaintop moments, where you’re on top of the world and all possibilities, like the countless stars above, seem within just a fingertip’s reach. No, as my favorite artist, Ben Rector, puts it, “Life is not the mountain tops. It’s the walking in between.”
And what happens during these walking-in-between moments? What happens on all the days leading up that next big accomplishment? Small actions, little habits, basic routines.
These are the things that define us – the things that demonstrate who we really are. Not our finest moments, but the little things we do on the days we spend walking between mountaintops.
It was my commencement speaker Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, who got me thinking about the importance of small actions. Rather than urging the eager crowd of graduates before him to go out and take the world by storm, leave our mark, or change society for the better, Rincones simply asked that we do the little things in life to which many pay no mind.
So what are these small actions, little habits, and basic routines that we’re asked to undertake? I believe they’re different for everyone, and we should seek to discover them sooner rather than later. In the meantime, here is a list of five small actions taken by five amazing people to inspire you on your own journey of discovery.
- Exercising – Fred Rogers
Best known as the host of the children’s television series Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, which aired between 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers was also a musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was a jack of all trades with a passion for creating meaningful, educational television that would personally touch the lives of children across America.
Amid all his production responsibilities, Rogers remained dedicated to one very small daily action: exercise. More specifically, he had a passion for swimming. According to The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, “swimming was an important part of the strong sense of self-discipline [Rogers] cultivated” (317).
The concept of self-discipline was also a key theme of Roger’s program, the importance of which he sought to impart through each episode. Rogers truly believed that if children could learn the value of self-discipline and execute it daily, they would lead healthier, happier, safer, and more productive lives. By practicing what he preached during the days Rogers spent walking between mountaintops, he was better poised to communicate lasting messages that changed a generation of young audience members.
- Writing – Anne Frank
Well-known throughout the world for her personal documentation of life during the Holocaust, Anne Frank was simply a young, Dutch-Jewish girl who lived through extraordinarily dark times. Without her dedication to the simple, daily action of writing, Frank’s honest depiction of courage in the face of Nazi persecution might never have been compiled to enlighten millions.
On April 4, 1944, Frank wrote passionately, “I want to go on living after death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me” (197). Frank did not so much walk in between mountains as she did walk towards mountains in the distance. But being wise beyond her years, she summoned the courage to hope for those mountaintop moments she knew she might never reach and remained dedicated to the simple task of writing along the way.
- Reading – Ben Carson
Ben Carson is currently the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but he is perhaps better known for his pioneering career as a neurosurgeon at John Hopkins. Before entering politics, Carson became well-known across the world for performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins as well as many other groundbreaking neurological procedures.
Having grown up in a poor neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, without a father figure and surrounded by racial prejudice, Carson became the successful man he is today because his mother, Sonya Carson, insisted he practice one small habit weekly: reading. According to Carson’s autobiography Gifted Hands, Sonya required that Carson read at least two books a week and turn in official reports to her about what he learned.
This weekly habit began as a requirement but soon developed Carson’s ambition to be the top of his class and make something extraordinary of himself. One small action turned Carson’s life around and paved roads to future mountaintop moments that would never have been possible without his passion for reading.
- Praying – Corrie ten Boom
Another inspirational figure from the World War II era, Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who saved the lives of nearly eight hundred Jews by hiding them with the help of her family. Ten Boom and her family were eventually caught and held in a Nazi prison and later concentration camps.
In her autobiography The Hiding Place, ten Boom writes about the many trials she and her family endured, both during their freedom as they worked to hide Jews and during their imprisonment. Despite the difficulties that ten Boom lived through, she was dedicated to daily prayer, which gave her the strength to face each day and ultimately saved her life during her internment.
Without the simple, daily action of prayer, ten Boom most likely would have lost her faith in the Lord like so many others who lived through Nazi occupation. But her willingness to go to God in times of confusion, heartache, fear, and pain sustained her through these dark valleys. Ten Boom is now considered an inspirational champion of humanitarianism revered by people around the world.
- Learning – Malala Yousafzai
A joint recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and the youngest laureate of this award to date, Malala Yousafzai’s name is well-known across the globe. In her memoir I Am Malala, she writes about her life growing up in Swat, Pakistan, where she advocated publicly for females’ right to education and attended school herself despite social pressures against this.
She also recounts the horrifying tale of an attempt on her life – when a member of the Taliban shot her in the head to try to silence her activism – and her determination to survive and overcome the attack.
Clearly, an unwavering determination to learn is the action that drives Yousafzai as she walks between mountains. She has experienced many mountaintop moments, both exciting and terrifying, each of them brought about by her simple but powerful dedication to the ideal that everyone deserves the right to learn.
What will you do as you walk between your mountaintop moments?
Clearly, the above is not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of small actions, little habits, and basic routines worthy of dedicating ourselves too. All we must do is be willing to find them.