A “Little and Big” Start to the New Year

The arrival of the new year often sets off a flurry of resolutions as though life will be miraculously different when the clock strikes midnight. Unless you are Cinderella, this moment is far less transformational. Lose weight. Check. Get in shape. Check. Save more for retirement. Check. Be a better friend. Check.

Often, these goals are so fixated on the outer self that we forget to show our inner self the loving kindness it deserves. We choose big things to change and then wonder why we struggle to make lasting, meaningful improvements. Fast forward 365 days, and without the right emotional tools, we can put our resolutions on repeat.

Months ago, I was researching some themes in the Fred Rogers Archive when I happened across a copy of Fred’s interview with Tom Junod for Esquire:

ON DECEMBER 1, 1997—oh, heck, once upon a time—a boy, no longer little, told his friends to watch out, that he was going to do something “really big” the next day at school, and the next day at school he took his gun and his ammo and his earplugs and shot eight classmates who had clustered for a prayer meeting. Three died, and they were still children, almost. The shootings took place in West Paducah, Kentucky, and when Mister Rogers heard about them, he said, “Oh, wouldn’t the world be a different place if he had said, ‘I’m going to do something really little tomorrow,'” and he decided to dedicate a week of the Neighborhood to the theme “Little and Big.” He wanted to tell children that what starts out little can sometimes become big, and so that they could devote themselves to little dreams without feeling bad about them.

There it was in black and white: “Little and Big.” This theme would earn a spot on my desk and become my personal anthem in 2015 as I recovered from two hip surgeries to return to the sport of roller derby. (I know, I know—not what you expected from someone who works for the Fred Rogers Center, but that is for an entirely different post.)

Discovering that I had congenital defects and injuries to my hip sockets was a devastating blow. As someone who was always active, both physically and within the community, the diagnosis and need for repair brought everything to a grinding halt. Trips to the gym were replaced by hours of physical therapy, and the only standing date I had on my calendar was with my couch to rest and elevate my legs. I felt like I had lost my mooring. Maybe it was foolish or crazy, but I wanted to come back and play derby.

After 11 months of rehab—everything from weaning off crutches, to changing my gait, to retraining my muscles—I was given the green light to compete again. In a year that could be concisely described as “Eat, Pray, Fred,” I found comfort and the will to try again in the insightful words of “America’s Favorite Neighbor.”

Here are the “Little and Big” lessons I learned from Fred.

  1. Wishing and Doing

“To me, what makes someone successful is managing a healthy combination of wishing and doing. Wishing doesn’t make anything happen, but it certainly can be the start of some important happenings.”

If you can wish and visualize, you can set a personal goal. Plenty of research studies support the merits of goal setting, but there are a multitude of reasons we can fall short. Perhaps the most challenging barrier is removing the all-or-nothing mindset that undermines baby steps toward improvement.

I’ve learned to strive for incremental progress. Little goals can lead to big changes. Just as we don’t gain weight with the first candy bar, we shouldn’t expect instantaneous changes the moment we start to select healthier fare.

The same is true for deeper personal mastery. In the song “You’ve Got to Do It,” Fred told children, “You can make believe it happens…but the make-believe just won’t do it for you.” Devoting time to learning and personal growth is still very much a part of the fabric of our being even into our adult years.

How many times have you discouraged your own little dreams because you were afraid of seeming silly, awkward or less than perfect? Trust me as someone who laced up a pair of roller skates in her adult life, the joy of achievement is a delightful thing. Just as in our childhoods, learning doesn’t come as if by magic; but practicing something you love can be fulfilling and perhaps even make you a bit giddy.

  1. The Best We Can

“Some days doing the ‘best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect—on any front—and doing the best we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.”

At some point, I feel I should tell you, “My name is Karen and I am a high type A.” Unattainably high standards and perfectionism were my norm until my surgeries provided a much-needed time for introspection. I was forced to accept that some things are beyond my control.

So many of us are plagued by a “should list”—I should be a better spouse, I should spend more time with my parents, I should get another professional certification. If left unchecked, we spend our lives seeking the approval of others, waiting for applause, becoming addicted to the high of success, yet strangely paralyzed by the fear of judgement. We lose a sense of our inherent value as a person. Fred reminds us of our worth; he said, “You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world.”

Embrace the best you can in yourself and in others. Pay attention to the little signals of things that seem to make you inexplicably happy rather than feel like a performance. You are not your “should list.” You are not the points you score.

  1. A Little and a Lot

“It’s tempting to think ‘a little’ isn’t significant and that only ‘a lot’ matters. But most things that are important in life start very small and change very slowly, and they don’t come with fanfare and bright lights.”

Becoming healthy, developing a social media following, falling in love, playing roller derby—oh, my! Although you might feel that we are playing “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other,” I can assure you that all of these rely on steady evolution that often goes unnoticed on a daily basis. When have you ever asked someone to marry you on a first date, expected 100,000 likes on a new post, lost 25 pounds overnight, or won MVP with zero practice?

All good things take time. Sometimes they also require a willingness to delve beneath the surface to uncover the cause of our worries, be it stress eating, negative self-talk, closing oneself off to possibilities, or even just ordinary bad hip joints. What are the littlest steps you can take to ease that burden? Like a root cause analysis for the soul, learning about ourselves can give us the insight and courage to go on growing.

Change is more than a six-letter word. It can be a conduit to the “more” so many of us are seeking—more kindness, more hope, more peace.

The Quiet Comeback

Celebrating the All-Tournament Jammer Award with fellow WestCo Derby teammates.

I made a very quiet return to competition at a regional tournament in November. It was gritty, tough, penalty-ridden, and downright erratic at times—but it was the best I could do in that instance. No matter how diligently you prepare for that first game back, it never goes how you imagine it. Still, the persistence it took to get there is always with me. I didn’t score pretty points, but I shook off each hit, kept moving forward, and managed to be named an All-Tournament Jammer—a big moment when you haven’t played a game in 51 weeks. It was a little victory on a long journey back, and I look forward to building on that momentum in the months ahead.

As you think about your New Year’s resolutions, it’s okay to have little dreams. Take that painting class, you don’t have create the Mona Lisa. Go to that Salsa night, you’re not competing on Dancing with the Stars next week. Call up that friend and reconnect, it’s only one afternoon. On a whim, you could even try roller derby. Whatever makes you feel wistful, invigorated, or gleeful at the thought, or gives you a sense of wholeness, go for it. Embrace those little moments.

A little and big life starts with you. As Fred once said, “I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are.”

Photos: Featured photo from the Fred Rogers Archive collection of Fred Rogers’ notes on theme weeks. Inset photo courtesy of Erica and Mark Ament.

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  • Michele / 9 February 2016 1:55

    Hello Karen:

    I loved your blog on A “Little and Big Start to the New Year, most specifically that it related to you having such a passion for Roller Derby. It hit home personally as I have a granddaughter that wants to get into Junior Roller Derby, she is 5, and her mother(my son & mom are divorced) is trying every argument in the book to say how bad it is. I am also impressed that you are with the Fred Rogers Center because that tells me your opinion would be one I would highly value. Are there any good resources that you know of that speak to how positive Roller Derby can be in a girls life or have you personally written any testimonials speaking to that subject? Any insight you can give us would be greatly appreciated.

    I have also read some of the other blogs too and will not be making this sight a constant read.

    Thank you