Mighty oaks from little acorns grow — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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In our lives and careers we are most often concerned with the big issues — the big project, the big money, the big success. Unfortunately, this often means that we too easily lose sight of all the small pieces that make up the larger successes. Ignoring these smaller aspects can almost insure that the bigger successes never arrive. Failing to focus on the small, day-to-day decisions you make can stunt your career and leave you wondering why big success never seems to happen to you.


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“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”, says one version of the famous quote. The origins of this phrase are first spotted in writing by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1374, although it might have been in use much earlier. I thinks its longevity in our language stems from its deep truth. Great things do grow from the smallest starts and I think it reminds us to look to the smallest parts of our lives and careers for the biggest impact.

In any career, it can be the smallest actions, the smallest thoughts, the smallest slights that can lead to success or failure. It is the missed deadline, the unkind word, the careless affront that lingers most in others minds. They might not remember your biggest success, but I can guarantee your managers and co-workers will always remember your smallest failures — especially when it directly affected them. It might seem illogical, but we can burn many bridges by being unkind, flippant or dismissive.

While it important to have large goals in your life and career, you must always remember that these big successes are made up of small, individual actions — tiny steps — on the way to that goal. When we focus too much on the final goal we can fall into the trap of “the end justifies the means.” We can be so focused on the end goal that we carelessly step on and over those around us — leaving permanent marks in their mind. In the worst case, these marks may prevent them from helping us achieve our goals or even cause them to actively work against us. Success is difficult enough to achieve in the best of conditions. Don’t give others any reason to make it even more difficult.

Image taken from page 160 of 'The Works of Alfred Tennyson'

Start each day with your goals in mind, but then focus on each individual step you take. Think how your small actions can not only forward your own goals, but also the goals of those around you. Do the work at hand, as this is from where your future success will arise. Do what you promise. Do it on time. Do it with high quality, not matter how small the task may seem. It is through this constant practice that great things will grow, just like the acorn growing into the oak.

There is an additional side to this acorn story, too. It can be difficult to start new projects, large projects, frightening projects. Sometimes we have such large ideas that it scares us just to think about them. What I have found over the years, though, is that taking the smallest step, the smallest action towards those large, scary projects can start you on the way to achieving them. Too often we discount the effect that small actions can have. One phone call can lead to another and another. One email starts a snowball of action rolling downhill. Before you know it, your project is starting to move and grow before your eyes. More importantly, this project wouldn’t have even begun if you hadn’t taken the first small actions. Small actions do matter, greatly, no matter what you might think. These steps can seem infinitesimal in the face of the larger overall project, but they are of the greatest importance. If you think any step is too small to be of any use, do it anyway. You will be very surprised how much you can accomplish with each tiny step towards your goals.

Keep your biggest goals constantly in mind, but then focus and execute on the small, day-to-day actions that move you towards that goal. It is through these individual actions that you achieve your biggest successes. Plant the acorn of your idea and then help it grow into the mighty oak that it can be and the career that you deserve.


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