6 Things to Do When You Feel Small and Insignificant

Big Sky

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.” ~Robert Schuller

On nights when the stars shine bright in the Arizona desert, I remember to tell myself to pay attention to the universe’s handiwork. From space, the Earth is a mere speck in the galaxy. I am humbled by this knowing, by my smallness. I call it my Ratatouille moment.

Ratatouille is an animated movie that tells a story of a dreamer, a remarkable rat named Remy, who aspires to be a chef. Emerging from the sewers one day, Remy was shown a different vantage point of the city.

To his great surprise, Remy discovers that he’s been living in one of the most celebrated cuisine capital of the world, Paris.

Like Remy, I was lifted from my version of the gutters, a refugee camp, and exposed to a world of richer possibilities. 

Americans know something of the Vietnam War, only if by name, as a thing that happened in a distant past, in a distant continent. The ones who fought in it knew firsthand the cost of going and the cost of returning home. They returned to a country that failed to appreciate their sacrifices; they defended an idealism no one understood. But they survived.

There was another group of survivor. What you may not know is that there was a third country involved. Laos. The US dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Vietnam’s neighboring country in an effort to thwart its enemy from moving food and weapons to strategic locations.

After the war was declared over, many Lao citizens were left homeless and took refuge in the neighboring country of Thailand. My family was among them. 

And much like Remy’s world, inside a refugee camp, the only thought that existed on anyone’s mind was, how am I going to survive today?

Refugees are forced to live in the moment because they can’t fathom a future beyond tomorrow.

Food, when available, came in the form of a packet of dry protein handed out by missionaries. Most times, you are left scampering for meals that others throw away, buying meat that was left sitting too long in the sun, and making do with what kindhearted merchants were willing to give away.

But like Remy, I saw my life taking shape beyond my family’s makeshift, one-room thatched hut. Something planted itself in my heart.

I knew I didn’t belong here, and that where I belong was a world beyond the barbed wire fences that kept my family in.

The hope that was in me was due in part to my courageous mother. She taught herself English by using a tattered Thai-English dictionary. Then she taught me, her little daughter, all that she learned.

When others accepted that this was their lot, my mother had the audacity to see beyond her circumstances.

I’m grateful for this remembrance and for my Ratatouille moments.

We need a dose of humility from time to time. And if our humility serves to bring appreciation and a broader perspective of our place in the universe, feeling small once in a while is healthy.

But then there are times when I feel small in an unhealthy way. It’s that crashing wave of emotion that comes at you like a tsunami, leaving you with a dignity crushing, self-reducing kind of insignificance.

While it’s happening, I feel completely blindsided by it. But after it passes, I can usually spot some triggers. All of them points to change.

Though I make light of them, see if you recognize any of these scenarios.

Career Change

Your boss did not appreciate your contribution. You salvaged the last shred of dignity and quit. You took the leap of faith, followed your passion, and birthed that passion project. The world ignores your talent.

Value and Lifestyle Change

Discovering your true value in life, you rid yourself of the fancy cars and the fancy home. Your spouse, however, does not share your fervor for the minimalist lifestyle and served you divorce papers.

Lost of Support System

Furthermore, since you no longer pick up the tab, your old pals stopped calling. Your hygiene suffers. Then you become too depressed to leave the house and make new friends. Without family, friends, and your material possessions, like a TV to fill up your time, you are left to contemplate life.

You feel lost.

But you are not.

The only thing you lost is the hand-me-down values. The most important person in the world found you. You.

Don’t feel it in this moment? It’s okay. Sit with it. Change feels like death because your old self is dying. But with every winter, there follows a spring. Allow yourself to have the bad feeling.

But don’t let yourself linger there too long.

Recognize this set of numbers? 000. It’s a reset position. You are starting at zero. An unhealthy mind will see this as a place of failure. An undefeatable spirit will see this as a blank canvas with wondrous possibilities.

Believe me when I say your mind will go into complete panic, paranoia, or pity party mode. If it shifts into any of these modes, you will sink into the quick sand of despair. Cut it off. Here are six things that can help.

6 Things That May Help When You Feel Small

1. Get out of the house.

Just the fact that you are out in the sun and breathing fresh air will lift your spirits.

2. Stand tall.

Just changing your posture changes your mood. Throw that shoulder back, chin up, smile. Smiling will trick your mind into thinking it’s happy even when you are not.

3. Have a car karaoke.

Simon Cowell’s not there to judge, so belt out your favorite tunes. For me, when Joan Jett is singing, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” my inner rocker chick cannot be denied. Drum on that dashboard. Strum the air guitar. But don’t take your eyes off the road.

4. Volunteer in your community.

It will give you a sense of purpose. You are needed. You have something to offer: your time. That’s rich.

5. Donate something to Goodwill.

You will feel rich instantly. You have things of value that you can afford to give away.

6. Pay a checkout clerk or any service person you come in contact with a lavish praise.

See how you have the power to make their day? You just made them feel big.

What helps you when you feel small?

Photo by Ryan Hyde

About Vee Somphon

Vee Somphon is a management consultant and freelance writer. Her mission is to start the conversation to get more people to live out loud! You can connect with Vee via her website, Facebook or Twitter.

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  • Vee, this was beautiful. I try to express to my readers as well that just because you are nit in the limelight doesn’t make you any less significant to those who are. I write for beginner level runners, advanced distance runners and weight loss professionals and what you wrote is incredibly valuable. People need to feel as though what they do matters and sometimes a kind word is all it takes to change someones life. We live in a world where we barely have the time to slow down with ridiculous amounts of wealth and technology and still aren’t happy. My heart goes out to you and the people of Vietnam. It is a sad tragedy that war has to even exist and I have been a soldier now for over 12 years, my father fought in Vietnam and I pray for the day when war will feast to exist and the profession of arms will not longer be needed. Beautiful post, thank you.

  • ss

    Love this! Thank you so much!

  • Change feels like death because your old self is dying.

    That is one hell of a quote. I just recently wrote an article on surviving the darkest night of the soul, and that quote just hits it on the head.

    The first two tips really ring true in my life, so high fives for like minded thinking.

    Great article overall.


  • Vee Somphon

    My pleasure ss! Enjoy the rest of your day!

  • Vee Somphon

    Thank you for your bravery and all the sacrifices that you, your father and family gave to make our world safer. I hope your prayers for world peace do come true. Until then I will continue to work on myself to not pollute it with hate or indifference. I wish you great success in your own writing. Thank you for honoring me with your kind words.

  • Vee Somphon

    Thank you for your kind words Michael. The darkest night of the soul sounds like an amazing title for a book 🙂 I shall make sure to go check out your article.

  • Jagoda

    You and your mother are an inspiration. I too am a refugee though luckily, my family did not have to live in refugee camps. I do understand having to pick yourself up, however you can, when life knocks you down. Your suggestions are good ones–they work. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • I was thinking about posture as a mood lift just the other day, and another for me is definitely getting out of the house. Thank you for sharing your story and insights.

  • Vee Somphon

    Shannon, I agree. When your posture says “I’m standing tall,” it’s hard for anyone to knock you down. Thank you for reading.

  • Vee Somphon

    Jagoda, a person does not have to live in a refugee camp in order to understand the beauty of tough experiences. I feel like life is a series of never-ending tests. Instead of getting a grade, we gain something better when we don’t give up on ourselves, and those things are courage, strength, resiliency. I hope life is kind to you. Thank you for reading.

  • Linda Chadbourne

    “The darkest night of the soul.” Interesting. I was thinking about that a couple of weeks ago. The exact same phrase. Thought I had just survived it. Then I entered a lower level. Don’t ever think things can’t get worse… because they can. If you don’t have a good support system you are going to crash and burn. Trust me.

  • Linda Chadbourne

    already done.

  • gh

    Once identified, these feelings let me know that I’m stuck in a ruminative cycle which is gathering momentum with each lap where essentially I am too intently focused on me!
    So I find a way to broaden my experience of now and move toward a state of low entrophy.
    Nature is my goto.

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing your story, that was a beautiful post! 🙂 Great tips/advice!

  • GH, I couldn’t agree more. Nature is my goto as well. I always find solitude in nature to be healing but being surrounded by its beauty puts things in greater perspective.

  • Thank you for your kind words. I’m curious to know what point or part of the story resonated with you? Thanks again for reading.

  • lv2terp

    Well I love Ratatouille, so I appreciated that analogy, and also when you also talked about how emotions take the better of us, “being blindsided”, then reflecting on the triggers later, in hopes to adjust and self reflect. Then I really liked the line “The only thing you lost is the hand-me-down values. The most important person in the world found you.” , I have been working on letting go of the past conditioning over the last few yrs, so I like how you stated that. Your list of ideas to cut off the pity party are good ones, I think they are all helpful too! 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing, I appreciate the well-thought out points. Your self-awareness is something to celebrate, and I know it will carry you far. Our conditioning took years to take hold and formed who we are. I hope you will be as compassionate and kind to yourself, as you are to me. 🙂 Thank you again for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Mosh

    That was beautiful. Simple and strong. Thank you 🙂

  • Jen

    Wow, I was just discussing this point with my best friend last night. That now, I am starting from start at a blank canvas and yes there are so many possibilities that are coming. Though, I do feel part of me is dying inside but the other part is shifting and change is under way. Thank you for your beautiful article.

  • mb

    Thank you for this beautiful article!

  • Frank

    Thank you for this, I like the whole website makes me feel better

  • I so feel that way lately and I will try again. Did you ever just feel so deeply lost that the headlights blind you.

  • Jen, such a wise observation and I feel that you are on your way. I sense hope and optimism from your words. With change and growth, pain is inevitable and yes, it does feel like you are dying, and you may want to give up, but please know that you are worthy of this journey and all the things your heart longs for. Hang in there.

  • Vicky, the fact that you say you will try again is courage in a big way. Yes, when I felt deeply lost, no well-meaning advice helped. Sometimes you just got to let yourself stay in your PJs all day, eat ice cream and have a good cry. The next day is another chance to try again. Be well.

  • Frank, I would have to agree with you. There is much wisdom to be gained here and support from a wonderful community.

  • MB, it’s my pleasure. Perhaps you’ll share what resonated with you?

  • Mosh, the best compliment a writer aspires to hear. Thank YOU. So pleased you gain something of value from it.

  • I’m glad I read this… you have some great lines in here. It does feel like death, and my mind has been going to some very dark places. My work is difficult right now, I’ve been recently divorced, and I’m trying to learn to live alone in a city where I don’t have many roots. I’m definitely in the darkness right now and it is very very uncomfortable. But I’ll keep fighting…

  • Lisbet, I’m sorry to learn of your situation. Though it doesn’t feel like it while you are in it, this is rich soil for growth and self-reflection. Until you emerged from it, and you will, you will need to focus on self-care. When I was going through this myself (divorce, demanding new job, living alone), what helped me was to give myself small treats (pedi, chocolate or beautiful art bought at art fair), go to museums, keep a gratitude journal, get myself to nature, and of course all the above things I mentioned in my article. I hope these things will help. Keep coming to Tiny Buddha. This community is supportive and wise. I wish you peace of mind and great health.

  • It’s hard because the divorce also has sent me into financial hardship, so I have that stress in addition to the general tension and unhappiness. I definitely feel like I’m learning so much that at some point I’ll be able to write a Tiny Buddha article myself. But then a little voice in my head whispers: “if you survive this”. I miss pedicures!

  • Cathy

    Thank you for your article. It touched me more than I can put into words. 🙂

  • Iolo

    The article I can relate to…

    Your remedies are pretty simple to be honest

  • Keith Cameron

    Fuck you… Climbing on service people to feel significant.. Donating to people… Not cool.. Do those things because you can.. Because it’s right.. Not to inflate your ego..

  • Jerico Biermann

    That quote is how I feel right now, thanks for sharing. I have some perspective.

  • Sarah Richardson

    What helps me when I feel small? Nothing. I’m feeling that way now. Tired of being alone and abandoned by all.

  • Dude

    I still have this feeling whatever I do won’t even make difference so I question myself is it even worth continuing living

  • Umang Malhotra

    It is good.

  • Marky

    I feel small as I look at all these comments. 7 billion people in the world, I could’ve been born any single one of them and yet here I am; A failure, shackled by my insecurities.

    I know there’s an answer somewhere out there, I just become blind to that truth sometimes and I lose sight of the path I should be on. Now I’m lost. I’m not who I was, nor do I know who I am now.

    The only person who ever understood me broke my heart. I try to believe I’m over it, but I miss having purpose. I miss having a destination. I am a nomad of life. I just drift on, searching for a place to settle, much like a tumbleweed.

    I hope that someday I may rest.

  • Eliza Ruiz

    Thank you for writing this. I needed to read it today. Thank you for also sharing a personal story. Wishing you much success.