“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.
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