The Small Things That Hinder Success

Over the past two decades, I've been fortunate to spend time developing curriculum for orphanages and teaching in various countries overseas. Part of living and working in a developing nation requires getting used to things not working properly or reliably. A faucet may or not pour out water when the knob is turned and electrical brown-outs (localized black-outs) are common. While learning to not be dependent on these things is a valuable lesson on its own, a side effect of these experiences is that people often develop a habit of not fixing things that are broken or overlooking things that really should be paid some attention.

I remember an instance where this struck me clearly. I was working at a non-profit and my computer mouse would frequently stick. I put up with it and didn’t try to fix it. After all, it was a small annoyance, and the time spent overseas had trained me to overlook these little annoyances. In truth, however, these things were slowing me down and should have been fixed. One day, the IT guy was in my office trying to fix my computer and mentioned that the mouse was sticking.

"I know," I replied.

"How long have you put up with this?" he asked.

"Maybe a few months."

"A few months! Why?! We can fix this in two minutes. Why didn't you say something?"

"I don't know. There are bigger problems in the world and complaining about a computer mouse seems dumb."

"Liene, living with a sticky mouse has no effect on famine or war. You don’t have to put up with small things like this."

Trivial? Perhaps. It’s easy, though, for people to become conditioned to overlooking things in favor of the bigger picture – from not dressing appropriately for an appointment ("this client’s seen me a thousand times, they don’t care if I wear yoga pants and a top knot"), to putting up with a workspace that drains us more than inspires us creatively, to bigger things like allowing toxic, emotionally abusive colleagues to live rent-free in our minds – and all in the name of not complaining.

I’m not an advocate of complaining, but I am suggesting that you take stock of the areas in your life and business that you may overlook. De-clutter, literally and figuratively. Fix the seemingly insignificant things that may be slowing you down, limiting productivity, or hindering your growth. Your business will be better for it.

Originally published May 2011