DO YOU EVER get discouraged? Or depressed?
Has there ever been a time in your life you’ve wondered why you bother? You know what I mean: you’re doing a million things, and you feel like the things you are doing are a waste of time. You may as well not bother, you conclude, because you’re not making a difference.
I’ll speak for myself here. For me, there are definitely days I feel like nothing I am doing matters. There are days I am frustrated and discouraged and hollowed out, because I can’t see the point or value of my busy-ness. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, getting nowhere, making no difference.
The truth is that these days happen. But it’s not the whole truth.
I have a story, and it’s about buying staples. Yes, staples.
The picture above shows a stapler that’s on my desk. It takes a mini-staple I am having a bit of trouble finding. This story isn’t about mini-staples, however. It’s about the many small things you’ll do in a day, having no idea which one of your many decisions and actions will have a lasting effect.
Small decisions, small actions, small staples.
I have had this stapler for thirty-six years. In that time I have taken and left jobs. I’ve changed cities. I’ve re-invented myself. A lot of water has flowed under my bridge. Thirty-six years of learning and growing and changing—evolving into a different person—and this stapler has been with me the whole time.
You’ve deduced by now that this is no ordinary stapler—that it has a large significance. And you’re right.
You see, my grandmother gave me this stapler for Christmas when I was a teenager. My grandparents gave me a lot of other things for Christmas, too: toys and clothes and money and gadgets. I’m sure that there were years that I begged and pleaded for a particular present that was popular at the time. The fact is that I don’t even remember. And I certainly don’t have these once-coveted possessions, all these years later.
All that, despite the fact that Christmas at my grandparents’ house was as close to a sacred occasion as I’ve ever known. I will never forget the sights and sounds and smells of their house. The anticipation and the joy, the comfort, the familiarity. I have so many memories.
Uppermost in my recollections, as in my possessions, is the mini-stapler my grandmother bought over three decades ago, with me in mind.
This is a story about a stapler.
My grandmother was embarrassed and felt an apparent need to apologize when I pulled the small red stapler from the stocking. “It’s not a serious gift,” she said. “I don’t even know why I gave it to you. I just thought it was cute.”
My grandmother is no longer alive. I am in a stationery store in Bloor West Village, telling an employee stories about my grandmother.
“Every time I look at this stapler,” I say, “I think about my amazing grandma, and I smile.”
And it’s true. This silly little mini-stapler has travelled with me through so many turns. In good times, and in bad times, it has yielded its practical and dependable service. Writer and business-person that I am, I have never run out of uses for a humble, serviceable mini-stapler. And I never will. I like to think that she somehow intuited this, all those years ago. But even if that’s not that case, it’s quite enough for me that she saw the stapler and thought of me.
The point of the story is simple: all those years ago, my grandmother made a small, in-the-moment decision with lasting effect. She bought a stapler. I’m sure she didn’t think much about it. She was probably having an ordinary day. Maybe even a frustrating or difficult day. Definitely she was not thinking, “here’s a mini-stapler that my grandson will carry with him for through is life, for decades to come, thinking of me every time he uses it.”
But that’s exactly what has happened.
So now I find myself thinking about the big meaning of small gestures. And while I am no closer to being able to say which small gestures will have big paybacks, I at least know that the smallest thoughtful gesture can yield returns beyond expectation.
I guess the moral of this story is Be bold and think small. You just never know.
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