Feeling Small in a Sea of Greatness.

A lot of people hate the feeling of feeling ‘small.’ They associate it with insults, or condemnation, or oversight. I love it. I love feeling small.

Feeling small is why – or how (or maybe both) – I fell in love with South Georgia.

When I moved down south the first time, for work, it was about this time of year. No gnats, but still so warm. Too hot for jeans, but no one is tan enough or toned enough this early in the season to wear anything else, so you spend most days just walking around sweating and telling yourself you would rather be hot than cold. Your body temperature is usually escalated, given the heat, so you actually believe what you tell yourself.

But, in all seriousness, few people can refute the wonderful feeling of the warm sun on your face…especially when you’re surrounded by nothing. I remember the first time I stepped outside to no clouds, no noise, and just sunshine and open fields. It was the most freeing feeling to hear nothing and to see nothing but land in every direction. At the time, I had no idea why I was so consumed by the feeling of the greatness of my surroundings – though it was still emotional for me – but I conceded to allow myself to absorb and appreciate everything about what was around me.

When I did that, I saw a transformation in myself. Knowing my smallness, my true irrelevancy on this Earth, I actually found more purpose. It distracted me from anger, from bitterness, from grudges, from materialism and redirected my focus to my faith and to simplicity. Even in knowing my shortcomings, I felt pure. It was a peace I had never known before, but one I knew I wanted to keep forever. It was – and still is – astounding to me that it was so simple to attain, too. The epitome of ‘Let go and Let God.’

When I returned to South Georgia in the Fall of 2015, I gravitated toward the notion of smallness. I had worked hard to get to a position to leave the city and my positivity was radiating. Through my writing, I was able to share the profoundness of ‘the simple life’ and it brought joy to me and to others. I know many in my life saw a notable change in me. But earthly pain and suffering distracted me and ultimately consumed me. The rat race and pressures I placed on myself with work took precedent. I stopped writing for myself and my purpose and wrote for production and a machine. That isn’t to say my work writing serves no purpose, I feel sure that it does, but what good is a work purpose with no personal purpose? It’s like placing a pot on the stove to boil – whether the burner is large or it is small, it still needs the same amount of heat to make the water boil…and I was not distributing the heat evenly.

There were ‘triggers’ for me…things that happen that remind me of my perspective back in 2014 and 2015 that would immediately take me back. I would hear a song on the radio and I could remember when I heard that ‘before,’ where I was, the sunset, the fields, my purpose. But I would put it off until ‘tomorrow,’ saying I didn’t have time. A year went by before I really reflected and realized how few times I allowed myself to become consumed by what brought me here in the first place. Though it was comforting to know I could still be shaken and moved by greatness, what a disservice I was doing to myself by not capitalizing on everything around me.

We are so small and so unimportant on this massive planet. In our day-to-day activities, we are so irrelevant. Half the time, we don’t even know why we are doing what we are doing – we just ‘do.’ And then we praise ourselves for it. People balk at the saying, ‘Stop and smell the roses,’ but the true power in doing that goes beyond the 6 syllable cliché. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and feel small actually shifts us toward something much bigger, a place where we are better suited to grow.

Real peace comes in the blessing of knowing the value of being small and to feel moved by the greatness of nothing. Or at least nothing that is Earthly.


The apology that won’t ever come.

In my time before politics and writing, I worked with kids. Kids teach you a lot – most times more than adults – and almost always good things. There’s a short story I recall reading which was intent on teaching the importance of saying ‘sorry.’ It essentially went like this: Kid A and Kid B are playing together when Kid A asks Kid B if he would like a banana. Kid B says ‘YES,’ so Kid A grabs a banana and a hammer and smashes the banana before handing it to Kid B. Kid B is noticeably upset and says he didn’t want a smashed banana. Kid A says “I’m so sorry!” and runs to get another banana, smashes it again with the hammer, and passes it to Kid B. Kid B gets upset again and Kid A apologizes more emphatically. Kid A runs to get another banana but while he is gone, Kid B grabs an apple and goes outside to play alone. The end.

Why am I telling you about children and bananas in the most elementary way possible? As an illustration and the most simplistic way to teach the obnoxious lesson that ‘the best apology is changed behavior.’

1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But even the Bible, a forgiving Lord, is clear that that isn’t enough. We must strive to be different.

Above, I describe the change in behavior as obnoxious because, if you’re on the receiving end of the apology, the changed behavior is desired, but if you’re on the delivering side of the apology, it sounds cliché and takes work to overcome a pride or a guilt. Even so, if the issue is important enough to you -like with family, significant others, friends, and even work – you come through with the changed behavior. Or you at least try.

It all seems pretty simplistic still, right? Wrong. We, as humans, have this odd tendency to want people to be sorry. We want to hear the words ‘I apologize,’ and we want those people to remind themselves that they’re sorry without us having to do it. You know what I’m talking about. Women are likely the worst about it, but men are pretty bad, too. If you have ever been in a relationship, you have probably uttered the words, “You don’t seem sorry.”

There’s one step above that pettiness which is the beloved, “You’re just saying you’re sorry because you know I’m upset.”

Feeling like the pancake keeps flipping here? In any given situation, you want someone to be sorry but when they are sorry, sorry isn’t enough, so you want more illustration of being sorry, but words are the best ‘sorry’ because you hear it, whereas ‘sorry’ in action sometimes isn’t as obvious, so “I’m sorry” remains at the top of the list for ‘sorry.’ Did you follow that? If not, sorry.

You get where I’m going with this, though. We demand verbal apologies all while knowing verbal apologies will never be enough.

Other times, we just want a person to be sorry about something that happened to us, even if that person isn’t the reason we want an apology. Sorry for what we’re going through, or how we’re feeling, or that we’re having a bad day.

But those people are almost always drowned out by the ones who say sorry over and over and never do anything different. These are the people who probably ruin the word ‘sorry’ for the rest of us – both givers and receivers of the word ‘sorry.’ Your doctor’s office is sorry they’re running behind. The server is apologetic for getting your order wrong. Your co-worker who never carries their weight, always has a reason why., and uses that ‘why’ as some roundabout Sorry I’m not doing what I’m supposed to. Same story, different day.

Why are these people ruining apologies for the rest of the world? Because they have no intention of changing. The doctor’s office probably isn’t going to start running on time just because they’re sorry for being late before. But they say sorry anyway. Your server isn’t going to cook the food herself next time just to make sure it’s correct. But they say sorry anyway. And your co-worker is most likely going to keep on the way they are until they’re no longer your co-worker. But they say sorry anyway. Will you be like Kid B and go outside – to a new doctor’s office, a new restaurant, or a new job?

Subconsciously, we know all of this, yet somehow, we’re more accepting of the apologies at the doctor’s office, or from the server, and the co-worker than we are of the people in real relationships because they seem sorry.

In the worst of cases, in our personal relationships, we’re so caught up in the seeming that we miss seeing. We’re focused on hearing “I’m sorry” that we’re missing an effort in a different way right before our eyes…and if we focus on the lacking words and gloss over the present behavior, we’re waiting on an apology that will never come.

It’s easy to leave behind a doctor’s office or a restaurant or even co-worker, but it’s much harder to leave important people behind. And wouldn’t you feel silly if it was only because you wanted the seem not the see?

So which would you prefer: the words or the action?

Learning to Praise What I Am Not.

We are all guilty of it. “I wish I was better at _____.” “I want to do [X] like her.” “I long to have that type of relationship.” We all spend time contemplating who we aren’t, what goals we haven’t met, which benchmarks we haven’t reached. We say we don’t, we tell others we have a positive outlook, but we all succumb to self-inflicted wounds we impose upon ourselves at some time or another.

Most of us spend a lot of time focused on what we aren’t in this world and what we jessica szilagyi 1“can’t” do. If you don’t do it, you’re probably lying to yourself and if you’re not lying, you should write a book because the rest of us working through this life would like to read it.

It’s easy to divert yourself from materialistic ways. It’s much easier to cast your sights on what you do have rather than what you don’t have when it comes to “things.” But when it’s about who we are and what we are missing (or what we think we are missing) as humans, we are much more inclined to speak negatively in an inward sense and it’s one of the most dangerous paths we allow our minds to travel down.

Maybe it’s because we can’t control it. Maybe we are angry about what is outside the scope of manipulation. We can’t control if we are too tall or too short or, in our own minds, the wrong shape. We are unable to change if we can’t sing, or have no rhythm, or lack a certain talent. If we are Type A or Type B personalities, if we are introverts or extroverts. Sports, work, relationships. How we compare ourselves to others is without bounds. As a society, we are very focused on what everyone else has and what we do not.

Though the Bible tell us not to envy what others have, most people interpret this materialistically when the more dangerous coveting is when we want to be someone we are not. We see all formed to do different things, we see crafted for individual purposes.

A simple example: I never understood why it was so easy for some people to work their way up a corporate ladder or through the political connection pipeline while I couldn’t connect with either track. I watched handfuls of people maneuver their way to success by doing things the pre-determined “right way” and couldn’t grasp why I couldn’t get there. The simple answer is that I wasn’t supposed to.

It doesn’t mean they settled nor does it mean I am doing something wrong. I’m not unqualified or stupid. It just means I was trying to conform to be something I am not. Other things I am not? Patient, reserved, or malleable. These traits aren’t bad, so long as I am in the right place doing what I am supposed to do.

We are not all made from the same mold. If I was formed in a flamingo candy mold, you can’t force me back into the bin for hippos. I won’t fit. The sooner we begin to understand these things, the easier life becomes. It shouldn’t be a negative when we discover that we will never be a certain something. We should praise ourselves for checking off yet another thing we were not destined to do.

Psalm 139: 13-15 says,

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”

We are not created to be the best at everything, but we have not been put here to be the worst either – that is just something that we create in our own minds. It is our own responsibility to discover what we are destined to be – professionally, romantically, and most importantly, personally.

The only comparison that is necessary in this life is the one in which we assess our own growth. “Am I better today than I was yesterday?”

In a world of experts, you don’t need to be qualified.

We live in a world of experts. Experts on relationships, industry experts, food experts, political experts, parenting experts, there are so many different kinds. I happen to be an expert on wingin’ it. You know, one who is used to agreeing to do something and then figuring it out along the way.

But we, as a society, seem to have lost the middle class. By that, I mean the class of the works in progress. You either know everything or you know nothing. Or, at least that’s how we expect people to be – “the knows” and “the know nots.” We expect our doctors to get diagnoses right the first time, we expect our teachers to ensure our own child is the top of the class, we expect our waitresses to know every ingredient of every dish on the menu.

With this expertise comes a supposed platform to tell others how to be an expert like you. Apparently, these days, it is far less acceptable to become an expert by trial and error, but instead, it should flow from the mouths of the experts down to the proteges and be mimicked for eternity.

I’ll give you a for instance, or three.

You move to a new town, one with quite a few “cultural difference.” People immediately tell you how to act and who to befriend so you, too, can become one of them. You haven’t lived in this place before, or at least not for long, so you couldn’t possibly know how to interact with others on a social level.

Or how about your mother-in-law, the parenting guru, teaching you the best potty-training tips, mentoring you on how long your kid should be in that booster seat, and dictating the genre of music your child should listen to as they drift off to sleep. After all, you’ve never had a kid before you, so you couldn’t possibly pick that music track on your own.

Or a more personal example: I didn’t go to school for journalism, so the only way I could possibly learn how to properly draft a story is to a) either go back to school and learn from a now-retired expert who has dedicated his/her life to educating the masses, OR b) work for an “society-approved” expert to learn how they became an expert and then go on to become an expert by way of the same path as the expert that came before me.

But that’s obnoxious.

And the only thing worse than someone telling you you ‘can’t’ do something is someone telling you that you’re not able to do something simply because you’ve never done it before.

Think about this for a moment:

Everything that has ever been done correctly was once done by someone who first did it wrong and/or, at some point, didn’t know what they were doing.

In fact, the people who believe they’ve already done it correctly usually aren’t the people who will discover a better – or “more correct” – way to do something.

I’m not saying education is bad, it isn’t. And I’m certainly not saying we can’t learn from others – that’s a better education than a formal education. But the real knowledge comes from trying something, doing a terrible job, doing it again, and getting it right (or better). Treading water, forcing yourself to think outside the box, and trying something new by bringing your own experiences and backgrounds to the table is just as valuable.

You may not know what “they” think you should know, but that doesn’t mean you know nothing. You just know different.

You don’t have to know what you’re doing to do it. You just have to be willing to mess up…and then try again.

When moving isn’t about location

Two years ago today, I drove down to Brooklet with my mom and decided, after seeing a total of ONE rental house, that I was going to move to South Georgia. TWO YEARS. I can hardly believe it myself.

I had contemplated the move for all of five days prior to my announcement, one I would have forgotten had Facebook not reminded me of the memory, and one I made publicly back in 2015 so I couldn’t go back on my own commitment to do it. My mom was supportive of it, like moms always are, telling me if it was something I wanted to do, I should, and if I didn’t like it, I could always come back.

I signed a lease and two weeks later, I was packed up and headed to Bulloch County where grocery stores, banking institutions, and local governments were all unknowns. These unknowns were something I desperately desired after years of floating from thing to thing – something I’ve talked about on this blog a good bit. But I told myself I was ready for the change, even though on the inside I was completely unsure of myself.

Growing up, I was always envious of people who had lived in the same house or cottoncommunity their entire lives. I was fascinated by the idea of roots and history and having a “family name” that everyone in the area knew to be common. I grew up around so many people who lived a life of consistency. Everything about their life was a constant. Mine wasn’t much like that at all and while I never understood how my life was different, I knew it was.

I have only recently learned about that “how.” So many people associate “change” with instability, but that isn’t a fair definition at all. We expect people to stay the same. We tell our friends, our family, our spouses that they cannot change – they must always be who they were when we first encountered them. As humans, we even tell our children to stay small…we don’t like change. But I really think most people don’t like change because they don’t know what they will look like on the other side. Who will you be after a divorce? What will your life be like without your best friend? How will you adjust when your kids are grown and gone? What happens when your favorite co-worker is transferred? It is less about the other people and more about ourselves…because we, for some ridiculous reason, think we are entitled to know who we will be at all times in this life.

And if we can’t know for sure, we simply stay put. We refuse to change. But in refusing to change, we block ourselves from any opportunity to grow.

Looking back on the “changes” that occurred while I was growing up, I can see that I was actually the one to be envious of. By that, I mean that at a very young age, I was well-adjusted to the idea of taking different pathways and understanding that change brings good things even when it looks bad.

Fast forward to present day, I can see clearly that taking my own risks and acknowledging to myself that it is okay to change is a huge relief. Acknowledging to yourself that you see room for improvement and opportunities to learn sets you in a different class than most people. It requires that you be brave, that you relax, that you trust yourself and others. More importantly, change means you cannot look at life “on down the road,” but instead see each day for what it’s worth, go to bed, and wake up to start the next with “just that day” in mind.

But of course not all change is good. I’ve also learned that new experiences are not always roses and rainbows. It is not fun moving to a new place. Not knowing where you’re going when you get in the car is unnerving. Missing your family and friends is lonely. Meeting new people is NOT fun. I don’t care what anyone says. People are judgey, they gossip, they scowl, they do things that make you wonder why God even bothered to put any other people on this Earth with you. But it really does build character – I’m not just saying that. The things we think are tearing us down are actually building us up more than we can even tell in the moments of pain. The change – the deviation from what we know – even when it hurts, is a good thing.

So as it turns out, two years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life. When I moved to South Georgia, I was cynical, opinionated, and a perfectionist. I am still all of those things…but in a refined way. My move has shown me that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know anyone in or about anything about your community.

All that matters is that you know yourself. Everything else follows. When you know yourself, you don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t have to preface your sentences or your bios or your introductions. You don’t have to go around behind everyone hoping they think a certain way about you. Knowing yourself means that your character stands on its own. That’s change you can believe in.

I am proud that I know myself and I am not ashamed to say that it has only been recently that I have discovered what that means. I know that many people will go their entire lives without a concrete conviction of who they are. I don’t have to live that way because on one given opportunity, I took a chance on change.

It’s liberating to set out to do something for yourself…and then accomplish it. My move to South Georgia has been one that is more philosophical than physical. Yes, I live “somewhere else” now, but I am personally in a place that has nothing to do with my location. If I had to start over again somewhere else (Heaven help me if I have to), I will still be this person. I won’t have to go looking again. So you see, sometimes in the process of moving physically, we see that we actually moved the most personally.

The Small Businesses.

I was raised in a family of small business owners. My dad was a small business owner most of his life, my mom has owned her own business for as long as I can remember, my brother is a small business owner, and now I’ve found myself right square in the middle of the proverbial developmental field of a small business. There are few things I respect more than a person willing to take a risk, building something, and make it flourish.

The cliche statement about small businesses is that they are the backbone of our cottoncommunities and economies, and it’s true. It’s also true that small business owners, by default, have a different workload because not only are they competing with comparable competitors in the industry, they’re also up against “big business.” But what people are willing to do for their small businesses definitely varies based on population and geographical location.

It would probably surprise a great number of people to know that 89.7% of businesses in America have 20 or fewer employees, according to the 2012 census. While I know it to be true that there are thousands of small businesses in every corner of our own state, I can’t help but believe they have a more important role in smaller, less metro-like communities.

When I moved to South Georgia the first time – back in 2014 – I was the only one from the campaign “in the district” for the first three weeks. My boss thought it would be both beneficial and efficient to rent an office from an old friend of his who just finished renovating a new office space to share with another local business owner.

Both business owners were closer to the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys though both had been in their respective industries for quite some time – the details would be mean getting off in the weeds, so I’ll leave it at that. As I worked from the campaign office morning, noon, night, and weekends, at any given time, someone from one of the two entities was also working. Why? Because if they didn’t do it – no one else would.

Nothing I’ve said so far is distinguishable in rural Georgia, but not big cities. Of course all small business owners work hard. But they have a different type of work in non-metropolis areas. They rely on their community and usually only their community. Their bottom line depends on people’s willingness to stay within a certain region and even plays the moral card a little bit: Would you rather support your neighbor and pay a dollar extra for [X} or are you headed to Wal-Mart some 20 miles away? Are you going to place your insurance plans with your high school baseball teammate who just had another baby or are you going to price it out? And if you’re looking to avoid drama when you list your house for sale, you might as well just go the ‘For Sale By Owner’ route.

Of course, that sword cuts both ways…if someone isn’t a fan of you, Lord knows they’ll drive to the next county to avoid shopping or spending with you and a rumor or a ‘bad review’ can put you in the red until you rebuild your reputation. After all, news travels faster than Google down here.

The point is that there are fewer heartstrings to tug on in the bigger cities. Business is business. Personal lives intertwine much differently and with so many different competitors in crowded areas, it’s just “understood” that everyone who is your friend isn’t going to be a business contact for you. Business isn’t really that personal at all.

Of course, competition is everywhere – it’s an inherent trait in most of us, but South Georgia has shown me the sense of pride people take in the entrepreneurial success of others. Most surprising is that is really is like that nearly every place you go. It’s a community responsibility to support a neighbor in business and it’s why Chambers of Commerce are the polar opposite of one in a metro area. Chambers in smaller areas are mechanisms of support to stay afloat, not to see who can pull in the highest-paid, highest ranking CEO to speak at an Eggs ‘N Issues breakfast.

In Evans County, the Chamber of Commerce launched its own campaign – countywide – to ‘spend $10 on the 10th” at local businesses. In Tattnall, the event cup runneth over as business owners gather frequently to better their own community. Not just themselves…the entire community. While both are just minor examples in the grand scheme, many of the smaller cities and counties depend on the efforts of the Chambers to keep the communities operational.

The constant campaigning of shopping local certainly carries a small weight of guilt when you cheat with a big box store or a restaurant chain, but you also feel a sense of pride for your community when a fellow business owner celebrates 25 or 30 years in business because everyone knows it’s hard enough to keep your doors open when you have tens of thousands of customers. ‘Round here, the proverbial pool is rather shallow.

But the pride and longevity turn to respect and loyalty, which just keeps the pedals on the cycle moving. There’s a reason so many of these small, seemingly isolated communities have managed to stay alive – with little help from “the outside” for decades.

It’s taken a while, but I get it. Every time I go by the office where I worked back in 2014, every time I pass one of their signs in front of another project, I’m proud of them. I’m proud to know them and aside from the fact that they’re already good people, it’s heartwarming to see those people succeed. I’m proud for them.

It’s sad that many people in bigger cities don’t have the opportunity to see that side of a community…or themselves.

The Memories.

Four years ago, I was sitting at a bar in a Mexican restaurant drinking margaritas. (No – this story isn’t going where you think it’s going.) I was actually on my second margarita, so I was past the point of gushing about work, friends, and the love life, and almost to the point of pontificating our purpose here  on earth – I know you know what I am talking about.

Somehow my friend and I managed to get on the topic of family when it hit me that I had forgotten a monumental day in my life. I didn’t say anything about “the day” but shifted the conversation to a question I had: How are we supposed to keep track of all of our memories?

I did then and I still do wonder how we are supposed to make new memories and still have room for the old. It’s bad enough that as we age, we place more time between ourselves and the memory, but stashing new memories while trying to preserve the old? How are we supposed to remember all of the things that mold us? More importantly, how are we supposed to know what is important to remember what isn’t?

And why? Why do we have to juggle the good, the bad, and the ugly in our Roladex of a brain alongside everything else we keep up with on a daily basis? Why are we expected to? Who decided that this is how it’s supposed to be?

Yes, these are all questions spawned from the margarita sermonizing. At least for that day. This day. April 24th is the day my dad died. I’ve written about him before on this blog, mostly selfishly as it’s provided a simple level of healing for me, but also because it was a defining time, a mile marker in my life. But it’s a mile marker I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember, or maybe not the way other people would. I feel guilty even typing it, but I often talk about it…him.. because I feel that I am supposed to at least remember the date. That I am supposed to remember him a certain way.

Last year, on this very blog I wrote that I don’t remember much about when he died or the circumstances that surrounded his death. I believe my words were something to the effect that “it was a blur.”  That’s a lie – not because I intended to write a lie, but because I chose to tell myself that I don’t remember it when I do. I know exactly what was going on – what I was wearing, the face of the nurse, the color of the room, the placement of the window, where everyone sat, the pattern of the beeping machines, the stiff air. I can tell you every domino effect that came of that day as well, in order, as if I’m narrating a documentary.

But I’ve spent so much time reminding myself that I don’t have time for a bad memory and to focus on the good. I’ve denied myself the ability to think about it and even shamed myself for “forgetting” because I felt like I’m already supposed to be “over it” or move on with my life. That’s what we human do, right? When something is over, we move on.

What a stupid way to see things. Not because we should walk around gloom and doom or with our eyes set on the black hole, but because the black hole is always succeeded by light.

We remember what we did wrong when we fell off the bike and we don’t do it again. We know why a job didn’t work out, so we don’t place ourselves in that situation anymore. We know why we lost someone in a relationship, so we adjust our behavior. It hurts to think about the pain of the touching the hot stove, but you’re not out there touching hot stoves are you? That is not a bad thing. Shining the light on the bad every now and again ensures that we have a light guiding us in the future.

Sometimes we decide when that line shines and other times we do not. Despite our best efforts, we cannot forget the things that mold us. It is an invisible mark that will never fully fade. It may not be at the forefront of our daily walk, but the memories are there. We may not be able to pull them out when “we are supposed to” but they are still there. We can and do remember everything, just not always on our own timing. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe it’s an indication that our mind can override our feelings. Or maybe it’s a reminder that we are not in control. But, then again, we don’t need margaritas to remind us of that.

“Memories are the architecture of our identity.”