Small Life, Slow Life: The Difference Between Leading a Small Life and Living Small

There’s a difference between leading a small life and living small. And it’s huge.

Leading a small life: Living within your financial means. Staying on top of your “stuff” so your home isn’t filled with junk. Going for walks. Spending time in the back yard (or the park, or going on a drive) with someone you love. Belly laughs. Choosing to bike instead of driving. Eating locally and humanely. Reading books. Scheduling downtime. Getting enough sleep. Saying “no” when you’re outstretched and overloaded.

Living small: Saying “yes” to avoid disappointing others (and then being handcuffed to resentment). Not speaking up when you need more from your family, partner, or workplace. Accepting a measly two weeks of vacation. Doing the same thing over and over to avoid stepping out of your comfort zone. Not telling the truth because you’re afraid of the response you’ll get. Not demanding a higher standard. Squandering opportunities to be more peaceful, grounded or fulfilled so that you can “get it all done.”

I’ve both lived small and led a small life. There’s a huge difference. One feels like being in a straight jacket. One feels like having total freedom, even if the bank account is low and the apartment is tiny.

Fear is a major component in living small. It’s on your shoulder, whispering to you all the time. Don’t do that, you’ll make her mad. Just do what you’re supposed to do. Only three more hours of this stupid job and then you can go home. You can’t really afford that, but who cares? 

Living small = keeping your mouth shut. Leading a small life = speaking your truth. Major difference.

Leading a small life can be uncomfortable because you’re constantly going against the grain. Your family will ask you why you’re not getting a newer car, buying a house or spending more time with them. Your friends may feel disappointed when you tell them you’re taking Vacation Saturday  instead of going shopping with them. Your boss will question your dedication when you don’t answer emails after 7pm on a weeknight.

Leading a small life initially requires you to do a lot of explaining. But when you come from a place of integrity, they’ll begin to understand and even respect you. And if they don’t understand or respect you, they’re not people you want in your life anyway.

Leading a small life feels a lot like saying “no” all the time in the beginning. But once your time and resources belong to you again, you’ll find that you’re saying, “Yes, yes, YES!” to all the things you love. It feels like freedom. But at first, it feels scary as hell.

To cultivate a small life, you need to form a healthy relationship with your fear. The best way to do this is to realize that all fear comes down to the idea that you’ll be destroyed. If I say no, I’ll be fired. If I do that, I’ll go broke. If I say that, I’ll be rejected.

Sound familiar? Forming a healthy relationship with your fear means you recognize that being rejected does not equal an untimely end. Living with fear means knowing, without doubt, that you’ll survive.

“Trying to avoid fear is like trying to avoid curiosity. I love my fears, but I’m really clear that I lead my fears. They do not manage me. They have a very particular seat on the bus. Your anxiety is a tool for liberation.” -Danielle LaPorte

(And most of the time, the worst-case scenario is that you’re a little uncomfortable. When you’re being truly authentic, getting rejected rarely happens – people will gravitate toward you faster than you’ll be able to handle.)

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