Macon's First Garden School: “Champions Keep Playing Until They Get It Right."
Small wins are important.
When we experience one setback after another, we start to feel the accumulation of those small fractures in life. It can feel as though our world is shattering like a comprised glass structure – “Another pebble splashing against our windshield will surely cave the whole thing in.” The weight of a setback can be excruciatingly painful, leaving us generally apathetic, depleted, and disinclined to continue working towards our goals. Which is why small wins and minor milestones in life can be the catalysts that nourish us with enough motivational fuel to push forward. When we can see progress being made, as incremental as it may be, it’s as though we can see the sky open up with a world of possibility. As historian and social activist Howard Zinn says, “We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
On Monday, October 8th, 2018, I felt the power of a small win. After a long battle, fraught with tension among neighbors who “didn't want to see the neighborhood change,” the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved a conditional-use permit for Brittany and David Mier y Teran to allow for a “private school for children” in an R-1AAA District. Macon's first Garden School.
For well over an hour, I listened to the testimonies of Springdale Woods neighbors, educators, and community members express the need and the want for such outdoor education. I also listened to the opposition's remarks, and their “concerns for traffic, light pollution, and overcrowded street parking.” All of which, in my humble opinion, amounted to one overarching anxiety – Change. From concerned citizens, I detected resistance to the subtle changes happening in their historic neighborhood. The frustrating, and slightly perplexing piece about this project was the was overwhelming agreement and recognition for such programs to exist - That indeed, there was a necessity and desire for children and parents to be offered programs like the Springdale Garden School.
But in lieu of any comprises, I heard the following remarks: “Find another place for it! Not in my neighborhood! Do it somewhere else!” But despite their provocations, I felt a spark of sensational light when the resolution was announced as "Approved!" by the Planning & Zoning Commission. Resounding applause, satisfaction, and joy filled the crowded office space. Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of small wins. No, Brittany wasn’t awarded a lottery-sized stipend of cash (or one of those giant checks) - but seeing the delight on the faces of those in support of one woman’s effort was utterly priceless.
Regrettably, we live at a time where the opinions of those who seek change are often characterized as “distractions” or “disruptors.” They're publicly ridiculed, derided, and their testimonies denounced as trivial. Those who struggle to implement opportunities for the advancement of our nation and our world are so often bullied for wanting to derivate from antiquated norms – casually met with mocking laughter and slander. As though to render or overturn "traditional" models of judgment or law is an act of blasphemy. "That's not how things are done!" we hear so often. But on the flip side, "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," as our President notoriously stated. Unfortunately, not all us have the same notoriety and wealth…
When you’re a 30-year old mother of two, working full time, new to a conventional Southern town, and also looking to design and generate a new environment – new platforms for thought – there will be those who will say, “I don’t want change. Stop trying. Just keep things how they are." However, debasement of someone’s character will not always supersede pleas for change. But in this uphill battle, small wins can make a difference. Not just for those who win, but for those who witness revisions being made to the status quo.
Further, this idea doesn’t just concern political policies; it’s also an attitude for significant progress and meaning in all of life's arenas. Because small wins are vital to human nature. They're how genuine innovations are made. But also, the most modest victories nourish our growth and happiness.
“The Double Helix, James Watson’s 1968 memoir about discovering the structure of DNA, describes the roller coaster of emotions he and Francis Crick experienced through the progress and setbacks of the work that eventually earned them the Nobel Prize. After the excitement of their first attempt to build a DNA model, Watson and Crick noticed some serious flaws. According to Watson, ‘Our first minutes with the models…were not joyous.’ Later that evening, ‘a shape began to emerge which brought back our spirits.’ But when they showed their ‘breakthrough’ to colleagues, they found that their model would not work. Dark days of doubt and ebbing motivation followed. When the duo finally had their bona fide breakthrough, and their colleagues found no fault with it, Watson wrote, ‘My morale skyrocketed, for I suspected that we now had the answer to the riddle.’ Watson and Crick were so driven by this success that they practically lived in the lab, trying to complete the work.”
“Throughout these episodes, Watson and Crick’s progress—or lack thereof—ruled their reactions. In our recent research on creative work inside businesses, we stumbled upon a remarkably similar phenomenon. Through exhaustive analysis [of Twenty-six project teams from seven companies participated, comprising 238 individuals], we discovered the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run — even a small win — can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”
“Even ordinary, incremental progress can increase people’s engagement in the work and their happiness during the workday. Across all types of events our participants reported, a notable proportion (28%) of incidents that had a minor impact on the project had a major impact on people’s feelings about it. Because inner work life has such a potent effect on creativity and productivity, and because small but consistent steps forward, shared by many people, can accumulate into excellent execution, progress events that often go unnoticed are critical to the overall performance of organizations.”
The overall implication of the “progress principle” is this: By supporting others and their daily progress in meaningful work, we enhance not only the lives of others in our community, but can modify even long-term performance, fulfillment, and advancements. However, pump the brakes for a moment. Because, “Unfortunately, there is a flip side. Small losses or setbacks can have an extremely negative effect on inner work life. In fact, our study and research by others show that negative events can have a more powerful impact than positive ones...”
Which is why this week I am reminded not to overlook the minor milestones. This week, I will do my best to savor the triumphs in my life and those the lives of others, our community, and even in our country. Progress takes patience and humility, but also durability.