a new standard of measurement

Marian ParsonsPopular, Running a Business219 Comments

It’s that time of year where we get our planners out and start to fill the pages with the goals and dreams and to-dos for next year.  And, as I’ve been pondering my own 2019 and all of the promise it holds, I’ve been thinking about the push for more that is so prevalent in our society and more specifically in the online creative community.

There is this trend, this idea that is being perpetuated in this world of “girl bosses” –  that you have to have big dreams and you were not “made to be small” or live a small life.

And, I have to admit that it all sounds good.

But, there is something that doesn’t sit quite right with me…

Who defines small? 

Small is relative.  A mouse is small compared to an elephant, but it’s enormous compared to a flea.  Something can really only be defined as big or small if it’s stacked against something else in comparison.

So, your life is small compared to who?  Compared to what? 

Is homeschooling your children a small life?  Is working a low paying, but fulfilling job a small life?  Is sacrificing your dreams to care for or support someone you love a small life?

Does a big life have to be lived in front of a big audience?  Does a big life have to involve travel and wealth and some amount of fame?  Does a big life have to be all about you and your wants?

I’m afraid what is being communicated in this message is that the stay-at-home mom is small until she becomes a diamond-level sales rep in the MLM brand of her choice.  The woman painting furniture and selling it out of a booth at an antique mall is small until she launches an online store and starts her own traveling antique market.  The blogger is small until she has 100,000 followers on Instagram and a book deal.

Does anyone else feel like this is the message that’s being sold and certainly bought?  And we’re all buying it.  I find myself buying it!  The push for more is never-ending.

Allow me to shift gears for a second…

Did you know that the measured size of an object changes depending on the unit of measurement you’re using?

It sounds crazy, but it’s true.  For example, if you measure the perimeter of a lake in miles, you’ll come up with one measurement.  If you measure it again in yards, the perimeter measurement will be larger, because that smaller unit of measurement won’t be skipping over all of the small inlets and other variations along the banks.  Then, imagine measuring it in inches or millimeters or a measurement that is even too small for the naked human eye to appreciate and the results are even larger.

This is called fractal dimension (and I can’t even believe I’m nerdy enough to mention it in a blog post, but it is relevant!)  The finer the measurement, the larger the item becomes.  It doesn’t actually grow, but you have a better, more accurate measurement of it.

I would propose that the same thing is true of our lives.

When you assess the life of a typical stay-at-home mom with the measuring stick of accomplishment and earning potential alone, that might seem like a small life.  But change the unit of measurement to intimately influencing and impacting the life of another and you start to see how large of a life that actually is.

I’m not trying to pick on people who are selling the “dream big” message.  I believe in dreaming big and I think there is a lot of value and encouragement in much of what they are saying.  But, I also think there is a danger that comes with this idea that one person’s life is big and another’s is small, especially because it’s typically based on professional accolades, acquired wealth and material possessions, social media following, moving in the right circles, and even physical appearance.

And the challenging thing in today’s world is that we can readily compare the “size of our lives” to millions of people just by the flick of our thumb through Instagram.  She has more followers, she’s traveling more, she’s creating more, she’s skinner, she dresses better, she’s funnier, she’s a better mom, she has it all together, she’s living my dream..

Suddenly, our life, that never looked small before, looks small.  It feels small.  We are the mouse trying to make our way through what feels like an entire world of elephants.  And we have to go buy a book or attend a conference to learn how to live a bigger life.

But big is never big enough because there is always someone or something bigger.

And that is a tail you can chase, but never catch.

Instead of trying to change our size, I believe we simply need to change our standard of measurement.

a new standard of measurement

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219 Comments on “a new standard of measurement”

  1. Thank you. I live a small simple life. It’s hard to feel “enough” when I inevitably compare myself to my successful wealthy siblings who travel and have their own summer homes and own their own businesses. I think maybe I’m not measuring correctly!


    Social Media has brought the comparison game to a whole new level, and it can feel like so much pressure, especially for perfectionists like myself.

    I have found that recently I’m forcing myself more and more to ease the pressure and do less, and call it good enough.

    I am a stay at home mum to 3, and while I am very sure of myself and my purpose, I still get caught up in the ‘doing more’.

    It’s totally okay to love a quiet and unassuming life.

    I love your idea to just change how we measure “big”.

    Thank you for writing this!!

  3. God bless you. My measurement of life is love, peace, happiness and forgiveness of oneself for simplicity.

  4. Thank you for writing this! I’ve always wondered why I didn’t have big dreams — was I lazy? I homeschooled my children from kindergarten until college and since then I’ve been writing very part time because my family still needs me. I’m happy with my work until I compare. These words mean a lot coming from someone we see as successful. Thank you!

  5. God bless you! I needed to hear this and I’m sure many others did as well. Those of us that are homebodies must have some time in our own home to recharge our batteries.

  6. Marian – WOW! This really resonates with me. Recently I have become so disenchanted with several of the bloggers I have followed for years – just too over the top with their “diamond” status, speaking tours, books…

    At this point in my life, I am tired of “more” – I want “less”. Less stress, less pressure, less comparing, less trying to measure up to others’ standards. However, there are some things I’d like more of. More time with my family (ie – 16 week old grand baby Amelia), more time following the Lord’s plan for my life, more being rather than doing…

    Thank you for your insight – stay true to yourself!

  7. Thank you so much a much-needed dose of inspiration this morning. I admit that at times everything I spend my life laboring towards feels pretty “small.” Homeschooling, washing another sink full of dishes, sweeping another floor, changing another diaper. This is my life’s work right now, and by eternal measurement it holds great significance. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes, exactly. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to do something new or to crave time spent on creative endeavors, but you’re certainly not living a small life. 🙂

  8. Amen…. I needed to hear that perspective! I had been rolling those thoughts over in my head recently. As I age my “ unit of measure” has changed drastically.
    Your words are inspiring and will give pause to others as well.
    Thank you for sharing.

  9. A wonderful and thoughtful post! Thank you for writing this; I will be mulling it over all day.

  10. Amen, Marian, amen. I find that the things that are “small” are the most meaningful and comforting in life, despite the fact that they are the most un-rewarded societally speaking. We need to remember that God sees and approves nevertheless. And why does everyone think that everything has to grow and be bigger and earn more and be more popular all the time? Why is staying small not considered just as good? You have done a good job writing a short post on what is actually a BIG topic, and it is important, especially for women I think, to consider these things. Thank you!

  11. Thank you for a beautiful post!! I am so thankful to have such a good friend (you), who I have never even met! You are a blessing, Marian. Like so many others, I needed to hear this today!
    Merry Christmas!

  12. I’m an old woman who has read your blog for years. I like your style of both decorating and writing. But this post has more depth and wisdom than anything you’ve ever written. Bravo, gal!

  13. Thank you!! An incredible message that is especially relevant this time of year. This post really made me stop and reflect on what’s really important to my family and to myself. Merry Christmas!!!

  14. So true and so easy for us to “forget” from time to time. I also try to remind myself that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Did that small blog/business/life give you joy until you compared it to someone else’s blog/business/life? There are far more important things to measure in this life than outward success… health, happiness, joy, love, kindness, sacrifice, family, humility, service, peace, contentment… let’s start a new list of things to measure!

  15. First off, let me say I am old. Secondly, I agree that what is being sold via many Blogs is that you have to a BIG GOAL AND BIG PLAN for your life or you’re not doing enough, you are less than and you’re just not trying because you don’t dream big enough. Social media has given that very old, ancient idea mega-steroids. But it’s been around a long time..since the serpent suggested to Eve that she wasn’t enough and her world was too small. It is just being repackaged to your generation with all the glitz and gloss available on the internet. Lastly, I know a thing or two cause I’ve seen a thing or two…self promotion always leads to humiliation and regret. Perfectionism never makes good on its promises. It’s never good to measure ourselves against ourselves. We aren’t supposed to compare and compete with other women, we’re supposed to encourage and enjoy other women for the unique way they are created and the unique choices they are making.

    1. Pamela I have to remember what you’ve written here: “Perfectionism never makes good on its promises.” Thank you.

    2. “We aren’t supposed to compare and compete with other women…” You took the words right out of my mouth. But more eloquently. Thank you.

  16. I hope this message is shouted from the rooftops, because it is so relevant and personally true for many of us. Thank you so much for this wisdom.
    I grew up believing what our priest said, “There is always room on top”, meaning if you excelled or were “the best” at something, there would be little competition for you. I fought for top grades, top reviews, state fair ribbons, etc. until I finally realized, at the age of thirty, that he was so so so wrong. There will always be someone better, faster, smarter, funnier, prettier, skinnier, richer, and/or happier than me. There will always be someone who is better at something than every human on earth is. That is life. It only took me 30 years to quit beating myself up for not being the best, to just relax in what I could do with honest effort and realize that it was enough. I figured if my two small children were alive at the end of the day and we had had a meal together, that was enough. If I had a shower every two days and maintained basic grooming, it was enough. If the house was cleaner than an episode of Hoarders, it was enough. If my knitting could keep someone’s hands warm, it was enough. If the grass shorter than my high tops, it was enough. We are all enough. Thank you, Miss Mustard Seed.

  17. Long-time reader of your blog, and this is the first time I’ve shared one of your posts to Facebook. I hope this message resonates with people, because you’ve beautifully articulated the purpose of individual life–finding where we fit, make a difference there, and live joyfully. Thank you not only for writing this but for living it as well.

    Merry Christmas.

  18. This nearly brought me to tears. Somehow I thought I was among the few out there thinking the grass would be greener “if only I accomplished” this or that. After 14 years as a stay-at-home Mom I keep thinking I need to go back to work ( in my former high paying, yet soul-stealing profession) or reinvent myself. Instead what I need to do first is use a different measuring tool. Thank you for this.

  19. I agree. I stay home with my son and see how busy everyone else seems to be, compared to my usually quiet days. Im a big believer in a great day doesnt always mean something has to be accomplished. Its not always about the list. I prefer those days when we just hang out and be. This post is a good reminder to keep in mind when the kids are in school and its time to find something more to fill my time. Im thinking painting furniture and flower arranging 🙂

  20. Beautiful Marianne. You and your words. I too have been around a long time and it makes me sad to see so many women undervalue themselves. Live the life that fits who you are at each stage of your life and use your own yardstick.

  21. So True!! I homeschooled our 3 children and never regretted it! I was a stay at home Mom and loved it!
    I’m a working middle aged woman now and there’s never been any more rewarding experience as when I was a stay at home Mom & Homeschool teacher! Thank you so much for sharing this topic!

  22. Spot on! I’ve been thinking about this lately and I’ve actually stopped following a few Instagramer because their accounts make me feel less than. Of course, they’re not doing it on purpose – I’m doing it to myself. I had to stop following them for my own well being. Thank you for articulating this so we’ll.

  23. I have tears in my eyes as I write: Thank you for saying this and saying it so succinctly. You have touched my heart today.

  24. Miss Mustard Seed…this is the best message I have seen in a long time!
    Thank you.

  25. I love and appreciate what you said so much. The icing on the cake is all the comments as well.
    What a great way to begin a new year ahead…thank you, everyone!

  26. MMS,

    Thank you for your supportive words which encourage letting go of productivity as the measure of our worth.

    Desiring Advent stillness and slowing,
    Diney on CamanoIskand

  27. I stayed at home to raise my 3 children. I could not have spent my time and effort for any better purpose. Thank you for speaking up on behalf of choosing carefully what to value. It would be wonderful if more women put mothering at the top of their goals.

  28. Ah Marian. You are such a wise girl! How is it that someone at a young age knows these important life lessons? Thank goodness for you Marian for being the voice of reason.
    Merry Christmas

  29. Obviously, I choose how I feel and how I respond to people and things around me. No one can “make” me feel anything, but I must admit I cringe when I hear IG home decor account people referring to their “hideous” carpet, light fixtures, countertops, etc. It can breed a sense of discontent among followers who have the same “hideous” things.

    I have a friend whose son got a new coat and was so proud of it. He came home crying after his first day of school. His mother assumed it was because he was ashamed of his non-labeled coat. She began to reprimand him because of his obvious pride problem. Through his tears he explained that he loved his new coat, but the kids at school made fun of him because it wasn’t good enough for them.

    1. Yes, I totally agree that our feelings are our own and we can choose what we internalize. I also agree with breeding discontentment and, I must admit, I have been guilty of doing that. I have been trying to make an effort to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with what I’m changing in my home, but that it’s just not my taste. It can, at times, be so frivolous, though! I’m also striving for contentment because it’s so easy to focus on what I don’t have or what I want to change. Always room for improvement. Anyway, great comment.

  30. I agree with everything you have said!! I started doing Instagram just for fun . I enjoyed following certain artists, antique lovers, painted furniture and home decorating topics. I have a VERY VERY small following! However as time went along I began to see that it seemed so competitive at times and too perfectionistic with some people! And sometimes even too self centered? To the point that I was feeling bad on some days because I am simply a newly retired person in Ohio trying to learn watercolor painting, paint some furniture and sell small antiques at the local antique mall!! I have felt exactly all the things you are describing!! Thank you SO much for addressing this issue in this manner!!

  31. We are in this world for a time, but are not to be of it.
    Our investment is in the eternal, things the world considers “small”.

  32. Love this post!!! Thank you so much for sharing words that I need to hear, especially as I consider how to spend my time and energy in the coming year! Sometimes the mundane tending for the needs of my family feels so small, and I feel as though I have to be a “success” to matter/make a difference in the world. Thanks again.

  33. This is the way of the Kingdom. Thank you for the reorientation.
    “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.” (from Romans 12, MSG)

  34. Thank you for wise words and an intriguing illustration! I couldn’t help thinking of your blog and business name: “Miss MUSTARD Seed”, and Jesus comment in Luke 17, about what faith as small as a mustard seed could do. Size can be deceptive! This was a beautiful reminder.

  35. Marian,

    What a very timely and lovely, lovely post. Indeed, perfection is overrated. I always struggled balancing work/family so I quit my soul-killing job to stay home with my kids. I became a freelancer and traded a steady paycheque for greater flexibility. Did it hurt my career – yep. Am I a happier person – you bet! I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to make that choice. The kids are older now but I don’t think I’ll ever return to the corporate scene – I realize that it’s just not my thing. I don’t think it ever was. Thank you for your wise words, your creative inspiration and for reminding us that’s its ok to just be.

  36. Very well said!!! I am looking forward to later this evening when I can go through all the comments.
    In the mean time, I am going to forward this to my daughter and daughter-in-love.
    Thank you!

  37. Beautiful! Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I’m old enough to retire but still working because of low paying but fulfilling employment and staying home with kids during my middle years. Just what I needed to hear! Thank you!

  38. Perfectly said! Now that I am semi-retired from a busy teaching career of 30 plus years, I have come to have greater appreciation for a slower pace and a simpler life. I only wish I had made this discovery sooner.

  39. Again amen! And I am older also and agree that this is a reoccurring theme. After the original women’s movement of the 1960’s & 70’s, we were made to feel like we should all be “super women”. It just does not work. We are not built to do everything well, and we (and our families) suffer when we try!

  40. I love what you wrote. I’m not usually good at putting thoughts into words but you really have a knack for it. I may have to send this to my daughters. I feel sometimes they put too much pressure on themselves in their work and personal lives. Thank you

  41. I can’t say thank you enough! There is way too much pressure emphasing on what you posted. I was taught to do your best in what makes you happy and enjoy life along with it.

  42. Thank you so much for writing this article! It literally brought tears to my eyes! I am fairly new to the blogging and IG world. As much as I love it and have met so many amazing people, it is a struggle to not let the pressure of chasing my dreams get the best of my priorities! Because of some family issues I have been torn and quite honestly mad that I keep having to put my dreams on hold. I have been praying a lot about this issue and have come to the realization that it’s ok to have my dreams and to pursue things that I have a talent for doing. But it’s so much better to take care of the most important people in my life which right now are my grandchildren! I know that the measurement of time spent loving them and caring for them is so priceless and in God’s timing he is making an awesome plan for my life as well as everyone else’s life. Your article really helped solidify what is in my heart and have been praying about! I absolutely love everything Miss mustard seed stands for! You are an inspiration to me on a daily basis!
    Thank you,
    Heid from Lilybeanandlilac

  43. Oh My Goodness YES!!! Let’s all stop buying the garbage messages out there, even the ones masquerading as spiritual, motivational encouragement, and start believing the truth that we are enough, right here right now… ENOUGH!!

  44. Oh, Marian. You just sang a song my soul needed to hear. In reviewing my “performance” this past year and planning my goals for the next year, I am now reminded what a silly term performance is. I’m not a machine or a software app. I’m a woman of a certain age who is doing incredibly well given the loss of my 40+ year darling. My word for 2018 was “less.” Less stuff, less chaos, less drama, less worry .. And my goal was to “murder” perfection after finally understanding how corrosive my pursuit of “straight A’s” in life has been – to me and to those who love me. Until today, my evaluation was that I haven’t done so well. Now, I’ll go back with a more enlightened measuring lens. Thanks, Marian. It was definitely a God thing that led me here today. Love to you and yours and Merry Christmas! 💚

  45. Thank you this very timely post. It really hit home with me. 💕 Merry Christmas to you and your family 🎄❤️

  46. Peace and contentment aren’t usually measured by big or small! This was such an excellent post….thank you!
    Also don’t even recognize your painting you’ve grown sooo much! I loved your portrait without the addition of color!! Keep going …you have a gift!

  47. Such an important post! Thank you! One thing I’ve learned is that there are seasons to life. It can feel “small” to be staying home with your kids during that season, but just remember that the REWARDS of being faithful in “small” seasons are HUGE, and that the “big” things you want to do can be more easily accomplished in a different season of life when there aren’t so many important demands on you. I fought to stay content during my kids’ growing up years (not easy since we had 4 kids spread out over 3 decades!) but now I’m reaping the rewards of 4 wonderful adult kids, 8 precious grandkids (and one on the way), and much more time on my hands to do some of the fun things I dreamed of when my kids were small.

  48. Marian, you are wise beyond your years! I think we get so caught up in all of our “doing” that we rarely stop to evaluate what we really are doing. This is a good message & I’m thankful that someone of your age sees through what’s going on in the world today. I was a stay-at-home mother & experienced feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing much of anything because I wasn’t bringing in a paycheck. It took years for me to realize my worth. I wish I’d realized that I was doing just what I was called to do. I was trying to raise Godly children. My kids are in their 30’s & 40’s now & I have 12 grandchildren & I’m reaping some of what I sowed. The Lord has blessed every effort even though I wasn’t working for accolades. Thank you for reminding your readers of their value.

  49. Thank you so much for this. I have been pondering this quite a bit lately and you put it so well. We’re being sold one standard of measurement, but it can’t measure everything. Beautiful!

  50. So true and so beautifully written. I will be 66 in a few days and as I look back over my life from the perspective of an IG-ready world, I wonder how difficult it would have been for me to not compare my relatively “small” life with those unattainable ones on social media. I now have the perspective that comes with age–I realize I have had what’s important in my life for ME–someone to love and love me in return, a mother who even after her passing still influences the person that I am, a daughter who, while not perfect, is a daughter to be proud of, a home I love to be in, and a job that I enjoy. None of those things may be considered BIG by IG standards, but they are perfect to me and I am so thankful I am not a young woman trying to live up to the standards I see on social media. I have lived a happy imperfect little life, and that isn’t just big, it’s HUGE to me.

  51. When they split the atom they showed how powerful small can be. I keep this in mind in my very small, but very important life. I have not touched thousands of lives but my family and I work to touch the ones we do in a real and important way. We are filled and fufilled by what we quietly do in our small town.
    Your words are validating to that, Thank you.

  52. Have you heard the song “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson? Y’all are thinking the same thoughts. He just put his to music. This is one of my favorite posts you have ever written!!

  53. Amen sister! Wow what a post! You truly are a wonderful person! This is so timely this time of year! Your wisdom is beyond your age my friend. We all need to hear this! I have been thinking of not reading some blogs where it seems everything the person does is perfect, she is perfect, has unlimited money, beautiful etc. I am blessed beyond measure, but after reading one blog in particular, I feel so ugly,fat, and envious and it leaves me feeling badly about my home which is lovely, but not near the size etc of this blogs home. Just this week I saw her expensive gift ideas and a perfectly decorated tree and spotless home, with her dressed perfectly with perfect makeup etc. I felt awful!
    So, Marian God bless you for being real, and a sister to all of us. You are a blessing and so real!
    Thank you so very much! Merry Christmas!

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