There’s a little verse in the Bible that I love and hate. It’s from the prophet Zechariah and it says this…
“Do not despise these small beginnings.” – Zechariah 4:10
Right now, what we’re building is small. There are just a few of us. We’re a small company with a big mission. Lord willing, one day we will be big. But instead of bemoaning where we are, I’m trying to rest in it.
Because I got it wrong the first time.
When I look back on my days helping start a church that grew to 1,000 people pretty fast, the days I miss the most were the early days. When the whole church fit in my living room. When staff meetings happened at 9pm because that was the only time we could all get tighter. When a small group of amazing people set out to help change the city. It was a small beginning but it was an awesome beginning.
In the moment, I hated it. My eyes were on launching, growing, and expanded. I was on the lookout for what was next and I was ready to smash the next growth barrier. Always somewhere else but rarely present. I was on a quest for more and a quest like that rarely satisfies.
I despised that small beginning when I was living it but I love that small beginning now that I miss it. I’m determined not to do that this time.
Maybe you’re in a time of humble beginnings. Your idea is still young, your business is still small, or your organization is still finding it’s way. Not only is this okay, it’s desirable. You shouldn’t just NOT DESPISE these times. You should lean into them.
There’s a good chance you’re underestimating what you can do over time.
When I helped start a church, I wanted it to grow now and grow fast. Over five years, some would say that happened. But I didn’t have a 20 or 30 year outlook. I didn’t have a 50 year outlook.
I love the story of Starbucks. Did you know it took Starbucks 20 years to get the business model right and open 100 stores. Today, they have 18,000 stores, but there was a time not too long ago when they had just a handful. They weren’t a national brand. They weren’t an industry icon. It was just a humble beginning.
And it took them the better part of two decades to figure it all out. I get frustrated if I don’t hit the business equivalent of a home run after a few weeks of focus, yet most companies work, reinvent, work, reinvent, work and reinvent for years before settling into something that’s mildly successful.
Brad Bridges says if you can see all the results of your work, you aren’t thinking far enough into the future. What a powerful statement! Parenting is like this (I have a 13 year old right now…pray for me!). The decisions we’ve made over the last few years with our kids often don’t have immediate results. We’re not parenting for NOW, we’re parenting for LATER.
When you look at what you’re trying to do, maybe you need to take a much longer view. Maybe what you’re going through now is for later.
Likewise, you’re probably overestimating what you can do this year.
Just like we underestimate what we can do in 12 years we overestimate what we can do in 12 months.
Because I’m so guilty of short term thinking and tend to despise the small beginnings, I am also tempted to do too much too soon. If left unchecked, I’ll have my hands in too many things and attach false expectations to them all. I’ll come up with too many priorities, and you know that means making real progress on none of them.
Remember all those annual goals you set back in January? You have a higher possibility of success of you just focus on one of them. You’ll actually accomplish more when you try to accomplish less.
Making the Most of Humble Beginnings
If you’re in a time of small beginnings, I offer these suggestions to help you make the most of these early days.
- Document everything.
The other day, we had a board meeting in Atlanta with all four of the Church Fuel partners. We didn’t have any fancy presentations in a fancy meeting room. It was just four guys sitting in a hotel lobby talking about what we’ve learned so far and where we want to go. Jeremie stepped back and snapped a picture from his phone so we would have it for the archives. He reminded us all of the verse in Zechariah about small beginnings.
Keep trinkets and mementos from the early days. Take pictures. Hang a dollar on the wall. These things will have a lot of meaning for you and others in the years to come.
- Enjoy the simplicity and flexibility.
One day, things will be more complicated and more stressful. You might think growth will bring more people to take the pressure off, but the reality is growth brings pressure and responsibility. While you’re small, enjoy the simplicity and flexibility that comes with it.
Don’t let the vision consume you to the point where you cannot appreciate the fun of where you are now.
- Your kids are only this age once.
- Your business is only this nimble now.
- Your small apartment is easy to clean. And there’s no mortgage.
- Practice contentment.
Contentment is not a gift, it’s a skill. You’ve got to practice it. I know it’s hard because you’re comparing your startup, your organization or your family to someone else. It’s so easy to look at other things and think you need to work harder to get there faster.
But the dirty secret of success is that if you ask people who look successful, they will tell you they traded away too much to get it.
Don’t look at what you don’t have or wha you can’t do yet…rest in what you do have. Rest in what you can do.