The Sum Of Small Decisions.

This is a story about a tiny decision in response to a tiny spark.

My wife and I are waiting to be told the date of our presentation hearing. As I understand it, a presentation hearing is a cursory court hearing whose only purpose is to serve as a final administrative review on a foster care adoption and set the date for adoption (another court appearance). We can’t wait. Elle has been our daughter for over two years, and we are anxious to make it official. Elle has never known any other parents.

When people find out we are adopting our foster daughter, they are often amazed by our willingness to take on such a huge responsibility (we do have four other children after all). They struggle to understand our decision, because honestly, it seems pretty crazy, right?

No sane person has five children on purpose.

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When you tell someone you have five children, they immediately think you are probably some kind of fertility fanatic. At the very least, they know you are weird. When you go on to tell them you decided to become a licensed foster care provider (BTW — it is a total whip) and welcome a foster child into your home, it simply fries their circuit board.

“Wait a second! You did this to yourself? . . . on purpose?!”

I get it. Not long ago I would have had the exact same reaction. Old me didn’t understand why anyone would do that to themselves. So I understand why people look at us funny when we tell our story. They don’t understand how we would possibly make that decision.

Some decisions appear much larger than they really are.

When you enter into our story today, the decision to adopt Elle looks like a singular event.

“Oh my God! You decided to adopt a fifth child?! A black child in a predominantly white neighborhood? With a house that doesn’t really fit five children? Do you know how expensive kids are?!”

It seems like a massively weighty decision when viewed like that.

It is hard to comprehend how a person would navigate a decision like that. Harder still to see how they would navigate it and land on “Yes, let’s do that.” Here’s the thing. We never faced that decision. The decision we made was a lot like deciding to go to Whataburger.

It happened a few years ago at a church service where we heard a compelling case for donating our time and resources in the area of foster care. The speaker caught our attention. There was a little spark. He talked about the urgent need in our local community and implored people with the means to help to attend an information session the following week.

We decided to go and learn more. That was it. That was the decision!

It was a tiny decision in response to a tiny spark. It cost us one hour of time on a Sunday afternoon. That decision led to Jennie (my wife) inviting a friend who had fostered before to lunch. It cost her $10 and another hour of her time. That decision led to us deciding to visit a couple of foster care agencies (they train and license foster parents) to see what they were about. That led to us selecting an agency and attending a class. After some debate, we decided to go to the second class. We decided to keep going. Then we decided to work through the slog of paperwork. Then we decided to limit our availability to babies without siblings. You get the point.

It was just one relatively small decision after another. One tiny step after another in the same direction. Each one relatively low cost, and relatively easy to make.

Little decisions are easy.

While we knew where this journey could potentially lead, we really never pulled back and viewed it as a singular decision. No decision ever felt overwhelming like it would have if we had to cook all these little decisions into one big one. We didn’t commit on the front end to welcoming a forever daughter into our home (although we were aware of the possibility). Instead, we made a series of much much smaller commitments. Each one building on the last, taking us closer and closer to today. We were confident in the direction, and that is all we needed.

Today we could not be more excited and more blessed to officially make Elle an Elverum. We love her beyond words and we are proud to talk about our journey to this point, but we don’t deserve credit for making some big grand decision. We shouldn’t be praised for committing so much to serving a child in need. Because we didn’t. We made a bunch of small decisions in a particular direction that led to something amazing.

As I sit here typing today, I realize the story above applies to all of the seemingly momentous accomplishments and decisions in life. Very few of them happened in an instance as a singular event. Most of them required an initial spark (ours was a good speaker telling a compelling story) followed by a tiny decision to respond, and subsequently followed by countless micro-decisions. None of them deserving of any great praise, but when viewed in aggregate weave a story worth telling.

The story of your life is written with your response to the sparks.

Remember that when you feel a spark. When you think maybe you should start your own company or pursue a relationship. You don’t have to make a huge decision, after all, those are scary. You just need to make a tiny decision that starts you in the right direction and stay faithful to the next tiny decision that continues in that direction. It won’t feel particularly courageous or bold in the moment, but each little decision is a step forward, another page in the story you are writing. Over time all those little decisions, that were so easy and cost so little, combine to form something bigger. Looking back and seeing them strung together reveals the chapters in your story. A story about a courageous doer who does hard things.

Don’t underestimate the sum of small decisions.

Patrick Elverum is the cofounder and COO of Tone. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas, with his five wonderful kids. You can read more about his thoughts on parenting here.

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