What’s the Big Picture? Don’t lose yourself in details

  • Someday Lesson: Don’t let the details get in the way of the big picture.

As Carrie approaches the big move from Atlanta to Morocco, she’s been dealing more and more with details. It’s only natural. There’s the apartment to pack with decisions about what to keep and what to donate. There are language lessons to start, and the goodbyes to friends and family. There are also all the documents that need to be filled out, applied for, copied and sent to five different places.

In this rush of productivity, it would be easy to get caught up in the details, to see them as a list of chores to get through before arriving at the place Carrie wants to be.

However the process isn’t just details. A walk through the woods isn’t just the bark of the Manitoba maple on your left and the white pine root that wants to trip you up and the poplar leaves sounding like rain as the wind blows through them and the poison ivy that must be avoided and the groundhog hole that the dog is trying to dig up, and… and… and…

It’s also the whole forest, the sky, the ground the mix of all the details creating a unique experience. To pay attention to just the details would be like listening to the individual notes of a symphony without paying attention to the whole pieces. The big picture isn’t just the endpoint, the arrival at the dream. It’s also the process.

I therefore asked Carrie to take a step back from the details and look at the big picture, asking her how what she’s doing at the detailed level fits into the big picture and what details are missing, leaving blanks in the picture.

Carrie’s pre-emptive isolation jumped out at her as she started thinking about it. She knows she’s leaving, so she’s cut herself off from everyone already, using the details (like packing) to avoid the goodbyes. By doing this exercise she’s recognized it and she will make an effort to see the people who are important to her before she leaves.

Here’s what she had to say:

This move to Morocco is gigantic. As I was taking Shaka (the dog) for a leisurely walk today to pause from packing up my apartment – I got a brief glimpse of the bigger picture, a moment of clarity about what this move means in the larger scheme things. I decided that it is okay to love where I am from. Of course  I will miss all of the pretty houses in my neighborhood and walking my dog around and my friends and my family. It is required that I will miss them, but it does not mean that I cannot let go of it as well. I think I said goodbye another time today. I caressed the hollow feeling in my heart in order to let the new stuff in. This is my life – the only one that I have to live now. I have been working towards this move for 8 years. And now…it is the time. It is the time to say goodbye.

How this relates to the tasks that I have to complete before leaving is interesting indeed. I have imposed a kind of isolation on myself away from my friends and family. Not completely, but not spending as much time as I feel that I should be spending now.  I have instead been locking myself away in this apartment to “pack”. Some days “packing” means not getting off the couch and not answering my phone. Some days “packing” means boxing many of my previously treasured possessions for donation. Some days “packing” means packing and that includes daydreaming about my new life as I try to strike the gentle balance between what I will bring and what I want to acquire new. I am speaking of the objects one (meaning me) needs to run a home.

I have to be out of my apartment in two weeks – so the packing is a non-negotiable. As far as what I am not doing that needs to be done, I need to be leaving my place more and spending more time with those that I love. I believe that the uncertainty with moving and starting over has put me in a place where I am clinging to my last moments in my apartment for my dear life.

How about you? Do you tend to get so absorbed by the details that you forget the big picture? Or perhaps you’re more like me, so absorbed in the big picture that you forget that sometimes the details are important?

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8 thoughts on “What’s the Big Picture? Don’t lose yourself in details

  1. Sometimes I get so obsessed with the details of organizing the fact that I live in England now that I forget, hey! I live in England now! I’m living my dream here and, um, not noticing.

    Like, I live across the street from a field of sheep. And Jack will say, “Look, Mummy! Sheep!” And I’ll be all, “Mmmhmmm, that’s nice honey. Wait a minute! What the hell?! Sheep!?” And it’ll make me realize all over again that, hey, I made it.

    Nice post — super cool.

    Naomi Dunford´s last blog post..Skip School and Learn What You Need to Know Instead

  2. Alex Fayle says:

    I do that with the ocean. I’ll be walking to teach English class and I’ll cross the beach then suddenly realize – my god! I live 10 minutes from the frickin’ beach!

    Of course right now with it being cold and wet that’s not so interesting but come May… mmmmmm

  3. I’m in the midst of a pretty huge life change at the moment and I am definitely getting caught up the details.

    In a way it’s a coping mechanism. When I’m thinking about nit-picky stuff I don’t have to acknowledge my pain and fear and uncertainty.

    Unfortunately, when I do that I also miss all of the opportunity available to me. Normally I could get over that by talking a long walk, but it’s about -5F right now!

    Maria | Never the Same River Twice´s last blog post..Carnival of Personal Development

  4. Kelly says:


    “Some days ‘packing’ means not getting off the couch and not answering my phone.”

    Some days that has to be a non-negotiable, too. If you don’t take that time to be gentle with yourself, you’ll be blown away by all that’s going on!


    I try to see the details and the big picture, and I’m pretty good at it most of the time.

    Which is why when I do get lost, I can get lost in either one. Staring at one phrase in a proposal, waiting for a better word to come to me (& oops, a half-hour’s gone for a word no one but me will notice), or making lists of the big possibilities ahead, forgetting to take some doggone action!

    I’m an equal-opportunity obsessor. 🙂



    Kelly´s last blog post..Why You Should Create a Tribal Language

  5. This posts sings to my soul. I keep telling my wife that I’m working so hard on my blog so we can be free to do whatever we want. I sometimes get too carried away and don’t spend enough time with her right now. Of course she is busy too as a teacher and grad school.

    I just need to enjoy the time that we have together right now and not worry too much about what will be.

    Karl Staib – Work Happy Now´s last blog post..What are YOU Grateful for this Past Week?

  6. Alex Fayle says:

    Yes details are a great way to ignore the fear and uncertainty and sometimes it’s the only way to get past them. For me, it’s the opposite, I retreat to the big picture and don’t move anything forward.

    Exactly! I’m a huge advocate of staring-at-the-wall time. Like you, I learned how to do that when life let me do nothing but.

    That balance is super-difficult, isn’t it? I could easily work 60 hours a week on my blog related stuff, but I refuse to because the big picture includes lots of boyfriend time.

  7. Amanda says:

    I am definitely detail obsessed and find that I don’t always look at the big picture. It’s especially true of my marriage! I’m still searching for the balance between macro and micro.

  8. Alex Fayle says:

    It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the big picture in relationships. I’m a big picture person and the details still drag me in sometimes…

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