Rutgers-Camden Blog

Small Steps, Big Wins

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Chances are, you may have heard this adage about how achieving large goals, making sustainable changes, or producing big outcomes do not happen overnight but rather with time. A lesser known, but I would argue, more important version of this saying, as expressed by James Clear, is: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.” In an earlier blog post, I stated that building skills, knowledge, and experiences that you can confidently speak to should be your focus in college, not graduation. Graduation is the outcome of your work; it is what you gain through the work that is important. As Clear describes: “Rome is just the result; the bricks are the system. The system is greater than the goal. Focusing on your habits is more important than worrying about your outcomes.” That is, outcomes are dictated by the habits you create during the process and the repeated small steps you take to reach long-term success.

Throughout the 4-6 years you are in college, it can feel like it is taking forever to reach the “other side” where your “real life” or future can start. The one where you have a career, open your own business, travel, or buy a house. When you are in the grind of completing assignments and studying for tests, it may be hard to see how these experiences will contribute to your long-term goals. This can lead to just “going through the motions” or doing only what is necessary in order to get to the end of the line so you can move on with your life. Instead, I would challenge you to view this as the most critical time in your life, the time in which you are building the right habits or, as Clear put it, creating the systems necessary to create your future or “real” life. Examples of steps that create good habits or systems that you can do now include:

These steps can not only help you be successful now as a student but overall improve your habits and, in turn, you as a person long term. Changing your behaviors in response to obstacles, seeking help, and building supportive networks are all actions that create sustainable systems. Through these small steps, you learn to reflect and reorient, prioritize what is important, commit to your growth, and utilize the resources–all things that will help you be successful in the long run, no matter what your big wins or lofty goals are.

To learn more about James Clear’s thoughts on how small steps can help you achieve big results, check out this video summarizing his book “Atomic Habits”: