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How to live an exceptional life, even when life doesn’t feel exceptional

What were you doing when you were 16 years old?

If you were anything like me, the answer is…not very much. At least, not compared to Jessica Watson who, at the age of 16, completed a solo, nonstop, unassisted circumnavigation of the globe…in a little sailboat.

What? Can you even imagine this? At 16 years of age, she sailed 23,000 nautical miles. She was alone for 210 days. Her boat was knocked down (hit by waves so that it was completely upside down) six times and she often found herself and her little boat in a raging storm with waves 4 stories high.

Alone. And not just alone, but thousands of miles from any human beings.


Photo source

Katie Davis was a Homecoming Queen, Valedictorian and all around average American girl, when she developed a love for the people of Uganda.

At the age of 19 she moved around the world, began an organization that helps hundreds of children and started the process of adopting 13 girls.

katie davisPhoto source

Dick Hoyt’s son was unable to walk or talk and doctors said that Rick should be institutionalized. But Dick Hoyt and his wife had other plans. They found a computer system that helped Ricky type through eye movements.

One day, Rick told his father that he wanted to compete in a 5k. So Mr. Hoyt, never having raced in his life, rigged his son’s wheelchair and pushed him for 3.2 miles.

Racing breathed life into Rick and he and his father continued to compete. They have completed hundreds of races including 5k’s, triathlons and several Ironman races. Mr. Hoyt pulls his full grown 140 pound son in a raft for the 1.2 mile swim, carries him on his bike for the 100 mile ride and pushes him in a wheelchair for the 26.2 mile run.

RHOYT-Bike-Ironman-Hawaii-1989-435x368Photo source

What do you think you’ll be doing when you’re 73?

Stories of exceptional people inspire me to no end. What am I capable of? What are truly my limits? What grand daring adventure can I pursue that stretches and tests the very limits of my physical and mental endurance?

And then one of my kids interrupts my reverie, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” I promptly fall into a heap, saying, “I just don’t know! Why do you people need to eat every single day? I can’t handle cooking another meal!”

It is at that point that I realize that wild, faithful pursuit of big adventures is so much more attractive than wild, faithful pursuit of the everyday.

Because big things yield big results, the results are always so much more fun than the process. But we’ll never get the results until we learn to go through the process.


I don’t know about you but my life isn’t very full of big adventures right now. It is full of cooking, cleaning, helping with homework, picking up socks and a myriad of monotonous tasks.

Maybe your life is similar? So how do we live wildly, bravely and exceptionally in the midst of the ordinary? The dinners that need to be cooked, the noses needing to be wiped and the bills that need to be paid?

We do it by living with wild, exceptional excellence in the small things.

Jessica didn’t buy a sailboat one weekend and say, “See ya!” to her mom and dad.

Katie didn’t grab a last minute flight to Uganda with nametags for 13 kids.

The Hoyts didn’t attend a triathlon and just jump in on the fun.

There is a backstory. Practicing and packing. Preparing and praying. Failing and trying again. And again. And again.

They invested countless hours in boring moments no one saw. The exceptional life is the tip of the iceberg.

It’s easy to look at people we admire and think that they simply have it all together or that they simply have something we don’t.

In reality, they simply just try and try again.

So whatever your dream, you can start right now.

Want to write a book, but you have four kids four and under at home? Write for 5 minutes every day.

Want to run a race but you’re working full time? Start walking at lunch time.

Small, simple things make the big things possible. So regardless of your season or situation don’t be afraid to dream big and start now. Live with wild, exceptional excellence in the small things…they are the very foundation of grand adventures.

I love these words from Mother Teresa:

I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness. – Mother Teresa

I think most of us would consider Mother Teresa to be someone who lived an exceptional life. But it wasn’t marked by any one big thing she did. We know her because of her wild obedience to the small things. The lepers. The children. The poor. The people that everyone else saw but walked right by.

I don’t do great things. I do small things with great passion. – Mother Teresa

You see, living an exceptional life isn’t just an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime. It’s an invitation that awaits us every single day.

Live an exceptional life, starting now.

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  1. Kacey

    Kat, I love this post. I tweeted out some of your words before even realizing you’d written it. You definitely have a heart for encouragement! Thanks for sharing the gift with the rest of us.

    • Kat

      Aw…you’re so sweet Kacey! I missed you at Declare this year.

  2. Steph

    “It is at that point that I realize that wild, faithful pursuit of big adventures is so much more attractive than wild, faithful pursuit of the everyday.”

    I love this. Such true words.

    • Kat

      I’m glad it’s not just me… 🙂

  3. Jamie

    Great post, Kat!! =)

    • Kat

      Glad you enjoyed it Jamie!

  4. Christine C

    I totally needed this today. I’m a stay at home mom, and my husband travels extensively. Yesterday I had to talk to my daughter about speaking respectfully to me and she told me it is because she loves her dad so much more than me. Hurtful words from a 4 year old! And I had to tell her, that’s ok, but you still need to treat me with respect. I do all these drudgery day to day. It hit me hard. But this is what I need to do. Focus on working for heaven, and tiny steps here on earth. Its all important even when the “glory” isn’t obvious. Thank you!! I’ll be thinking about Mother Teresa today.

    • Kat

      I’m so glad it encouraged you, Christine. I’ve been mulling over Mother Teresa’s words for weeks now…so much wisdom.

    • Jenn

      I’ve been in a similar position for many years now. Have faith and take comfort in the small breaks you can give yourself.

      Thanks for this post today. I’ve been having a middle age, time is running out, what am I gonna do now, kinda month.

      • sue

        We are all offered ‘what we need to see, hear and read at given moments in our lives’. Coincidence? I think not.
        This was an amazing post on all levels.
        Thank you, Kat!

        • Kat

          You’re very welcome Sue!

  5. Katie Harding

    Beautiful post, LOVED reading this!

  6. Amy

    This is absolutely beautiful.

  7. Laura

    It seems that I’m constantly straining to reach for great things just out of my grasp. Except that what I’m doing right now is also important and not to be missed. Like showing love for my family by keeping our home clean and organized so my husband and family find peace and contentment. Like homeschooling my kids with special needs, because that’s what’s best for all of us. My small contributions to Bible education and faithfulness in prayer and study are meaningful to God, even if they are ordinary to anyone else. When I feel like I should be fostering homeless children and building houses for the poor, I try to remember this.

  8. Dee

    Great post!

  9. Melissande

    This spoke straight to my heart. My friend sent me this after a conversation we had and let me tell you, I needed it. Thank you so much.

  10. Zorana

    And do this little steps to your dream with a glow in your eyes and a tiny smile in a corner of a mouth… Your chin will get little bit higher and your posture slightly better!

  11. Robyn

    Loved this! I am the stay at home mom of 2 under 4 (i can’t imagine 4 under 4 LOL) whose writing a book. 1 hour a day. 🙂 This also reminded me of a quote I saw a little while back: “You CAN have it all, but not all at once.” 🙂 grand adventures do sound SO wonderful right now though, don’t they?

    • Sarah Westphal

      Ha! That’s me! I read the post and realized that I now have four kids, 4 and under. Ca-Razy.

  12. Maggie

    What a fantastic post and great writing! I think I’ll be printing this out and hanging it somewhere so I can look at it from time to time during the day.

  13. Susan

    Your words brought tears to my eyes, Kat. It never feels like I get anything “done” with my little man trailing behind and undoing for me. 🙂 This was a beautiful reminder that I have chosen to invest in my family, but I can still carve out time for “big” things that matter to my creative soul. Thank you.

  14. Fabiola

    You are speaking to that giant elephant in my room (kitchen to be specific)… I really want to believe there is some exceptional purpose in my life, but what keeps coming back to me, “not everyone is meant to be exceptional… so begin making peace with it and just keep doing your work.”

    But you reminded me of how brave and exceptional is to be able to do that day in and day out if nothing else because it’s important.

    I love the quote on UP: “the Boring stuff is what I remember the most.” … maybe not doing the dishes though.

  15. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    This is not only beautiful, but very encouraging. We can get so caught up in the tasks of life that feel meaningless and mundane. Thank you for the reminder that all great achievements started with a decision and a first step.

    • Kat

      You’re very welcome, Heather!

  16. Charlotte

    This is such a wonderful piece. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

    I’ve recently decided to walk 870 miles around the coast of Wales for charity (despite being unable to walk at all last year and having 4 young children…hang on…I must be mad…)
    I like to think even unnoticed housewives can do remarkable things.

    Thank you again. 🙂

    • Kat

      Wow, what an exciting challenge. All the best to you!

  17. Sara

    I absolutely loved this post! I hit a milestone birthday this year, and have been thinking about how I’ve been alive more years than I probably have left to live. I have been stressing over what I haven’t accomplished, but your words have reinvigorated me! Thank you! You have given me a lot of encouragement (and a few tears).

    • Kat

      Yay! I’m thrilled to hear that!

  18. Deb @ home life simplified

    Wonderful post. I loved the visual of the exceptional being the tip of the iceberg. Will be sharing in my newsletter on Monday. Thanks xx

    • Kat

      Thanks Deb!

  19. jennydecki

    I enjoyed the article but it didn’t answer the question in the title. You do it by….just doing it? I’m glad it resonated with the rest of your readers, I’m not trying to cast aspersions because the article is beautifully written but … maybe I’m just not the person the article was written for. That’s okay. Have a wonderful day =)

    I’m thinking that the article was inspiration that would take me into the kitchen and allow me to, what, see doing dishes as my first steps to….something bigger? See, that’s the part I’m missing. I think I half-understand it. I’m glad the rest of your readership gets it so solidly. I’ll give it another think away from the keyboard.

    • Ilka W. J.

      I’m right with you. Probably even more so… eh..
      I read the article – and felt like crying. Not the good tears, though. I felt discouraged. I feel like a looser. Maybe it wasn’t for me, either. That’s ok, though.

      • Kat

        I’m so sorry it discouraged you, could you share why it made you feel that way?

    • Kat

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Let me see if I can help clarify your question. The title was “How to live an exceptional life, even when life doesn’t feel exceptional” and what I meant by that is that we don’t have to wait for big things to happen in our life in order to take action on our dreams.

      I think this paragraph explained it best:

      “So whatever your dream, you can start right now.

      Want to write a book, but you have four kids four and under at home? Write for 5 minutes every day.

      Want to run a race but you’re working full time? Start walking at lunch time.

      Small, simple things make the big things possible.”

      An exceptional life isn’t something that comes to us, it’s something that we make happen bit by bit. It’s not something we wait for, but something we work toward. And no matter how unexceptional life might seem right now, we can live exceptionally by laying seeds for bigger things.

      Does that make it any clearer?

  20. allison

    This is terrific – inspiring and so wise – thank you!
    I laughed out loud at this part though:
    “And then one of my kids interrupts my reverie, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” I promptly fall into a heap, saying, “I just don’t know! Why do you people need to eat every single day? I can’t handle cooking another meal!”
    You are my thought twin on that subject! :o)

    • Kat

      Thought twin…hilarious. I’m so glad you were inspired by the post!

  21. Janet

    I so loved this. I actually burst out laughing when you said the bit about in the middle of your reverie – and the kids come and ask you what’s for dinner. That. Right there is my life. If I get 2 minutes to myself (I have 4 weans) then the dreaming takes off big time, only to be dashed by a dirty nappy, food demands, or a pile of dishes. Thank you for writing this!!!!

  22. Kristi

    Ohh, I totally teared up reading this. I think this struck a big nerve with me. Feeling inspired when you’re surrounded by minutia has always been one of my biggest challenges. Thanks for this!

  23. Meghan

    Beautiful thoughts. Thank you for the reminder that it’s okay to live big, to live an exceptional life in the midst of what feels mundane. Needed this!

  24. Niki

    I love this post Kat! Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration to enjoy the process. I absolutely enjoyed this.

  25. Jacqueline

    What a truly inspiring message, i felt inspired, messages like these sometimes make me feel guilty, but your message gave me hope, small steps are sometimes far more productive then massive leaps, many thanks love jacqueline

  26. Sharon

    I needed to read this today. I have to remind myself that “charity begins at home”. I often feel i am just not doing anything special with my life and should be doing more on a grander scale to help others – this article made me stop and realize how many “little” things I do to support my family and help them to grow in their own lives. Thank you!

  27. Quilter Kathy

    Joshua sent me over to read your inspiring post. Wonderful! Thank you. I loved the quotes and the whole concept of your thoughts!

  28. Julie Cox

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the only Mom who wonders why her kids want to eat every meal. My children are older and I still don’t like or want to cook. I cringe when I hear, “What is there to eat?” But I fix them something anyway.

  29. Meg

    What a beautiful writing. This is something I think about a lot. Do we need to have that “one moment” or are we we living many of all those little moments?????? Very interesting thoughts.

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