Making things happen vs letting things happen

Making things happen vs letting things happen

I believe in working hard to make things happen, with the understanding that some things can’t be forced. You can’t make those things happen: you can only let them happen.

Sounds straightforward, but sometimes I get these things confused. This happened recently, with our backyard hummingbirds.

I’ve lived in the same general area for sixteen years now, but I didn’t realize we had hummingbirds nearby until two years ago when we moved a mile down the road, into our new house. The people who lived here before us spent a ton of time on their yard, and it showed.

The landscaping was more intricate than anything we’d lived with before. They’d planted a big butterfly bush and bright yellow lilies right by the back back, and they attracted hummingbirds regularly. That first sighting was magical. The tiny birds didn’t come to visit as often as I would have liked, but they came regularly.

Flash forward two years. A month ago, I was telling my sister-in-law that we’d only seen one hummingbird all summer, quite possibly because the lilies needed deadheading and the weeds were choking the butterfly bush. We missed them. She suggested a feeder. I looked online—they were $9. $15 for the good ones. Definitely worth a try.

I hung the feeder, and we immediately spotted a hummingbird. Then another. Then nothing for a week. (I followed all your tips you shared here. Thank you!)

Then they showed up.

Nearly a month later, it’s hummingbird city in my backyard. They’re here all the time, sipping from the feeder, perching on the branches of the redbud tree it hangs in. We’re no longer measuring their visits in seconds, but in quarter hours, maybe even hours on some days.

I thought hummingbirds were one of those things that you had to let happen. To a certain extent, that’s true. You can’t force them. But you certainly can give nature a nudge.

We made a small change: a ten-minute, ten-dollar change. We didn’t make anything brand-new happen, but we’re getting a lot more of what was already there.

Now I’m scanning my surroundings, asking myself what other simple things can I do to help the good stuff happen more often?

What else can I do, not to make things happen, but to make it easier to let the good stuff happen?

I’m thinking about cultivating the kind of relaxed, low-stakes environment at home that makes it easy to have good conversations: the kind of atmosphere that builds trust and encourages truth-telling, like when Seth Godin talks about why he makes dinner for his family every night. Or when I’m driving my kids many miles in the car. With the right environment (and without the earbuds) you still can’t force a good conversation, but it’s more likely that one will unfold.

I’m thinking about a million romantic comedies where I’m certain the sidekick quips about giving love a push … but I can’t think of any specific examples. (It’s driving me bonkers! Help?)

I’m thinking about leaving a stack of good books by the bed, or on the coffee table, so you’ll be inspired to actually read them.

I don’t want to force anything, but if there’s a small change that could generate big results, I want to do it …. as soon as I can figure out what it is.

Talk to me about making things happen vs. letting things happen. Have you made any small changes in your life that have helped a lot more good stuff happen? Please share in comments so we can borrow your genius ideas!

49 comments | Comment


  1. Ana says:

    What a great insight—its really making me think. We recently hung some lights up in our back patio—instantly magical summer nights that have inspired us to go out there more often. I definitely agree that you have to nudge things along, or even just create the space for them to happen. You can’t have impromptu dance parties if you never turn the music on.

    • Katia says:

      “You can’t have impromptu dance parties if you never turn the music on.” Love it! 🙂

      I am constantly re-evaluating my schedule in order to make space for the good things, thereby inviting them in. These days, it means sacrificing some things that I enjoy alone in order to make room for what my family and I can enjoy together.

      • Rebekah says:

        You just reminded me of a Sarah Addison Allen quote I wrote in my journal earlier this summer “Every life needs a little space, it leaves rooms for good things to enter it” in the case of the character of the book, he had a bigger house than he truly needed as a bachelor

  2. Emily says:

    I agree! My daughters are 6 and 2 and love to play outside, but often need a little “priming” to get going. I have 2 baskets full of bubbles, small trucks, scoops, rakes, balls, bhckets, etc that I set on the sidewalk and sit back to see what they get into. The Life Giving Home by Sally Clarkson also inspired me in other areas of my home and homemaking.

  3. Florence says:

    1. Getting and staying out of debt. Man, does that ever open up the good things!
    2. Planting milkweed — Monarch butterflies start showing up. Amazing.

  4. Stephanie says:

    This is so true! Almost all of my most meaningful conversations with my dad have occurred during long car rides. Something about that chunk of time together, no other distractions, lets important things bubble up.

  5. Great post! We’ve found that having a jigsaw puzzle going on the table draws everyone to it – and some great conversations happen while we’re working on putting it together.

    • Anna says:

      Yes! We have done the same thing with jigsaw puzzles. I thought I didn’t like them until a couple of years ago. They can be relaxing, and also a way to allow some conversations to happen.

  6. melissa says:

    Yes, I love your blog! Missing the hummingbirds from my first home. We had a wisteria vine right outside my desk window, and other bushes that attracted butterflies and hummingbirds (the former owner had a green thumb). Something so sweet about the memory of watching the hummingbirds.

    Love the advice in this post too! Wonderful, and thank you.

  7. Mary Clark says:

    I have enough flowering plants in my yard that we always have hummingbirds and butterflies. Unfortunately, my daughter and I are both red-heads, and the hummingbirds dive bomb us when we’re outside on a sunny day. I prefer the bunnies. They just annoy the dog.

    Anyway, my making things happen moment was buying an Ingenuitea tea pot for work. I’m a tea snob, and teabags at work just weren’t satisfying. Now, I savor a cup of brewed Good and Proper tea first thing in the morning, when my middle school library is just starting to fill up with sleepy students. I discovered the tea on a trip to London, so it’s a great reminder of my favorite city, too. So, a delicious cup of tea, surrounded by books and kids who love them–a great start to the day thanks to my $19 tea pot!

  8. Jocelyn says:

    I love what Mary said about the Ingenuitea teapot which looks fantastic but sadly I have not seen anything like that here in South Africa. Tea is like my comfort blanket … mind overwhelmed by all I have to do … turn the kettle on …. constantly interrupted and start thinking of voodoo dolls … Calm Down and Make a Cup of Tea. So the point of this is that I NEVER ever, never ever get a hot cup of tea. My tea is always lukewarm to cold to absolutely disgusting. So I have bought a flask. I haven’t tried it yet but I hope this means that I can pour small sips of tea at a time and get it hot!

    • Mary Clark says:

      Jocelyn, I use a stainless steel mug. My tea stays hot from 7 am until 11 am! (And I just checked the shipping costs on the teapot–wow!)

  9. Theresa says:

    Great article and insight. Leaving an hour or two unplanned and just hanging loose on evenings after dinner that we have nothing going on gets us spending more family time and often taking walks together. Also leaving a book on my son’s bedside reminds me to read to him several nights a week.

  10. Kirsten says:

    Re: RomComs….
    “That Touch of Mink” with Cary Grant and Doris Day, wherein both Gig Young and Audrey Meadows are nudging their friends to romance. Ahh…love Cary Grant. This one is one of my favorites.

    I’m the main bus driver for our 3 girls, and while I get frustrated saying “don’t touch your sister” a thousand times, I wouldn’t trade the serendipitous conversations we have about their day, what they see, and answering “very important questions” my 5 year asks.

  11. Rose Booth says:

    For a romcom example, Bonnie Hunt’s character in Return to Me urging Minnie Driver’s character to not not give up on David Duchovny’s character. For that matter, Carroll O’Connor was pretty good at pushing too. 🙂

  12. Mary Kate says:

    I love this post. A quote that came to me–not from a sidekick, but from a romantic comedy–was from Under the Tuscan Sun (the movie, not the book, blasphemy, I know) when Diane Lane is lamenting about building a house for a life she doesn’t have, and the cute little Italian real estate man tells her a story about how they built train tracks over some mountain before there was a train that could make the trip, which was obviously about building the life you want to have and it will come … it was cheesy but it stuck with me.

  13. Heather Lima says:

    How about just simply being there? I’m mommy to a toddler and sometimes can wish the time away, but this morning when my non-cuddly son nuzzled his face in my neck and sang “You are My Sunshine” with me I was brought to tears with the awe of motherhood. There’s no forcing moments like that.

  14. Lauren says:

    The romantic comedy that springs to mind is Sleepless in Seattle. The son is a major “love pusher.”

    Of course the original is Much Ado About Nothing. So hilarious in the garden scene when Beatrice and Benedick’s friends conspire to make them fall in love!

  15. Carrie says:

    This is a great reminder. I’m such a doer it’s hard for me to allow time for this. As far as the movie, I thought if You’ve Got Mail where Joe Fox’s father says “Have I ever been with anyone who fits that description? Have you?” And then Joe buys daisie for Kathleen.

  16. Faith Raider says:

    I love that your blog is such a great one for reading comments!! These are some great suggestions and has started me thinking about where I can do this on my life. I think our decision to homeschool was kind of like this – I wanted to provide the environment for teaching some behavioral skills he wasn’t learning at school. I am not pushing the discipline issues but I am trying to create the environment for progress to be made…

  17. Ellen says:

    I can’t solve the RomCom mystery, but I feel like that’s something a Joan Cusak character would come say. I’m probably wrong but it’s fun to invent movie scenes. 🙂

  18. JA Andrews says:

    This is a great post. We moved to the mountains of Montana three years ago and I was astonished to find that there are hummingbirds here! We did the same as you, bought an obnoxiously red feeder from Walmart and filled it with sugar juice and the hummingbirds came, in all those shocking colors. THere’s something almost magical about them.

    But your post makes me realize that I shouldn’t try to fix that, “I have nothing to do right now” feeling. The one that makes me look around for what task I could take care of quickly or run to my bullet journal to see what I wrote in my to-do list.

    What if instead, when I got that antsy feeling, I walked over to one of my kids and struck up a conversation? What if I did pull out a jigsaw puzzle. What if (gasp) I did something that might cause a bigger mess later, but let me hangout with my family? What if I primed that moment for interaction instead of checking off to-do’s?

  19. Guest says:

    This is so, so good and yet I find that I have the opposite problem. I’m an ENTJ who cognitively knows I can’t always make things happen the way I want but certainly try. The bigger lesson for me is letting things happen rather than trying to make them happen. One quick tip I got from a colleague several years ago…keep a running list of things that you’d like changed or if you don’t know what exactly you want changed, the things that bother you. It’s AMAZING how this simple practice has resulted in more “making things happen” for me. And some of the changes are so easy to make yet provide such positive impact.

  20. Julie O says:

    I immediately thought of this quote from Ever After. Leonardo DaVinci says “You cannot leave everything to fate, boy. She’s got a lot to do. Sometimes you must give her a hand.”

  21. Ginger says:

    I thought of Hitch, the opening scene where he says, “No woman wakes up thinking, ‘I hope I don’t get swept off my feet today’.”

    And then he proceeds to orchestrate meet-cutes involving puppies, candy stores, yoga, and fashion parties.

  22. Kerrie says:

    Anne, this post reminds me of Rachel Macy Stafford’s “sunset moments”. Rachel is the author of “Hands Free Mama” and posts beautiful narratives of how she seeks out the best in her life. Reading your posts and Rachel’s keeps this midwestern wife, mom, and teacher cognizant of what is important in not only the marathon of life but in each meal, car ride, and goodnight kiss! I recently read this Maya Angleou quote on the wall at my kiddo’s high school.
    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Enough said!

  23. Anna says:

    This made me stop and think about how I can be more purposeful about creating space or opportunity for things. One thing I do with my kids is have them go for a walk or help with a simple task. That gives us time to talk about things, especially with one who is always active and less likely to share thoughts and feelings.

  24. Charyse says:

    I actually did put a stack of books on my nightstand at the beginning of the year. I cleaned off my bookshelves, removing books I’ve read that did not spark joy, organizing old favorites I don’t want to give up, and then I took each book I hadn’t read yet and stacked them on my nightstand. It was about ten books at the time. I was determined not to buy more books, reread old favorites, or get more from the library before I finished my stack.

    I am a minimalist when it comes to decor so a stack of books on my nightstand can kinda make me batty and some of the books were read from sheer willpower to remove that stack. (I know you sometimes put books down that you don’t enjoy but then I run into books like Persuasion that I didn’t care for until almost halfway through…I hate leaving unfinished books!)

    Now, I didn’t *QUITE* manage to refrain from buying more books and I did read a few old favorites, although I did avoid library books. My stack was completed last month, seven months into my resolution to finish that stack.

    I kept about half the books; the other half just didn’t spark joy in me (or were so full of the naughty stuff that the rest of the story just wasn’t very nice.)

    I like the idea of giving nature a nudge. I had every intention of reading the books on my shelf. Some of them I felt excited to read when I pulled them off the shelf. But it took me actually identifying what I had and making a plan to pull off what is completely natural for me: reading!

  25. Mary says:

    When my four (now adult) children were still in school, I worried about spending enough time with them. I was a working mom who traveled for work quite a bit; even my regular daily commute took three hours. To make sure they had time with me when I was home, in the evenings I would sit in the living room (no TV there) reading a book so if they wanted to talk, they knew I would be there. They did. Many wonderful conversations ensued.

    To ensure we had one-on-one time throughout their childhood, I also scheduled regular dates with each of them (about every six-eight weeks). Usually on a Saturday or Sunday, we would go to lunch (their choice of place-within reason) and they got to pick the topic of conversation. Because there would be conversation (they still laugh about this). I remember a time when one son, then 11 years old, decided we would talk about economics. Ha! Not my field, but I was delighted at his grasp of the basics and willingness to tackle the subject.

    My advice for any parent – provide quiet time for your kids to spend with you. And then really listen to them. Don’t talk. Listen to their hopes, fears and dreams. It will be time well spent.

  26. Roxanna says:

    This makes me think about the book ‘Nudge’ and its premise to nudge people towards good habits by taking small actions. I now do this all the time. I leave those motivational stickers teachers use by our calendar, so I can give myself a ‘Way to go!’ when I finish a workout. I keep the kids’ dishes in the bottom drawer so they can set their table themselves. And I keep my teacups by the back door so I can remind myself to sit in the garden with a pretty teacup, sometimes 🙂

  27. Leanne Sowul says:

    This insight cuts to the heart of how I feel about education (I’m a public school teacher). If I set a nurturing, encouraging, challenging environment for my students, the good stuff will grow and the bad stuff gets pruned back. The school year gets easier as the environment takes over and the kids start to manage their own growth. This post is a great reminder of how well that works in other aspects of life. Just set the stage, and watch the magic happen!

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