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Miss Rumphius

Great children’s books often communicate big ideas with beautiful simplicity. Take the story of “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. The story begins when little Alice Rumphius sits on her grandfather’s lap and tells him about her wishes for her life. He tells her there is one thing she must do: Make the world more beautiful. Alice nods her head, but she doesn’t know how in the world that goal would be possible.  

Little Alice grows up. She is almost perfectly happy, except that she still cannot think of a way to make the world more beautiful. And it’s bothering her. A lot. 

Then Miss Rumphius falls ill and is cheered by the tiny patch of lupine flowers she had planted outside her window. Feeling better, she takes a walk and notices a second patch of lupines up the hill. She smiles, recognizing that the wind and birds had carried the seeds from the patch of lupines near her window. 

And this gives her an idea. The next season, she buys the very best lupine seeds and carries them in her pockets wherever she goes, scattering them everywhere. The next spring her entire village – fields, hillsides and highways – is covered in beautiful flowers in shades of blue and purple and pink. She had achieved her goal.

The idea of making the world more beautiful is wonderful in itself. But there’s another message that stands out to me. It’s challenging when we think it’s important to do something while also feeling unable to do it. Miss Rumphius recognized the importance of making the world more beautiful, but for so long, it felt beyond her reach. Achieving change, especially a big change, requires both importance and confidence. This helps us remain motivated to work toward a goal.

So how do we build confidence when it feels impossible? We can learn from Miss Rumphius, who was able to call forth her confidence from her existing strengths and resources. The flowers she loved – her gifts to make the world more beautiful – were right outside her window all along. So often, our seeds of confidence are there, waiting to be uncovered and brought into the light.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.