What If Small Could Change It All? How to Find Your Passion and Make a Difference [with Author and Activist Trathen Heckman]
Drought, wildfires, and scorching temperatures in California and beyond are causing more and more people to feel the need to live sustainably and care for the environment. But many feel stuck on where to start—the problem seems so big and overwhelming.
But what if small could change it all?
What if your small actions really had the power to make a difference?
This is Trathen Heckman’s big message.
Trathen is the founder and director of Daily Acts, a Sonoma County-based non-profit that connects people and builds community through education, action, and policy change that address the climate crisis to create a livable future for all.
He’s also the author of Take Heart, Take Action: The Transformative Power of Small Acts, Groups, and Gardens.
And we spoke with Trathen to explore his 20+ years of experience fighting climate crises to learn about his philosophy that making a difference begins with finding what truly lights you up in order to take meaningful action.
Here are some of his big insights to inspire you, too.
SOMO Village: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into this field of work?
Trathen Heckman: I’ve been doing this work for a long time now—half my life. But it started after graduating college and working in a corporate job where I was really waking up to how bad our environment and social issues were.
Even 25 years ago, it seemed pretty overwhelming how much we had screwed up our world. At that time, I started taking personal actions like using less styrofoam, buying organic, and eating less meat.
As I was waking up to these big planetary issues, these environmental and social concerns, I also felt called to pursue my passion for snowboarding. I was inspired to quit my job to snowboard and travel full-time, learning more about our connection to nature and the environment and my role in it all.
Along the way, I continued to make these synergistic connections with people who kept waking me up to further caring for the earth and making choices that aligned with a bigger purpose. Following my passion for snowboarding, traveling, and learning eventually led to finding my purpose.
I had attended a conference called Bioneers and was inspired by thousands of changemakers who live in joy and energy in their purpose. Around that time, I stepped into a backyard permaculture garden, an ecologically-designed garden, that cracked open my heart, mind, and what I thought was possible. Instantly I got the strong feeling that we can transform our lives, communities, and the world through a simple garden. Through one rooted in billions of years of nature’s operating instructions which is mostly about relationships.
So I went from passion to purpose, from inspiration to action, and through time a bunch of transformation.
Along the way, I lost my mother. This was just a month after 9/11 and both my painful personal experience and the national pain became a catalyst for me to start Daily Acts. My pathfinding of following my inspiration and what broke my heart led to action, which continues today.
How can people start to take action in regard to sustainability and climate change?
It’s really about following your heart—what breaks it and what lights it up—as well as your key references. Who are the people and groups that deeply inspire you to do and be better? Then, it’s about taking action. Start small, get a win, build confidence and momentum. Then repeat—ideally with more fun, friends, inspiration, and impact.
Of course, there are these specific buckets of action that are important—we need to consume less. And we need to focus on less water, less waste, less emissions, more buying organic and local—all those things. Though using less doesn’t mean a loss of quality, richness, joy, flavor, or any of it.
When we tap into nature’s operating instructions, our deeper inspiration and joy and we feel connected to the earth, our community, and this big planetary moment, it’s a radically richer way to be. Our small home garden uses a lot less water and resources than most landscapes but it is an ecological oasis full of food, medicine, and wonder while producing a ton of household, neighborhood, and planetary benefits.
But the core of it is that if you don’t find what you’re lit up to contribute, or what breaks your heart and touches your values, then it’s probably not going to stick.
It’s the deeper stuff, the alignment with your values, your heart’s inspiration, your community, and what you are called to contribute to the world. That’s what’s going to drive deeper, lasting change for people and communities.
You don’t have to know all that immediately because it can take time to find your passion and heart. But you can start taking small actions and learn as you go along the way.
How does Daily Acts inspire people to start taking action?
Our work is founded in permaculture as a pathway to understanding how our precious planet functions and how to be in right relation with it.
Permaculture is an ethical and ecological design science that is rooted in the wisdom and experience of Indigenous cultures. It’s a relational framework that connects the dots between all these wonderful green things we need to do to take care of ourselves, our people, and our planet.
So, for 20 years, Daily Acts has been focused, as an educational nonprofit, on creating healthy, connected, just, climate-resilient communities.
It starts with education. We show people sustainable ways to live like regenerative gardens.
Then, we move to action. We teach folks how to install a greywater system so they can reuse their laundry water in the garden. Or, we help install an ecological garden in a front yard, school, or public park.
From there, we move from action to wider transformation. We do this through collective action campaigns, such as our first one—the 350 Garden Challenge—where we mobilized over 40 schools, churches, and businesses to plant and revitalize over 600 gardens in a single weekend.
We kept doubling and doubling and then, a decade later, we’ve mobilized 100,000 actions and projects. That led to coalition building and local climate policy, which has helped the City of Petaluma become a national climate leader and Sonoma County to become the first county in the United States to have all its municipal jurisdictions declare a climate emergency.
By starting with our hearts, our inspiration and the power of community, we move from education to action to small transformation to even bigger transformations. Doing all this with a wide array of partners, that’s how we unleash the power of community to create change.
You just wrote a book called “Take Action, Take Heart.” What does that book entail?
The foundation of the book is to take heart and take action in right relation. As Fritjof Capra has said, “Ecology is the science of relationships” and “nature sustains the web of life by creating a nurturing community.” So the book is about 20 years of insights from Daily Acts work and my own pathfinding.
The book is broken down into four key areas:
- Reverence: Take heart.
- Ripples: Take action.
- Relationships: Nurture community
- Resilience: Consistently taking heart and taking action in right relation.
One of the core ideas in the book is the power of small in the face of all these overwhelming crises. It’s the idea of taking your small daily actions—a “be the change you wish to see” approach can help you transform your life, your home, your garden, your neighborhood and beyond.
You can lean in with others and support small groups of world changers.
What’s something you want to leave with people who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start?
You know, I think it’s all in the title of my book—regardless of where you’re at or what you’re facing, take heart and take action. Don’t forget the power of your small actions and the power of small groups to change the world.
You can start by looking inward and finding what inspires you—what makes you feel more alive and connected to something bigger? It could be social justice and systemic racism, healthy food, Indigenous rights, or giving children a better chance. What really speaks to you? There are an infinite number of ways to make a meaningful difference these days.
From there, it’s good to look at three aspects to creating a compass for consistently living what lights you up:
- It’s clarifying your interests, passions, what you’re good at, and where you feel a sense of calling.
- What are the practices and habits that help you hone and stay true to what lights you up? This could be meditation, exercise, healthy eating, connection with nature, or time spent laughing with family and friends.
- What are the systems and tools that help you recenter your compass and live the inspiration in your heart? This might be your weekly planner or anything else that keeps you on track with your heart-filled actions and living and giving your best.
This all is a paradigm shift to how our culture operates. It’s a process for each of us to wake up and feel our interconnectedness with life. We’re part of this living, breathing planet, and ultimately what we do to our planet and each other, we do to ourselves. Breathe and feel into the biological reality of our interconnectedness. Keep this with you as a guide and source of nourishment.
If you want to connect directly with Trathen, reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to pick up a copy of his new book, Take Heart, Take Action. Use the link to purchase a sustainability-printed copy of the book and find out where you can pick up a copy in local Sonoma County bookshops.
If you’re looking for a community that puts people and sustainability at the heart of everything, download our project brief to see if SOMO Village is the right place for you.
About Trathen Heckman
Trathen Heckman is the founder and director of Daily Acts, a non-profit dedicated to the belief that we can transform our lives, homes, and communities through the power of daily actions.
Prior to starting Daily Acts in 2002, Trathen had quit his job at a Fortune 500 consulting firm to follow his passion for snowboarding. During this time, he became more aware of the huge environmental and social issues, sparking a deep passion that has fueled his work ever since.