ONE BIG THING
Discovering What You Were Born to Do
By PHIL COOKE
Copyright © 2012 Philip Howard Cooke
All right reserved.
Chapter One WHO'S PAINTING THE PORTRAIT OF YOUR LIFE?
The Power of Intentional Living
Every painter paints himself. —Còsimo de' Medici, Florentine statesman
I was going to have cosmetic surgery until I noticed that the doctor's office was full of portraits by Picasso. —Rita Rudner, comedian
A great life doesn't happen by accident. My wife, Kathleen, and I are regular visitors to the Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collection in Pasadena, California. Founded by Henry and Arabella Huntington, it is housed in the large Beaux Arts mansion (designed by architect Myron Hunt) they built shortly after the turn of the twentieth century; the home was transformed into a museum after Henry's death in 1927. At the age of sixty Henry retired from his extensive business interests in order to devote time to his book and art collections and the landscaping of his six hundred–acre ranch on which the mansion stands in San Marino, near Pasadena.
Among other outstanding collections, the museum boasts an incredible hall of portraits called the Thornton Portrait Gallery. As I walked through the halls looking at the political, artistic, social, and military leaders featured in the portraits, I was gripped by a distinct sense of "intention" in their faces. These were leaders from another century who lived strategically and with purpose. They didn't leave much to chance when it came to ambition and career goals.
* Leaders of the nineteenth century were good at knowing their One Big Thing.
Walking through that gallery I realized that one of the key reasons these men and women were great was because they had discovered the power of focus. In today's culture it might seem restrictive to guide a young man or woman from childhood into a career in law, politics, the military, or music. Certainly in those days the options for a woman or member of a minority were far more limited than today.
But in the vast majority of cases, their lives were "designed" by their parents or their station in life. Few fought it, because at the time that was simply the way life was lived. They were all focused on One Big Thing. They had serious ambition, and lived lives of intentionality. As I studied the paintings of military generals, architects, writers and artists, business and government leaders, I wondered about the place of ambition in my own life. What would have happened had I lived my life more intentionally?
* What could have happened if I had discovered my one thing sooner?
I wonder if today we've become the victims of a desire to just live life as it comes—to assume that whatever works out is the best path. Especially if you're a child of the '60s, living a random life sounds somewhat romantic, but real influence in the world doesn't come at random. It rarely happens by accident. My father was a preacher from the South and had little knowledge of applying strategy to the art of living. As a result, I was well into my adult life before I even considered career planning or anything close to it. And by then it was pretty late.
Plus, coming from the Christian tradition as I do, it was actually frowned upon to take charge of our own lives. "Wait upon the Lord" was a refrain I heard a million times in church. We were encouraged to "seek His will for our lives," and see where He took us.
Today I look back and realize just how naïve I was. While each of those phrases is true, they're not referring to avoiding the hard work of discovering our place in this world. Jesus was a strong advocate of understanding the signs of the times and building upon a strong foundation:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:24–27 NIV)
Without living strategically, our life could become a catastrophe. Walking through the Huntington Library's portrait gallery these questions swirled around in my mind:
What if from an early age, my parents had been looking for areas in which I excelled?
What if they had focused my education to take advantage of those areas?
What if my father had encouraged me to pursue a specific career?
And even if I had picked it myself later, what if I had been more serious?
What if I had pursued my goals with more conviction?
"Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." I'm told that quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but hasn't been officially confirmed or denied by historians. (Did President Lincoln actually use the word hustle?) But either way, I like it. In many circles today, ambition is an ugly word. But the truth is, what's wrong with it? As long as it's braced with humility, what's wrong with planning, thinking ahead, and the desire to achieve something significant with our time on earth?
To influence today's culture, we need to have the experience, credentials, and relationships that only come by strategic living. Walking through that museum and staring up at those powerful portraits, I realized that great leaders of the past didn't just take life as it came—they understood how to make life happen.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A JOB AND A DREAM?
One of my closest friends from high school has never discovered his one thing, and lives a life of misery. He began college with great excitement, but dropped out because he eventually lost interest. At one point he thought he wanted to be an actor, so he came to Hollywood. After a few years of failure, he took a class and became a real estate agent, but didn't last long there. He married, but the stress of never finding the right job broke that relationship apart.
Today, in his mid-fifties, he's working at a local coffee shop. Every day he reads the want ads, every day he scans the Internet for get-rich-quick ideas, and every day despairs of finding a dream he could call his own.
He's always worked hard, but the difference between a job and a dream has never been more clear than in the life of my friend.
What about you?
Is it time to discover the difference between a job and a dream?
Is it time to start living with purpose, intention, and ambition?
Who's painting the portrait of your life?
Chapter Two DO WE REALLY HAVE A DESTINY?
Life's Loaded Question
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. —Jack London, novelist
If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up some place else. —Yogi Berra, baseball legend
The issue of destiny is a loaded question. Nearly everyone wants to believe in the concept. Atheists may believe that there's no God, no purpose, and no point to life, but it's pretty tough living that philosophy out in the day-to-day trenches. The idea of destiny gives us a reason to go on, motivation that our lives matter beyond PTA meetings, job reviews, and visits to the local coffee shop.
The Christian tradition teaches that God has a purpose and plan for our lives. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we have a higher calling and a guide to help us navigate our way through this world and the next. And Christians have certainly run with the destiny theme. Pastors use the word in their sermon and book titles, and if you look up Christian conferences, you'll be amazed how many use destiny in their title. There are Destiny conferences, Living Out Your Destiny conferences, Discovering Your Destiny conferences, Weekend of Destiny conferences, Women of Destiny conferences, the Affecting Destiny conferences, Spring Forth Destiny conferences, and I could go on and on. (Don't believe me? Just go online and search "destiny conference.")
Non-Christian traditions are no different. I was teaching in India recently and met a group of Hindu scholars discussing their own views about destiny. As I write this, the TV news is reporting the thousands of spiritualists and New Agers meeting at Stonehenge to welcome the summer solstice. The topic of discussion?
What does Stonehenge have to do with our destiny?
Religious or not, most people want to believe they have a purpose for living and would find it enormously difficult to go on without that knowledge.
So the question remains: Do we have a destiny, and is it possible to discover it?
I seriously doubt if we have a locked down, concrete, unchanging destiny we were born to accomplish. Destiny isn't a task. It's not an end point. It's not something you can check off a to-do list. In fact, that's where most people go wrong, and why so many attend destiny conferences, buy destiny books, and hear famous teachers speak on finding their destiny.
And why so many end up frustrated and unhappy.
* Your destiny is a moving target.
An unexpected divorce doesn't derail your destiny. The soldier who lost his legs in battle hasn't lost his destiny. Bankruptcy can't undermine your destiny.
Your destiny is a moving target, and that's why I prefer to use the word purpose or, as you've seen, your One Big Thing. Your purpose is bigger than any obstacle like physical limitations, financial circum- stances, being fired, or other failures. Nothing can change the fact that you have a unique reason for being here, and there's still time for it to play out.
PURPOSE CAN BE REVEALED IN THREE IMPORTANT WAYS
First, in my experience, a handful of people have known it all their lives.
From a young age, it seems they've always known what they were born to accomplish and have pursued it with passion. I've met writers who have remarkable manuscripts they wrote as children; pastors who, at eight years old, stood on stools to preach to other kids in the neighborhood; and we've all met the whizkid who ran his lemonade stand like it was Walmart, while we stood by helpless with our cardboard box and plastic cups.
You're not one of these people because you're reading this book. They never think about discovering their purpose because it's all they've ever known. It's easy to be envious of these men and women because they've spent their lives focusing on the calling, and not having to anguish over which calling it might be.
A second group discovers their One Big Thing in a moment of epiphany.
Dictionary.com defines epiphany as "a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience."
In other words—a moment of revelation. The clouds part, the sun shines, and the angelic choir sings. I've heard thousands of stories of people who experienced this kind of moment—usually while in the act of doing something. I've discovered that most people experience that insight in the process of action. Few One Big Thing revelations come while sitting on the sofa watching The Simpsons. (That's not to say it couldn't happen.)
By the way—when I say revelation I'm not necessarily referring to some mystical, spooky, or spiritual experience. Very often a rev- elation is simply putting the pieces together. It's the moment when everything about your life makes sense and you suddenly see what you're supposed to be doing.
It's the "aha!" or "eureka!" moment.
Keep in mind that revelations come in all sizes and relate to all kinds of issues—most of which are not related to your OBT. I had a minor revelation this morning working on this book. I was unhappy with a section of the manuscript, but when I cut and pasted the section into another chapter, it suddenly all made sense. A chapter that I had been struggling with now works, and I only realized it the moment I hit paste and saw that section in context.
Hopefully these moments happen to you all the time:
The right person joins your team at the office and suddenly you're firing on all cylinders.
Your child has a breakthrough in school that you never expected.
You finally "get it" after staying up late to research the new project at work.
Sitting in church, the pastor makes a statement that completely changes the way you look at a particular issue.
Moving a single chair in your living room transforms the look and feel of your home.
You finally understand what makes your spouse tick. (Okay— that was a stretch.)
These are important and can sometimes make or break careers and relationships. But don't get them confused with the really big revelation about what you were born to accomplish. The moment when you discover your One Big Thing.
Finally, the third (and largest) group in my experience are the rest of us who discover our OBT through a much longer and progressive experience.
Rather than an explosive "aha!" moment, we find bits and pieces along the trail—take a few wrong turns in the process—and eventually start piecing together the puzzle of our lives.
This is the team I'm on, and chances are this is you as well.
I would have loved to have discovered my one thing as a young man and, like those leaders in the portrait gallery at the Huntington Library, pursued it with passion, conviction, and intention. But because I had no encouragement, training, or coaching, I wandered down many blind alleys and spent many years wondering if there was any purpose at all.
The list of things I was pursuing grew longer and longer—and trust me, I was serious about each one:
I thought about being a piano player, and made extra money in college playing at restaurants and clubs around town.
I wanted to be an astronaut, and found a local congressman to vouch for my application to the Air Force Academy.
I wanted to be an athlete and received multiple college sports scholarships.
I did a short stint doing some pretty amateurish magic shows.
I even have a drawer full of my unproduced screenplays, and an unpublished novel.
So these and other attempts weren't passing fancies. I was committed, but never fulfilled. As a result, the more I searched the more frustrated I became.
It took me years before I started noticing the connections, honestly facing up to what I was actually good at doing versus what I wanted to do, and then finally embracing the way I was wired. Like picking up signs on a trail, things eventually began to make sense.
Is there such a thing as destiny?
I think so, but we've spent too much time looking to the idea of destiny as a quick fix, a get-rich scheme, or a stopping point. We think we'll attend a conference and our destiny will be revealed to us during a workshop or seminar. We hope that it will descend out of the sky or someone will reveal it to us—for only a $49 conference fee.
Destiny wants to be pursued. It wants to be discovered. Why? Because it's in the journey we learn to understand and value what it means.
Destiny is not a matter of chance; but a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. —William Jennings Bryan, politician
Sometimes I meet people who always knew their One Big Thing, and you know what they struggle with? I wonder if ...? They wonder what their life might have been like had they pursued another path, or made another decision. They know they're doing exactly what they should be doing—and are perfectly satisfied—but late at night when nobody's watching, they fantasize about something else they might have done.
The successful Broadway singer wonders what it would have been like teaching music in high school.
The high-powered CEO wonders what it would have been like to run a small bookstore.
The powerful politician thinks about the days when she was interning at that social service agency downtown.
But you and I know better. We who have tried all those things, hit the dead ends, and slammed against our share of walls don't fantasize about other options because we've already experienced the obstacles. As we close in on our OBT, we can focus—undistracted by what might have been—because we know it already was.
What are your passions? Do you hide them under a bushel? Instead, tell the world that you love cooking, hockey, NASCAR, or—whatever it is—because pursuing your passions makes you more interesting, and interesting people are enchanting. —Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
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