One Big Thing

"Step back and look at all that you’re doing. What are you doing well and what not so well? What excites you and what doesn’t? What reflects your genuine calling, expertise, and brand, and what doesn’t? What will actually take you into the future? What could you potentially be the best in your field at accomplishing?"

- One Big Thing, page 20

Phil Cooke, author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born To Do, has had an interesting and unique career, “From producing media programming in more than forty countries to directing prime-time television, being a business partner in a production company that produced Super Bowl commercials, to advising nonprofit and humanitarian organizations around the world, to being one of the few working producers in Hollywood with a PhD.” He’s located his One Big Thing, his driving purpose in life, and he’s here to help you find yours. The way he sees it, there are two big questions when it comes to discovering your One Big Thing:

  1. What am I supposed to do with my life?
  2. How do I get noticed?

Cooke says that the “intersection of those two questions is what this book is about.”

But don’t expect to be spoon fed the answers. Cooke acknowledges that if you’re looking for a quick fix, or “five easy steps” to locating your purpose, this is the wrong book for you. “This book won’t give you all the answers, but it will help you start asking the right questions.”

Let’s get to asking some of those questions, shall we?

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Hit Your Purpose

"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."
- One Big Thing, page 10

There are those people who seem to be born knowing exactly what their purpose in life is. And then there’s the rest of us. We struggle to find that One Big Thing that excites us, that we wake up energized and raring to do. This isn’t just the concern of the recent graduate, or that loser friend that can never seem to get his act together. This can be the CEO who was thrust into a role that wasn’t really for her. That doesn’t mean she’s not good at what she does. Indeed she could very well be great, but it’s not her One Big Thing, and it’s not her passion.

It’s never too late to discover your One Big Thing, that niche that you could command like no one else. The following two Insights will help you to identify your purpose, and what to do if what you thought was your purpose doesn’t really work out.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"What have you done that made people notice? What brings you affirmation, encouragement, and compliments from friends and coworkers?"
- One Big Thing, page 92

Sometimes the people around you, whether it’s a co-worker, a friend, or a family member, can see the path that you should be on more clearly than you can. This is something I know to be true. In university I was struggling with which direction I wanted to go. I had begun school with the intention of majoring in psychology, but I quickly learned that that discipline wasn’t for me. I sort of sat in limbo for a time, just taking classes that appealed to me. When I discussed this separately with two friends, they both told me that I should major in English. They pointed out that I seemed to flourish in English courses, and had a natural aptitude for it. How come they could see this so clearly, while I agonized over my decision? I’m not sure, but I’m glad they did!

But Cooke also asks that you consider the “credentials” before jumping in with both feet. “My advice is to weigh any outside influence in the balance of who and how qualified they are. While your writing teacher, business mentor, or experienced friend should be listened to and their advice acted on, keep in mind that coworkers and family members sometimes operate out of jealousy or ignorance. When your writing teacher recommends you keep the day job until you improve your writing, that’s worth listening to. But when your neighbor criticizes your decision because she thinks you need a ‘real’ job, then keep moving forward.”

What do people tell you that you do better than anyone else? Perhaps that will put you on the right path to finding your One Big Thing!

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Know When To Move On

"A Picasso always looks like Picasso painted it. Hemingway always sounds like Hemingway. A Beethoven symphony always sounds like a Beethoven symphony. Part of being a master is learning how to sing in nobody else’s voice but your own."
- Hugh MacLeod quoted in One Big Thing, page 87

You’ve focused on the niche that you thought you could conquer, but it hasn’t quite worked out, so what do you do? You graciously move on.

To illustrate this point, Cooke uses George Lang, a man who desperately wanted to become a violinist, as an example. He dutifully practiced, but when he heard Jascha Heifetz perform the violin in concert, he knew he would never be as good. So he decided to be “the Heifetz of something else.” And he did. He ascended the heights of the restaurant industry, eventually owning New York City’s famed Café des Artists and lending his expertise as a food critic and correspondent for CBS News. The violin wasn’t for him, but food and restaurants were.

“I loved Lang’s brutal honesty in that interview,” Cooke writes. “His realization that he would most likely never achieve his original dream didn’t cause him to give up, grow bitter, or live in a delusion. He had the courage to face his limitations with brutal honesty and his clarity of vision enabled him to become just as influential in another area.”

Know when it’s time to move on. Recognize that you’ve plateaued, that you won’t get any better. It’s more admirable to move on than to be second best.

Finding your purpose, or as Phil Cooke calls it, your One Big Thing, can be one of the most challenging things you will ever do, but once you’ve located it, it can be the most rewarding things you can ever accomplish. One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born To Do won’t give you all of the answers—you’ve got to put in the work—but it will help to start a discourse within yourself and put you on the right path…

Right now, ask yourself, “Why are you here? Why were you born? What dream keeps you up late at night?”

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Andy Budgell

ABOUT Andy Budgell

Andy is the Managing Editor at Actionable Books. A graduate of the University of Waterloo's English Rhetoric and Literature program, Andy brings a love of words to Actionable, and complements the team with his distinct writing ability, amazing customer service, and a passion for film.
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