One Big Thing

Summary Written by Andy Budgell
"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

The Big Idea

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


"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!

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Insight #2

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…

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Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke is changing the way business and non-profit leaders influence and engage the culture. A writer, speaker, & filmmaker, network reporter Paula Zahn called him “Rare – a working producer in Hollywood with a earned Ph.D.” A description that may not be unusual for someone a major magazine has called a “media guru.”

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