Want to know the secret of the most successful and significant people that have ever lived? It’s simply this — they know their one thing and how to use it as the lens through which they focus on everything they do.
Think about it. You can do one thing very well if you put all your effort into it. If you attempt to spread your effort between two things, you may come up short with one or both. When you distribute that same time and effort between three or more goals — well, you get the picture.
The One Thing
Focusing all of your efforts on one thing can produce amazing results. Yet, going after the one thing you want can be a difficult choice.
When you work on one thing, you will usually do it well. But life doesn’t always cooperate when we’re trying to focus. We suddenly have more than one urgent task thrust upon us, plus email to attend to, phone calls, drop-ins, office chat, meetings, and on and on.
Have you ever gotten to the end of a day and wondered what happened to it, feeling like you accomplished nothing? This seems to be the new normal for too many of us. I used to come into the office on Saturdays because I could get so much work done when no one was there. Yet I did this at the expense of spending time with my family. That was not a good trade at all.
Avoid attempting to multi-task at all times. You know the results you can produce by focusing on one thing with no distractions, don’t you?
You don’t learn to play an instrument very well unless you focus on it. If it’s true that to become an expert on something you must spend 10,000 hours doing or studying it — well, that’s a lot of effort in one direction!
During a typical year, you spend about 2,000 hours at work (forty hours a week at fifty weeks a year.) Many of us spend considerably more than that. In exchange for that huge outlay of time, what are you becoming an expert at? I’ll let you think about that one for a bit.
What do You Want?
It is good to routinely ask yourself “What do I really want in my life?” Considering the mortality rate on earth continues to stand at 100 percent — meaning we all eventually die — what is it that will make you thankful for how you lived your life?
This is a serious personal question. What if you could discover the one thing that matters most to you? You could begin your journey in that direction, rather than wander aimlessly, chasing whatever, hoping for the best. What could you achieve?
Wandering in the wrong direction steals your time. To move forward intentionally, purposely, toward what will enrich your life, you must deliberately make the best use of this precious resource of time. Isn’t that what you want?
Who is Following You?
It’s important to consider who is following you if you want to create more significance in your life. Most people want someone they can get behind. If you have a strong enough purpose, and you focus on the one thing you have discovered that makes life truly meaningful for you, others will want to help. They will get behind and follow you, and the impact you make while on this earth both now and after you leave will be far greater.
After all, who follows someone who has no clear direction and purpose in life? Who follows someone who wanders around aimlessly day to day? Sure, some may. But do you want to be responsible for that?
What about those who see you and your life and want to follow your example? What about those you love? Wow. This is heavy stuff, isn’t it? And this is reality.
All of us — especially those of us in leadership — have a serious responsibility to others. How we live our lives, who we are, and who we are becoming influences others — whether we want it to or not.
What we do and don’t do, the direction we travel, the words we write and say — all of these impact others. We have a responsibility to be purposeful about these things. To allow distractions from what is important reduces your purpose and meaning. The hard truth is it’s irresponsible to allow too many distractions to continue unchecked.
Focus on Reality
What is the one thing you can focus your life on that will make the biggest difference in what you do, in who you are, and in who you’re becoming? Be real when you ask yourself this. See reality as it is. As Robert Fritz once said, “Reality is an acquired taste.” To not see reality is to either remain ignorant or to lie to yourself. Which is better to do?
“Do not many of us who fail to achieve big things … fail because we lack concentration — the art of concentrating the mind on the thing to be done at the proper time and to the exclusion of everything else?”
— John D. Rockefeller
Let’s look to the past at a few examples of people who knew their one thing, in their own words.
Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor, once stated “My desire is to do everything within my power to further free the people from drudgery and create the largest possible measures of happiness and prosperity.”
Mother Teresa touched not just the lives of the people of Calcutta, India, but around the globe. She said, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Steve Jobs, a world-class entrepreneur, famously said, “Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”
Billy Graham preached to live audiences of more than 210 million people in 185 countries, with an estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts topping 2.2 billion people! Billy, who was a friend to many celebrities and presidents — and chosen as one of the ten most admired men in the world a record-breaking fifty-nine times in the Gallop poll — said “My calling is to preach the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the fact that He does forgive us. That’s what the cross is all about, what the resurrection is all about, that’s the gospel.”
Abraham Lincoln, our country’s sixteenth President, said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”
Your One Thing
From these quotes, you can see each of these famous people chose an underlying principle of serving others, rather than material goods. If you examine almost every other significant person of character in history, you will find more of the same. Now that is something to think about!
Once you find your one thing, align your life and everything you do to it. Use the one thing as your aiming point. Whatever you do, do it in order to move toward the desired outcome of your one underlying principle.
Carefully consider those things that move you away from your goal or throw off your trajectory. Do not act on these things. Stop the distractions that pull you off course whenever possible.
Your journey will be one step at a time in the right direction, always moving forward. To take one step left, or right, or backward comes at a cost. Missteps use up that most precious and valuable resource: your time.
Now, this may sound contradictory, but guess what? Your one thing may be refined over time. It might even change! Then again, it might not. Be open to the idea that what you find as your one thing today could evolve into something else over time.
The key point is that simply finding your one thing now will define your path. You might find that it puts you on a very different path than you have been on.
Uncover Your Needs
Knowing what truly matters to you will shape how you see things, allowing you to have a clearer vision. It will provide direction for your questions, thoughts, and actions. It is important to understand your needs versus your wants. You will find more about this in Do You Want It or Do You Need It?
When you focus more intensely on what truly matters, your results will be proportionate. Life will have more purpose and become more meaningful. Without the one thing in your vision and your heart, at least some of your time will certainly be wasted.
Search for your one thing until you know what it is. Isn’t it worth putting forth the effort required? It is your life after all, and you only get one shot at it! Don’t allow your invaluable time and passion to slip through your fingers.
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