The Tyranny of the One Big Thing
“I want my life to have purpose. I want to make a contribution.”
This profoundly simple declaration of desire – which I’ve heard countless times, from countless numbers of people – is at the core of what it means to be human. We are called to live uniquely authentic and generous individual lives in creative contribution to the Whole. We feel most alive when we are at home in our own skin, expressing and sharing our talents in ways that feed our soul and elevate others.
Yet this fundamental aspect of our nature can be easily distorted when we interpret it through the lens of “importance,” which we’ve come to define in our culture as having widespread and measurable results in the external reality we observe through our five senses.
We equate purposeful with “big.” We equate purposeful with “public.” We equate purposeful with “single” – as in doing one, big, highly recognizable “thing” that helps large numbers of people. People that can be counted, of course, so we can prove that the impact has been a large one.
I call this “the tyranny of the one big thing,” and I’ve witnessed its diminishing effects on immensely gifted, sincere and open-hearted people who see themselves as falling short of this noble goal, even as they’re living generous and meaningful lives. They’re certain they’re falling short of their true potential.
Let me share a secret with you: we’re all falling short of our potential – even the people we think are living hugely purposeful and successful lives – because our potential continues to expand as we grow and evolve. Potential is limitless. We’ll never live up to our potential; the bar is continually being raised.
And that’s a good thing. Because while we can’t live up to our potential, we can live into it. Our ever-expanding potential is what pulls or calls us forward. That’s why the desire to grow and serve is often referred to as a calling.
Yet here again, the word “calling” conveys singularity, as if there is just one aspect of our potential – one talent or vision or accomplishment – that defines our meaningful contribution. We conclude that Mozart and Martha Graham and Mahatma Gandhi had callings but, unless we can identify a similarly sweeping, singular talent or passion within us, we don’t.
And so we’re left feeling somehow “less than” and resigned to an ordinary life. We feel unimportant. We feel there is something wrong with us.
We’ve become tyrannized by the notion of the “one big thing.”
Thankfully, there’s a new paradigm in town, and I’m happy to report that it’s far more generous, valid and expansive than the “one big thing” paradigm that has left many of us feeling disempowered. I call it the paradigm of Presence, because it recognizes that our most impactful, uplifting and sustainable contributions don’t flow directly from our actions.
They flow from our state of being.
When we are grounded, centered and peaceful…when we are inspired and enthusiastic…when we are contemplative and kind…when we are filled with joy…when we are open-hearted and open-minded…when we are lost in reverie or lost in play or happily pursuing a hobby we love…our very presence – our state of being, our vibration – is coherent and clear and naturally harmonious with others. It is innately uplifting. It elevates the field of human consciousness, which positively affects everyone in the field.
Talk about making a widespread contribution.
Our very Presence, when our minds and hearts are aligned and at peace, uplifts humanity.
This doesn’t mean we abandon our visions for ending world hunger or saving the rainforests or starting our own company, if those visions arise from that place of inner alignment. It means we’re not “less than” if we don’t have that kind of singular vision or passion. It means that perhaps we’re contributing in ways that can’t be measured, but can be deeply felt. It means that we’re living our calling in any moment that we make conscious, loving choices from our highest self.
And there is no such thing as a “small” purposeful moment. Every one of those moments has a far-reaching effect. They all count. They all matter.
You might be thinking, “Yes, but I still want to do something that uses my talents and lights me up! I really do think there is something more I could be doing with my life.”
Of course there is! There is always something more, something deeper, something that inspires us in fresh ways or calls us in new directions. The thing to understand is that we have a far greater chance of recognizing what’s calling us to our next level of fulfillment when we’re on the frequency of, “I’m already living a meaningful life and I’m growing from here” rather than, “I don’t have a calling; there must be something wrong with me.”
The first one is affirming and powerful. The second one is not.
So if you feel restless or dissatisfied and believe you’re not living up to your potential, pause. Honor the spirit within you that wants to grow. Remind yourself that your potential isn’t a goal, it’s the fuel that powers your growth. Make it your job to be as grounded, centered and peaceful as you can be. Start noticing all of the ways you are already creative, already generous, already making a contribution. Intend to see yourself as an artist or explorer who is living a uniquely meaningful life.
Because that’s what you are.