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Stop looking for a job, and start looking for your one big thing

In a challenging economy, everywhere we turn we’re hearing the debates about the continuing loss of jobs in America, and the ongoing political debate about the best way to create more jobs. But as strange as it may sound, an obsession about getting a job may be what’s undermining your success in finding one.

The irony of America’s fixation on jobs is that according a 2011 Gallup Survey reported in Forbes, 70% of employees hate their jobs. So the question is: why are we so preoccupied with getting a job most of us will eventually hate?

Perhaps we need to stop focusing on “jobs” and start discovering our One Big Thing.

In my new book, “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do,” I make the case that the only way to get noticed in today’s cluttered, distracted workplace is to stop being average at so many things, and start being extraordinary at one big thing. 

In the past, people understood the power of focus. In fact, many of our family names today like Archer, Baker, Butcher, Cook, Carpenter, Fisher, and many others come from the occupations of our ancestors. In those days, children were trained early to pursue the family calling, and it often stayed in the family for generations.

But today, we’ve become a nation of job shoppers, with no real sense of purpose or as some would say, “calling.” As a result, we all know the man or woman who simply ambles through life with no direction or resolve. And too many end up like the type Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright David Mamet described in his book "The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture": “Who does not know the thirty-year-old described by his parents as ‘still searching for himself’? By forty, this person is, by his parents, generally not described at all, for to do so would be either to skirt or to employ the term ‘bum.’”

A great life doesn’t happen by accident. 

I had something close to a revelation a few years ago while touring the Huntington Library and Art Collection in Pasadena, California. As I walked through the portrait hall looking at another century’s political, artistic, and military leaders, I was gripped by a distinct sense of “intention” in their faces. These were leaders who lived strategically and with purpose.

If you could do one big thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

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. But in the past, 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. As I studied the paintings I wondered about the place of ambition in my own life. What would have happened had I lived my life more intentionally?

The bottom line? Maybe it’s not just about a job, maybe it’s about a purpose. A over-arching vision that creates passion and fuels our determination. One big purpose that isn’t stopped by critics, a bad economy, and simply refuses to give up.

The question becomes – if you could do one big thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

And for the record, it’s never too late to discover your one big thing. 

Around 1831, Samuel Morse was frustrated. He had given his life to be a painter—even traveled to Paris in pursuit of that dream. As historian David McCullough recounts in his book "The Greater Journey," painting had been Morse’s dream since college and he had set his heart on that and that alone. But later in life, and after a series of setbacks, he finally abandoned it. The crushing moment was his losing the appointment to paint a historic mural at the Capitol in Washington. With that lost, he gave up painting entirely and turned to an invention he’d been toying with called an “electromagnetic telegraph.”

The impact of the telegraph and eventually a language called Morse code, literally changed the world.

The best thing about discovering your one big thing? A purpose isn’t necessarily a job, but an over-arching goal that can be expressed through a number of different occupations. So that realization alone can open the door to new possibilities.

So while some in America today feel entitled to a job, and others compete with thousands who have no idea how they’ll stand out or get noticed in the crush, you are on a different path.

What comes easy for you? What do you love? What about the world would you like to change? What do you want to leave behind?

The answer to those questions, could be the key that transforms your next job, into your destiny.

Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a filmmaker and media consultant.  His latest book is "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."  He writes daily about the intersection of media, faith, and culture at philcooke.com.

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