On April 25th, 1990, the universe appeared to be opening up. NASA’s space shuttle, Discovery, carried along the Hubble Telescope, a massive and revolutionary instrument that promised to deliver razor-sharp images of the heavens as we had never seen them before. Stars. Supernovas. Distant galaxies. The entire scientific community was buzzing with anticipation. But a few days after the Hubble went into orbit, it became clear that there was a problem—a big problem. The telescope’s primary mirror, responsible for the clarity of those spectacular images that would transmit back to Earth, had been ground incorrectly. The shape of the mirror at its edges was too flat by only 2.2 microns—just over two-millionths of a meter. But the result of this small manufacturing error was disastrous, and the images that came to Earth were fuzzy and out of focus. Scientists feared the worst: that they had a huge white elephant on their hands, at a launch cost of $1.5 billion.
So much of Playing Big depends on your focus. In the case of the Hubble, it took scientists and engineers three years, and even more millions to fix the problem. I’m happy to tell you that if your vision of what you really want in life lacks clarity, we can fix that in much less than three years. This chapter will outline a simple process for focusing you on what you want and, once your vision clears, on how to take hold of that vision in a manageable way that ensures you reach your goal.
First, let’s understand why lack of focus is so debilitating. It’s a simple law of physics: When we focus our energies on too many things, our energy is dissipated. The life force that drives us to chase dreams and conquer mountains can become so fragmented by the sheer number of directions we’re going in at once that we find ourselves, at the end of the day—or the year or ten years—exhausted and not feeling like we have much to show for all our efforts.
The analogy of digging a lot of shallow holes versus going deep toward your real desire seems apt here. It’s true that the shallow holes evidence a lot of activity, and you’ll begin to see this if you’re currently surrounded by them and have always prided yourself in being busy. Here’s the problem: The multiplicity of your efforts has prevented you from accomplishing anything that, in your heart, really matters. In other words, it’s a lot of digging for never having struck oil. It’s precisely at this point of realization that many of my clients have come to me. And it’s usually with some sadness as they recognize that all their efforts, all those shallow holes won’t, at the end of their lives, really matter.
Here’s a simple exercise I use with my clients to get them focused. Make a list of all the things you’re passionate about—those special things that give you such a powerful charge and sense of self-worth and accomplishment that you’d do them for free if you could. A sample list is seen below:
– Learn Mandarin Chinese
– Open a homeless shelter
– Get in great physical shape
– Travel to Australia
– Grow an organic garden
– Learn to play the guitar
– Get my MBA
– Write a screenplay
– Teach a class in martial arts
– Build a vacation home
This is your initial list. Make it as exhaustive as possible, even including things you may just now realize you are passionate about, thoughts or dreams that have never showed up on paper until this moment. Okay, now you have your Playing Big list. Now it’s time to focus.