17 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Keep the Big Things Big


I KNOW of a lady whose biggest event every week is taking her dog out to play fetch. She has a simple home and focuses on all the small things that make up her personal life. These small things become the big accomplishments of her week. When something small goes wrong it is a disaster. It towers over her life like a bad storm. Often, it cripples her.

Big businessmen like Messrs Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban have all been sued, nearly filed bankruptcy (some actually have), but they sustained focus on big things (big vision, big sales, big relationships) has often allowed them to come out of the mess in perspective.

I have caught myself slipping into a dizzy spell of making the small details my focus. Then I have often stood back and looked at my day and realised the "big" was not there.

Answer email, return call, fill in form, write letter, attend meeting, drive, eat, drink, the humdrum of small daily tasks can suck you into a whirlpool of meniality that consumes your soul.

I believe in details, but the details must be part of big themes. Small themes that let you down when they fail. The small only gives you a slight high of fulfilment when they are completed.

Checking my emails: small thing. Small goal, small theme. As opposed to "adding value to relationships through email communication".

It is a simple shift that changes the focus from having a small theme to having a big theme. Many lifestyle guides, like Map for Life and SMI, all start out with getting you to focus on the big things before you break down tasks into daily, manageable, quantities.

Your daily schedule becomes filled with tasks that feed into a greater purpose. The big thing is what matters.

When you are doing big things (i.e. giving your time to a local children's home, or starting a company that will solve a societal problem, etc), the small things are more rewarding, and they stay small.

We all have small things that we hate doing. For me it is updating my accounts and performing daily reconciliation (for those of you nodding in sympathy you understand the pain).

If I keep the focus as a small goal, on the task, I never get round to doing it. Because I see it as part of a much bigger picture (such as having a well-oiled business that makes a difference in the lives of people). It becomes a more gratifying task that I can sail through easily.

Big things are outward focused, impacting others. Take initiative to achieve something that is bigger than a menial task for just YOU. A life that is totally inward focused is a selfish existence that will probably be forgotten once you are gone, if anyone actually notices.

One of the greatest pieces of advice I was ever given was "Lift up your eyes". Lift up your eyes and see a bigger horizon of possibility. See the great and lofty aspirations that can be yours. See the big things.

Someone may say, "Well it is the little things that make a difference". Yes it is, but the little things that make a difference, come from a big desire -- a big desire to do something good for someone else.

The late Apple Incorporation boss Steve Jobs famously once asked John Sculley, the then president of PepsiCo: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?"

It may have been a little unfair of Mr Jobs to word it that way but he juxtaposed a small idea next to a big outward focused one. The big idea won and Sculley became CEO of Apple (ironically he ended up causing Jobs to leave the company for a season). Take a few minutes to ask yourself "What big things can I focus on?"

You would not rate the death of a loved one on the same scale as say breaking a cup. The emotion is different; the intensity of the pain varies hugely. Yet when your life is filled with small things the scope for level of intensity narrows immensely.

Everything is so small that the same emotion gets attached to everything. That is why people can become paralysed by the smallest infraction in their little world.

A few years back in the UK a drivers' strike caused panic buying by people who feared massive food shortages (they obviously knew nothing about Zimbabwe).

A woman in the supermarket was overheard complaining that "there is no butter!" because her particular brand had run out, despite there being 10 brands available. Small thing. Narrow world.

It is the perspective that matters. You can choose to focus on the pebbles on the path or you can look to the top of the mountain you are climbing and imagine the view from the top. Keep small in its place. And let the small help you accomplish the big, not the other way around.

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