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Image: Book cover for "One Big Thing"
Thomas Nelson
TODAY books
updated 7/19/2012 5:03:52 PM ET 2012-07-19T21:03:52

Do you want to stop being average at so many things, and become extraordinary at one big thing? In his new book “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do,” Phil Cooke prompts readers to reflect carefully on their greater purpose in life. Here is an excerpt.

You are facing two big questions:

Question 1: What am I supposed to do with my life?

I believe it’s a heartfelt question millions ask on a daily basis. Why am I here? What am I supposed to accomplish? What was I born to do?

In one form or another, it’s the Big Question that paralyzes people’s futures, freezes their momentum, and stalls their promise. It keeps millions of people from fulfilling their potential and making a difference with their lives. I speak at conferences around the world, and afterward people literally line up to ask me the Big Question. In other situations, they pull me aside after business meetings, approach me through social media, or ask through a mutual friend.

The Big Question comes in many ways, but typically I’ll hear something like: “Phil, I’m really unhappy at my job. But frankly, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I don’t even know what I’m good at, so I’m not sure where to look or start.”

Some actually feel guilty because while everyone else admires them or thinks they have it made, the truth is, they are really miserable.

That may sound like you.

You may be a college student, recent graduate, experienced businessperson, employee, housewife, or you may be unemployed and wondering why. Oddly enough, I’ve heard the Big Question from as many CEOs and business leaders as I’ve heard it from those at the bottom of the job ladder.

But that’s not a surprise, because as you may have discovered, you can go through your entire working life, and still not really know what your purpose is, or what you were born to accomplish.

I love asking this question: What could you be the best in the world at doing? If you’ve met me in the last ten years, you’ve probably heard me ask it, and I usually push pretty hard for an answer. I’m not really looking for the best computer programmer, athletic coach, salesperson, or graphic designer in the world. I’m really trying to see what you feel is your greatest strength. Where you could compete. Where you stand out. What’s your niche? What areas of your life are you most proud of?

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Where could you be remarkable?

A few years ago, I shared a cab with the CEO of a successful medical supply company. He was in his mid-50s, made a hefty salary, and led a very large company. But when I asked him this question, he was baffled. After a few uncomfortable minutes of consideration, he finally said: “Honestly, I have no idea. I went into this business on the recommendation of a friend. A member of our team happened to invent a best-selling medical device, and we all sort of rose to the top together. But why am I in this position? I really can’t say. Do I find fulfillment here? Not really. It’s a good salary, but at the end of the day, I’d have to admit that I have no idea if I’m actually doing what I was really put on the earth to accomplish.”

My question bothered him enough that he quietly stared out the window of the cab for the rest of the trip to the airport, and except for a brief good-bye, he was lost in thought, and we never shared another word.

Question 2: In a hyper-competitive, cluttered, and distracted world, how do I get noticed?

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The second Big Question is, How do I get noticed? Or, How do I get my voice heard? Or even, How do I get my dream project on the radar?

Even if you have figured out your purpose — your One Big Thing — so what? You may be driven to tell that story or share that message. We all have dreams. But we struggle with connecting with the right person, circumstance, or situation to make that dream happen. After all, we live in a culture where ideas happen 24/7. New mobile apps pop up daily, more and more competition descends on Hollywood every year to make movies, self-publishing has exponentially increased the competition for book sales, and even in your office, someone’s out for your job.

Whatever you do in life, you have a big target on your forehead, and there are millions of people out there taking aim.

You might be an employee or leader with a great idea for the organization, a pastor with a book manuscript or ministry idea, a director or producer with a great film concept, or anyone else with an original idea burning a hole in your heart. You carry it like a child inside ready to be born.

But the problem is no one’s listening.

You know it could work. You feel it in your bones. But the truth is, if no one’s there to help you make it a reality, then what’s the point? I meet “idea people” in Hollywood all the time. They have plenty of dreams, but no way of making them happen. As a result, they wander from party to party, event to event, conference to conference hoping to meet the right person to say, “Yes!” The kind of person who sees what they see and wants to help. (Hopefully without ripping them off in the process.)

I can’t determine your purpose in life. That’s something between you, your conscience, and God. But I can certainly point you in the right direction, and show you the questions you need to be asking on the journey.

I think they’re the most important questions you can possibly ask: Why am I here? What was I born to accomplish? How do I make that purpose known to others? How do I get my message, idea, or story noticed?

Discovering that unique purpose is important, but in the 21st century, it takes more than just identifying that One Big Thing, or OBT. Today, if you’re going to influence your family, company, community, or the world, you have to get it noticed. You may have a remarkable gift for inspiring people, but until you learn how to get that message heard, your impact will be small.

Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington (Penguin Press) tells the remarkable story of a leader who wasn’t necessarily a brilliant military strategist but had a powerful and sharp eye for acting at the right moment. In both his career and his personal life, Washington had instincts that were usually right on target. As a result, he could turn defeat into victory and take advantage of other’s mistakes; his extraordinary ability to lead and inspire his men overcame other areas of weakness. Washington’s lessons have never become outdated. In fact, Andrew Roberts, reviewing the book for the Wall Street Journal, stated that Washington’s leadership techniques were as potent today as they were in the late 18th century.

George Washington was a great leader because he knew himself and his purpose.

How about you? Do you know yourself and your purpose well enough to be ready when your moment of destiny arrives?

Excerpted from “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do” by Phil Cooke. Copyright © 2012 by Phil Cooke. Excerpted with permission of publisher Thomas Nelson.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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