Many Things: An Antidote to ‘The One Thing’

You have less control over achieving greatness. But you have full control over “not having any regrets”.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No. What?
Curly: This. [He holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.
Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the “one thing”?
Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

This is the exchange that happens in the movie City Slickers and is also the exchange Gary Keller quotes at the start of his popular book, “The One Thing”.

At first read, this exchange is inspiring. Even to the point that you close the book, open your laptop to start doing your ‘one thing’ until you realize you don’t have that one thing.

You may never find that one thing. EVER. And that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine. You don’t have to.

We tend to look at successful people and imagine all they would have ever done was one thing in their life. We romanticize the idea of figuring out what we love and doing it all the time.

My dear,
Find what you love and let it kill you.
Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness.
Let it kill you and let it devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.
~ Falsely yours
- Charles Bukowski, German born American poet

If you read the above quote and possibly do a bit of searching, you will find two things:
1. There are so many quotes along the lines of doing the one thing that you love till you die (people love them)
2. This quote was never actually said by Charles Bukowski

The problem with these quotes is that it gives you momentary inspiration but when you think about it, your chances of finding something you love so much you want to do only that is extremely less and even if you do, what you love changes often (how often varies with people).

Ben Horowitz mentions this in his commencement address at Columbia University:

“The second thing that’s tricky if you’re going forward in time with this ‘follow your passion’ idea is that what you’re passionate about at 21 is not necessarily what you’re going to be passionate about at 40.”

Cricket is a popular sport, more so in India, where it is a religion. If you’re a 10 year old in India, you wanted to be a cricketer. And I, not surprisingly, also wanted to be a cricketer. All I ever wanted to do was play cricket.

When I was 14, I realized that my chances of making it was less than me becoming a billionaire. I did continue playing cricket but I lost the love for it. Whether the reason for that is the sudden realization of reality is up for debate.

Did I love cricket? Yes
Do I still love and play cricket? Occasionally
Was the period of age 8–14 a waste? No, not by any chance.

I’m glad I did what I loved at that time. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t go anywhere. And it’s okay that I have almost stopped playing these days.

When I was 18, I wanted to write. I had never written anything good before (some would argue that I still haven’t). And when I did start a blog, it was terrible.

Do I love to write? Yes
Was my writing terrible before? Yes
Is it terrible now? Probably
Will it ever be good? It might
Do I have a chance to become a writer? I don’t know (or for your sake, I hope not)

But does it have to go anywhere? That’s what most people would have you believe.

Here’s what I believe:
The things you do, don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to go anywhere. It doesn’t have to be that one thing. You only need to love it when you’re doing it.

I graduated with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. I love computers, so when an opportunity to take a job in IT came up, I took it and started to learn programming.

I write code at work. I’m far from being a good programmer because all the stuff I know is self-taught. And because I’m far off, I work on side projects. I want to learn. And I love it.

So here are just a few things I’m doing currently:
- I’m learning to become a better programmer
- I have few side projects (a great read on side project marketing) and some ideas added to “down the line” board in Trello
- I write blogs
- I try to keep myself updated with the digital marketing trends (and have helped a non-profit before)

Looking at all the above, some people ask me:

“Why don’t you stick to just one thing? Else you’ll never get good at anything”

That is true. I never became a cricketer. I may never become a writer and I don’t know if I will become a good programmer.

But what I do know is this:
I will love different things at different times. What I love today, I may start hating it in future. But I’m glad I give everything I want to do a shot and I’m not restricting myself to one thing even if it means I might not achieve greatness.

Because I don’t have to. I’m perfectly happy that I get to try new things and have no regrets of not trying anything.

Scott Adams stresses on this point in his career advice:

If you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.
The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort.

And how do you get very good at two or more things? By letting yourself try many things that interest you.

If you are constantly pushing yourself to do new things and get better at it, you will eventually get very good at a couple of them.

And the side effect: You will love yourself for trying out everything you wanted.

So here’s a re-written exchange:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No. What?
Curly: This. [He holds up all his fingers]
Mitch: Your hands?
Curly: Ten things. Because I have only ten fingers but don’t let that hold you back. You do whatever interests you and continuously try out new things.
Mitch: That’s great, but that would never make me great at one thing?
Curly: Well, I suppose but you would have done everything you possibly can and want to in your life, whether that takes you anywhere or not. That’s how you will have no regrets.

Because having no regrets is more important than achieving greatness.

You have less control over achieving greatness. But you have full control over “not having any regrets”.

I would love to talk to you. So, say Hi @Ramkarthik?

Image credits: Strange Things Are Happening These Days! by Koshy Koshy