July 23, 2012

How to Do Big Things

If you want to change the world, follow a dream, or otherwise find your own identity, you need to be able to do big things.

In addition to being a prerequisite for growth, doing big things is also a lot of fun. But how do you do them? What steps do you take?

Thankfully, much of the work required to do big things relates to the mindset of deciding to do them. With that in mind, consider these suggestions for your own pursuit of meaning and adventure.

Do not model your definition of big things on what other people have done. This is why your big things are YOUR big things. If something matters to you, that’s all that matters. Decide for yourself: a) what the big things are, and b) how you’ll determine the success or act of accomplishing the big things. You decide. You be the judge.

An old-but-good standard for determining whether to pursue a big thing comes from thinking about long-term regrets. Twenty years from now, will you regret not attempting a big thing? If the answer is yes, or even “I think so,” there’s your reason. Proceed.

Decide on your big things without concern of feasibility. Don’t worry about how you’ll accomplish big things. Think first and foremost about what your big things actually are.

When we gave away $100,000 at WDS two weekends ago, our team didn’t know how we’d get the actual money for distribution until about ten days prior to the event. This involved some strange conversations with my bank (“So I just bring in a briefcase and pick it up? Oh, I need an appointment?”) and a last-minute envelope stuffing party complete with cigars and Patrón tequila, but everything worked out. The far more important thing was deciding to do it.

Do not pursue half-measures. For my first book tour, I traveled to meet readers in all 50 states and every province in Canada. This tour was not underwritten by my publisher in any way—I paid for everything.

The tour came about when I asked the publisher about going on the road to promote the book, and they weren’t interested. I decided to do it independently, and worked with readers all over North America to make it happen. But notice that there no half-measures: We didn’t say “I’ll visit a bunch of cities.” It was all fifty states, including Alaska and Hawaii. It was every province in Canada, not just the more frequently visited stops.

This decision was the best one I ever made for my writing career. I met amazing people, I negotiated a much better deal for book #2, and I became much more comfortable with public speaking.

The more big things you do, the easier it becomes to do other big things. Accomplishing one big thing will give you confidence for other attempts. When you see someone who is successful at doing lots of big things, know that there is probably a long list of other things that have helped them get where they are. The only problem is that you need to keep raising the stakes. (See: Beware of life.)

Bonus: Think long and hard about what you are afraid of. Your big things may relate to conquering those fears in some way. (See: Fearless.)

Create an unconventional safety net. In 2011 I used my 2010 end-of-year funds to establish a travel savings fund that paid for much of the year’s travel. I opened a separate bank account and used that money exclusively for seeing the world.

In 2012, I didn’t plan as well and have been paying as I go along. I’ve noticed a shift to where I feel more anxious about spending money, even if I know I have it. Lesson learned: having a safety net in the form of a specific bank account helped me to feel more secure in pursuing a big thing.

Plan everything around the desired result. Think about what you’d like to accomplish and plan backwards from it. Seven years ago I sat on a ferry in Macau and thought about visiting every country in the world. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve worked on the goal every month since then. There are now only eight countries left, and it all came about from planning for a desired result and taking each challenge as it came along.

Stop thinking that big things are risky. Not everything that is big or significant is risky. Often, complacency is the real risk! Remaining stuck is risky. Having the chance to do something and turning it down out of fear is risky.

Bonus: stop thinking that failure is normal. Who’s to say you’re going to fail? Do not assume that failure is in your destiny. You could very well succeed.

Lastly, accept that some people will not understand the significance of your big things. They just won’t get it, no matter what you accomplish. You can spend your time seeking external approval, or you can decide in advance that you’ll do big things regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Thankfully, most of the time other people will come along who do get it. Strange but true.

***

Disclaimer: I am no expert or guru. Every day I hear from all kinds of people in our community who are doing much bigger things than me. Whatever big things I do, I’ve learned about from others.

You too can do big things. You can overcome fear, critics, and (worst of all) your own resistance to push through and pursue something magical.

What advice would you add to the list? Feel free to add your own suggestions.

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Comment on this article

62 Responses to “How to Do Big Things”

  1. Love this post. I think the most important thing (and the secret sauce) comes from one word in the titles.

    DO

    Big things, like little things, start by us simply taking action. Not dwelling or letting fear or a desire for perfection to stop us… just simply starting, going and doing. BTW… I’m typing this as a reminder to myself :)

  2. Great post! I would add… a big thing doesn’t have to be a big, tangible, world-wide thing. It doesn’t have to change the lives of millions of people or even result in any physical medal or badge of accomplishment to be a big thing. Personal goals, and overcoming internal struggles, can be big thing as well. Sometimes it’s easy to think of what we want, and say ‘well, that isn’t such a big deal in the scheme of things’ – but if it’s big to you, that makes it big, and it’s worth every bit of your time and attention as something else that might be more conventionally ‘grand’.

    I know you say this already, ‘decide for yourself what your big things are’, but even when you aren’t comparing yourself to the accomplishments of others, it’s easy to put ourselves down and get in our own way. Deciding to trust yourself on what’s really important to you is a big thing on its own!

  3. July 23, 2012

    Kerrie Lynn McKinnon

    One of my favorite quotes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, “Leap, and the net will appear”. Tell the Universe your plans and watch the doors– perhaps yet invisible — not only appear but open for you.

  4. Since it all revolves around mindset. Don’t rely on emotions or motivation. Both will come and go like the tides in the ocean. Set your mind to do big things and you will. I’ve recently coined the phrase, when you least want to, is when you most have to.

  5. I would add recruit others to help you do your big thing. That way, it seems a little less scary.

    The converse would be to help someone else with their big thing to prime you to jump on your big thing.

    I have found that by doing either of the above, it helps reduce the anxiety of failure and of taking on a huge challenge.

    Challenges just seem more manageable when your have others around you that want to not only see you succeed but help you as well.

  6. I think the last point may be the most important. When you’re able to stop worrying about what other people think of you, then you’re truly free to do the things you want to do with no fear.

    If you know you’re not hurting anyone and you’re good to people, then move on with your life.

  7. I would add patience. It took me 19 years to see one of my dreams come true. There were many days of agony and depression but I always knew that there was something greater out there for me.

    What an incredible feeling to experience it when it became a reality!

  8. Wonderful blog as ever, you constantly inspire me. I then often leverage that to use those thoughts, and thoughts they inspire in me, to inspire others (through workshops, social media postings etc).

    I totally identify with the thought of “Don’t worry about how you’ll accomplish big things. Think first and foremost about what your big things actually are.”

    In our own business, we have an incredible business worldwide that is absolutely driven by a sense of purpose. As you post this blog, I am encouraging my colleagues to “think big”. We have a great business, with great people, but what would it look like if we truly thought big ? How much more could we live our purpose if we “went big” ? Open up and think big first, work out how to make it happen only after you’ve thought as big as you can!

  9. July 23, 2012

    Sherrill Leverich-Fries

    I love these things, and what’s been added to the list by others!

    I would add to the list one of the things that Nicole Antoinette (the new and very enthusiastic runner speaker at WDS) said, to the effect of, “big sexy things are accomplished one sweaty, very unsexy step at a time.”

  10. I agree with Willow. It doesn’t have to be a BIG thing. Little choices can really make a huge impact on your life, too.

    I would add, sometimes it is best not to think too much. The more you think about something the more room for doubt. Be practical, of course, but sometimes it is best to just jump in without testing the waters.

    Chris, you’re absolutely right. Even if you don’t have a support system to begin with you will eventually find people in the same “place” as you. A support system will build over time. I’ve learned that recently.

  11. Loved this, Chris. I always wondered how you pulled off the 50-state speaking tour. The answer was less mystical than I was hoping for. You just did. That may be the secret to all success: DO.

  12. July 23, 2012

    Myles Alan

    Tell everyone you know. Tell them your “big thing” , your dream, your goal. If you tell the universe, you will get there. If not , how will they make the travel arrangements? and work it.
    Great article, thanks.

  13. Small acts are also powerful! The main thing is to ACT, and do it now not tomorrow :) Create more, consume less.

    Thanks for the blog!

  14. Love this post. I would add “tenacity” — the ability to keep going toward your big idea even when you hit roadblocks.

  15. Chris, you’ve just written the “Doing Big Things Manifesto”.

    Loved reading it.

  16. July 23, 2012

    Angela Slater

    Thanks so much for this Chris! Your article on ‘big things’ gave me a very specific piece of inspiration for one of my big things and how to achieve it! I am excited again now about something which was just making me anxious and a bit sad… AMAZING. Thanks for the re-ignition!

  17. I’d recommend getting Seth Godin’s 5 pack of “Shipit Journal.” It walks you through your fears on a given project, then helps you figure out the necessary steps and obstacles. If you are that person who wants to get the next steps nailed down, then this thing is crazy helpful.

  18. July 23, 2012

    Valerie Vierengel

    Funny how we’re hard-wired to think something is impossible just because in that moment, we can’t see how it’s all going to work out. Myles is right — tell everyone you know and be amazed at what opens up for you.

  19. July 23, 2012

    Cassia Z.

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I bought The $100 Startup audio book and listen to it on my ridiculously long commute. Right now I’m in the brainstorming stage and am finding the book really inspiring, but am battling fear. I’m going to go read the Fearless post now. Thank you for all that you do!

  20. My experience has been the more I gather good people around me, the better I do at achieving big goals.

    Also, it’s amazing to me how often people see things that are common place as not big. Being a good husband and a good father are a big freakin’ deal – but few people recognize the heroic effort and sacrifice it takes to do these two things well.

  21. So glad you wrote this!
    Many, including myself, need to push the personal envelope everyday…to squeeze the most out of our lives.

    And glad that you emphasized that “a big thing” is a personal choice. That truly needs to be said in today’s cookie-cutter society.

    Will link to this article on my blog :)

  22. Inspiring post. It reminds me to, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”
    —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  23. Chris, you are a great example of going the opposite direction the mass go and the great results that happen because you do. Great post.

    Building a family business to give security to all the extended family of nay sayers is my big thing. They scoff now but will thank me later. I do it because I love them, not for their approval.

  24. Very inspirational post Chris. You reminded me to trust my dreams today and keep taking action no matter how big the fears are.

    Not having things all perfectly figured out before jumping in is a big one for me. Fear of vulnerability and failure are biggies too.

    Thanks for sharing your examples – they’ve helped me realize that we all have to start anew every time we pick a new dream or adventure to pursue.

  25. I’m starting a business which has been a dream of mine for about 3 years. After reading your perfectly timed post I wrote about my fears about the business failing and as a result I failed. Then I asked “why” – why would the business failing mean that I was a failure. The answer: because these are MY ideas, MY products/service – “MY” was the root of my problem.

    Instead of everything being “mine”, everything stands apart from me. This new mindset allows me the freedom to make improvements. By detaching myself from the business, it’s success or failure, it’s products or services, I can be a healthy contributor instead of a self-centered business man.

    So I would add “ask yourself “why” you’re afraid of whatever it is your afraid of so you make sure to deal with the root cause.

  26. I wrote something on this very topic last week! Mindset is definitely the big secret when it comes to doing anything big and scary.

  27. This may just be my favorite post.

    From my own experience, I would also emphasize to not be discouraged by nonsupporting others – by their opinions or doubts or attempts at intimidation (with the exception of constructive criticism or suggestions) – similar to accepting that “some people will not understand the significance of your big things”.

    A few relevant quotes:
    - “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all.” (Ayn Rand)
    - “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” (Cecil Beaton)
    - “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” (Steve Jobs)

  28. I am always fond of the last point. I’ve been following it since I was in College.
    I’d like to add one more point : ACTION – start with whatever you have, from wherever you are.
    Shankar, India

  29. I took that “big risk” several years ago by pumping my money into what I thought was a sure thing because everyone I met was saying so. I even spoke to someone who had successfully done many very similar ventures and said I had planned everything perfectly. But then the economy tanked and a side contract job didn’t pay me the money I was expecting for my work (more below about this).

    The past years have been working out the trauma of the failure and getting money back and paying off credit cards I had to use to build everything back when I lost all my money.

    Lessons: Some people will say they are on board but back out at the last minute, in my case a majority of them because the contract I was working on, the owner turned out to be money laundering and went to jail over it, so everyone was nervous about anyone who was associated with him in any way. Lastly, have a safety net for recovering from a failure.

    The biggest lesson of all, is I’m back at it again because I always go big and will never give up, that’s just how I want live my life. Everything I have accomplished in my life has been from pushing myself beyond my fears and giving it my all. Failure is a part of life.

  30. This was great, Chris! especially loved the point about importance of deciding on your “big thing” without concern of feasibility. Also agree that remaining stuck, turning down opportunities due to fear, is indeed risky. I’ve learned that one the hard way. Thanks!

  31. Awesome post Chris.

    I traveled the world for 6 months (which was a big thing for me) while starting a business. It definitely takes sacrifice, if big things were easy everyone would do them.

    The question for me is now, what’s the next big thing?

  32. I’d rather put it as how to do small things which become big. My mom and I have a family friend who was a school librarian in Johannesburg. Over a decade she worked at two schools with libraries with hardly any books (or upto date books). My mom and I between us and with Jo’s guidance about what kinds of books they really needed sent enough books to fill both libraries. It was done by visiting charity shops and peruading publishers to give us books. Making many parcels week in week out and organising an annual coffee morning for postage costs. It wasn’t large or ‘grand’ or ‘big’ but small actions over and over again.

  33. Really enjoyed this post Chris – and have shared it with some of my dearest friends.

    My addition would be:

    Don’t be afraid to share your dreams/ plans with others.

    Often times we’re afraid of being judged, laughed at or talked out of doing ‘big things’ but if you share you are more accountable as people will ask you how your plan is coming along AND you’d be surprised of how some of your contacts might be able to help you along the way. Or might know someone who knows someone who could offer help, advice, etc. My caveat though – don’t share with the emotional vampires in your life. You know who they are!!

  34. The big BIG thing for me has been throwing fear out of the window. I put it in its place daily and keep moving:-)!

  35. I’m in it man. I’m in deep. Thanks for the advice because I don’t see failure as an option.

  36. “Plan everything around the desired result”- I liked that. Picturing my ideal situation and working backwards to get where I want to be gives me a new perspective. Much appreciated!

  37. Thanks for the how-to post! It is truly inspiring. :) Am planning a world tour myself in 2015. That’s a big thing for me.

  38. I loved this post and it was reading your book over a year ago that helped inspire my Big Hairy Audacious Dream (BHAD) to volunteer on almost every continent and then create a Foundation to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally. After my 6-month, 8 country trip, I’m back in Canada and planning for my next BHAD which is to bring a group of 8-12 survivors, a researcher, and a film maker to New Delhi in February 2013 to kick off the Foundation and demonstrate why international volunteering helps people recover emotionally from cancer. You’re right – you have to keep raising the stakes and you have to accept that some people will not get it, but there is a tribe of people out there who do.

    Thank you for getting out there and traveling, writing, and inspiring us to THINK BIG!
    All the best with your continued big dreaming!
    Terri

  39. You are correct that once you accomplish 1 big thing, it is easier to do more big things. The same is true for making money. Once you make some decent side income, it is easier to multiply your efforts because you have more experience and breathing room to make things happen.

    In regards to taking risk….we are alive and we must take some risks! This ‘feel safe’ attitude locks down a lot of people. This fear of being alive stems from deep-seeded self-rejection that we picked up as children or somewhere along the line. By nature, you take risks for better or worse.

  40. I would also add that once you take the leap there will be times when you may regret your decision or new fears arise and that you shouldn’t let those get you down. It’s all part of the process and the process is to be enjoyed!

  41. I found doing something (for me it’s paying for the event) really helps motivate me & stops me from quitting. So my advice is do whatever makes you feel committed. I did this with a triathlon last year & am now training for a half iron man because I paid & committed to that first race

  42. Do a lot of inner work. Once you understand “why” you are doing this big thing, it’s easier to get into the “how to” of things

  43. I knew my long-term regrets would include spending my whole live in a cubicle, so I packed up my stuff and left the country. Two years later, I’m still on the road, living the dream!

  44. Chris,
    Great article!
    RE: “Decide on your big things without concern of feasibility”.

    As you know I teach and blog on Small Business Startup. I find that many people get stuck by needing to know all of the HOW TO’s before they define what product or service they want to put out there and why. You can waste a lot of time trying to figure out how everything will happen instead just getting started and trusting some things will fall into place.

    Thanks for the reminder and encouragement. This is a post I’ll be sharing for awhile! –Dee

  45. I completely agree. This year I did a tour to seven countries in Africa. I was nervous about pitching this idea to the company that I was working with but they went for it and I executed with success. I’m committed to pushing myself to doing big things. I have noticed that my biggest successes typically come from doing something that I am absolutely terrified of.

  46. Along the lines of ‘Decide on your big things without concern of feasibility,’ I always try to remember the mantra: Reality is Negotiable. The ability to think creatively beyond what is possible on the surface is so important to accomplishing those big things.

    A personal example — I wanted to travel the world on my own terms for a year, but had a corporate job that wouldn’t typically allow such a scenario. But I decided with conviction I would take the trip and believed reality was negotiable. Through creative means, I was eventually granted a temporary leave…I’m currently on month 2 of my trip!

    Chris, you’ve been a big inspiration which led me to take action. Thank you!

  47. I get online during a panic attack because the buyer of my car falls through. With less than a week before I move across the country, I suddenly find myself without the money I thought I had.

    Then what do I find in my email but an incredibly useful reminder that everything will be fine. I’ve committed, I’m DOING A BIG THING, and I can figure this out, by god!

    Thanks, again, like always! See you soon, Washington.

  48. I left my very comfy M-F 9-5 job for the specific reason that I knew I would have regrets in 20 years for not pursuing my dreams. 7 months ago I had no idea how I would pay the bills past January, and yet here we are another 6 months along and cruising along just fine. I no longer wonder about whether I’ll have regrets in the future because now I have complete control over the direction of my life, and even though the dollars are tight, I feel at peace. I’m planning bigger and bigger things as my comfort zone increases. My motto is “Jump and the universe will catch you”.
    Thanks for another great post Chris :)

  49. July 25, 2012

    brooklynchick

    Just because it’s hard – that’s not a reason NOT to do something. Many great things are hard (love, kids, art).

  50. I want to do things in life that matter – even if they only matter to me. That is what living a life of integrity and compassion is about – being aware of your actions and desires and following them.

  51. I constantly get into a place of thinking that BIG isn’t relevant to my smaller, lifestyle-focused consulting business, especially since that’s also a lot of the customers I work with. We’re in this space of likeing the idea of being small. My focus has always been on creating something that simply “fits” for me, and I often struggle with the creative potential that’s there. I think the best advice here is really not comparing yourself to the big things someone else has does – create your own model – but also realizing you can do bigger things even if you want to be a small entity. Thanks – good stuff!

  52. Great article!
    My advice would be a qoute told to me, by the man who inspired me to take action: “The world is yours, go out and grab it!”

  53. You’re spot on. Identify the “what”, get into action as soon as possible, and the “how” will appear.

    I consistently find action abates fear. You can’t be in action and in fear at the exact same moment. So the more you’re doing, the less you’re making excuses or talking yourself out of not moving forward.

    I like this twist on the common leap/net saying: “Leap and the cliff will disappear” because there’s never really a cliff, we just imagine it that way. In truth we rarely have to risk life and death by leaping off cliffs; we just simply need to take a step forward.

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  55. Strike a balance between “Do it Now” and “Forever Planning,” because if there are enough big things you want to do – you really cannot do them all at once. But, be working on one or some of the big things – always planning is never doing.

    One of the mentors in my life that advocated “Do it Now” just lost his life, in an accident, only 50.
    For awhile, I balked at this advice, thinking “just slow down, savor and enjoy what you’ve got,” having realized years of robotic rushing and unhappiness in my own life.

    His death has really reaffirmed for me to seize the day and do it now – do some of those big things now. And to do them mindfully – savor it, but neither put it off nor rush through to completion without seeing the landscape out the window.

    Especially when grieving; you have to give yourself time and space, slow down, heal – but you can never stop moving all together. And really – the movement, with purpose, not the robotic going through the motions that you start with to push through; is what gets you through it in the end.
    Do it now – do it thoughtfully, with purpose, slowly enough to feel human as you go.
    And remember the people that said “Do it Now,” and not the doubters.

  56. One of the things I’ve learned to do this year is to say “Yes” to the opportunities that come my way, to put myself out there and not be shy about it. You know how they say you should have an accountability partner? I think that’s one of the best ways to achieving big things – say what you are going to achieve to those who will hold you accountable but can also give advice when you are floundering as you work to make the big thing happen. Saying yes has lead to some great opportunities and on each of these I’m building a bigger path, a truer path. I encourage each of you to say Yes. I especially love the No Half Measures. If you decide to do something bigger than you’ve done before, do it the best you can but don’t compare it against someone else’s best – only your own.

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  58. My favorite line:

    Twenty years from now, will you regret not attempting a big thing? If the answer is yes, or even “I think so,” there’s your reason. Proceed.

  59. My favorite paragraph in the article is – The more big things you do, the easier it becomes to do other big things. Accomplishing one big thing will give you confidence for other attempts. When you see someone who is successful at doing lots of big things, know that there is probably a long list of other things that have helped them get where they are.

    I believe this 100%…years ago I started doing yoga and each pose has a spiritual equivalent – so I did a physical movement in my body and had a spiritiual shift in some area – I didn’t realize until later but I used to *hate* driving on highways. Would avoid it whenever possible – all of a sudden (one yoga clas at a time) I was just zipping along the busiest highway as it it was nothing – the fear and anxiety was gone. In this case it was a bunch of tiny things put together that became a big thing.

    My hubby says courage is a muscle. It grows stronger and stronger the more you work it out. So for me, little things lead to bigger and bigger things that become easier and easier because your muscle is stronger with practice.

    My friend just sent me a link to your site and it’s GREAT! Thank you!

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