Make Big Plans

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not be realized.  Make big plans; aim high and hope and work remembering that something noble once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone, will be a living thing, reasserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Daniel H. Burnham

I love this statement. Big plans stir our blood and give us the motivation to persist in achieving great things. A big vision is more than a “what.” It is the “why” behind what we do—the why that brings meaning, generates passion, attracts resources, and propels us to live in a way that makes a difference.

I remember my days as a college student. I had been elected to an office in student government and my initial reaction was “Oh, wow, I didn’t expect this. Now what?” Initially, the position felt rather onerous as I delved into the various tasks and responsibilities associated with it. But after a time, I began taking ownership of my new role. I shifted my thinking from “What does this position require of me?” to “How can I use this opportunity to make a difference to my fellow students?” A vision began to emerge and I became increasingly excited as I explored possibilities (not tasks) and the implications of what I wanted to accomplish. The year became an exciting experiment in which we redefined our purpose, as a student government, from running activities to advancing the development of the “whole” student.

The experience became the best year of my life to that point. I realized what it means to live from a big vision. I learned how vision generates passion, infuses mundane tasks with meaning, converts everyday encounters into rich engagements, and transforms setbacks into opportunities.

As I look back today, I find that these are the happiest moments of my life, those times when I have captured the higher vision of a job or role and acted with clarity about the outcomes I desired … even intended … to create.

Acting from this place of clarity and inspiration is not always automatic. It’s easy to fall back to mere duty, a checklist, going through the motions. But that is the challenge—to move beyond getting by to seeing a huge “why” that will motivate and inspire us to give our all in a difference that matters to those we serve. In this way, life becomes full, productive, and meaningful.

What I’m talking about doesn’t mean that you have to change your circumstances or what you’re currently doing. It does mean that you do it in a new way. Set some big plans and stay quiet about them.

So think about a current role. It could be in your home and family (mother, father, brother). It might be your job or a particular responsibility within your job. Perhaps it has to do with a position within your community or church.

Now think about possibilities. What is the purpose (the “why”) behind this role? Suppose you carried out this role in a way that made a real difference? What would happen? What would you be doing? Who would be blessed? Don’t think about challenges and obstacles. Imagine that you could shrink obstacles. You knew you were bigger than challenges. You had the wherewithal to make a really big difference. What would be possible? What could you get really excited about? How could you make this happen?

Let me ask you to write down your answers to these questions. Reading the questions is not enough. Pondering them is a good beginning. However, if you really want to change the difference you make in this role then you need to put something on paper. That act both demonstrates and generates commitment.

Once you’ve jotted down your thoughts, convert them into a purpose statement, not for your life, just this role. This statement could be a single sentence, a paragraph, or bullet points. What is important is that it inspires you and gives you direction about how to fulfill the role in a meaningful way, in a way that will inspire you and make a huge difference to others.

Would you like to read more? Visit our blog post Defining your purpose.


1 Comment

  1. Kristene Elmore

    This is my favorite article of yours. Thank you for the inspiration.
    I love that you provided direction, i.e., having me write down the answers to key the questions.


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