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In 2016, please start to play BIG

Earth from Moon

As 2016 opens and you trudge back to normal life, I fear you are about to do something very predictable. You are about to play SMALL.

You will greet a few people and ask them the same banal questions about their holidays. You will settle down at your desk and use your employer’s bandwidth to catch up on Facebook and YouTube. You will soldier through your backlog of emails, deleting most of them and pretending to respond meaningfully to the rest. You will focus on your own issues, your own gain. You will live your life in pretty much the same way you did in 2015. And 2014 before that, and…

May I please ask you to stop yourself and commit to something this time round: commit to playing BIG.

Don’t climb back into that well-worn rut. Don’t utter inanities or offer platitudes. Don’t fritter your time away on the meaningless. Don’t engage in endlessly repetitive conversations. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Don’t play for average. Don’t navigate familiar grooves. Don’t settle.

Please do something, anything, extremely well. For the world, not for yourself.

It could be in your workplace that you play big. It could be in your personal life. You could go big with something you know, or with something that’s new.

If you’re a singer, tell yourself you’re not going to die singing other people’s songs in goddamn choruses – this year, your songs will take flight. If you’re a poet, tell yourself you’re not going to rehash familiar lines and metres – this year, your words will flow from your soul. So that they give uplift to the world, not just to your own ego.

Wait: I hear an objection. Those people you’re talking about? They’re artists. It’s easy to tell them to play big. Those people create stuff. They do ex nihilo. They can express themselves freely. Me, I’m employed, dude. I’m a receptionist with a stuffy boss. I’m an accountant who must follow accounting rules. I’m a chief executive with a domineering board watching my every move. Or I’m a mother juggling repetitive routines around my children. How are any of us ordinary folk going to play big?

Here’s the thing, since you asked. Playing big is not a result; it’s an attempt. It doesn’t begin as an achievement; it begins as a state of mind. The first thing is to be ready to understand mediocrity, and to scream in your head that it’s not for you. Understand this: playing big is not a competition to lift a trophy, for the applause of others; it’s a philosophy about how to live a life, for your own satisfaction, and for the betterment of humanity.

Playing big can have many faces. It could be the serene face of the old man making miniature replica dhows in Lamu. It could be the enthusiastic face of the eager (but unpolished) social cook, who gradually becomes a virtuoso knocking out very accomplished dishes. It could be the bedraggled face of the manager of the home, juggling a hundred things daily to enable the worldly success of others.

So pick your spot. If you can find it in your daily work, find it there. Or in your relationships, your pastimes, your hobbies, your enthusiasms. And then, when you have found the thing you really want to devote your life to: don’t just be good enough. Be exceptional. What is sleep? What is pain? What is exhaustion? What is ridicule? Do it. You know it’s worth it. A person who has a cause, who is now in full flow, is the finest expression of the potential of the human being.

Don’t ask me what your thing should be. I couldn’t possibly know. It could be the perfection of your daily work. It could be those complex equations you can run in your head. It could be the way you treat the leather you craft shoes with. It could be your ability to motivate your teams. It could be the trees you are determinedly planting. It could be the time and counsel you give to others. It could be your trademark free kicks. It could be the wisdom with which you manage the growth of your children.

Whatever it is, make it uniquely yours. Play BIG. But remember this: anything that is truly meaningful is done for the world, but not for the world’s applause.

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