from the trenches

What is your One Thing?

You all remember the movie City Slickers, right?

… if you don’t, please stop reading this immediately and go watch it. Go on. I’ll wait.


… are we all on the same page now? Okay, good. So back to what I was saying. City Slickers. I watched it at an impressionable age, somewhere in the late high school/early college years, when it was becoming very apparent I soon needed to figure out what the hell I really wanted to do with my life. And you know what I remember the most about that movie? The scene where Curly is doling out his life advice to Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character, and he says:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

Here is the scene for you, if you didn’t take the time to watch the whole movie before reading this, or if you need a refresher…


Yes, that scene. At the time I watched the movie, I was in Mitch’s position. Which is why I think that scene struck such a chord with me. I wanted so badly for Curly to just tell me what the One Thing was. To just tell me the secret of life! Come on, man!

When it was apparent a short time later that Curly would be giving us no more life advice, I felt just as lost as Mitch. And though the movie ends with Mitch having found his One Thing, I had no such satisfaction for myself.

However, that nugget of wisdom stuck with me long after the movie had ended. And for the next several years, I pondered what my own One Thing might be in the background, as I continued to fumble around directionless in the mean time.

It took a really, really, really long time to figure it out. However, I count myself among the lucky few who now know what my One Thing is, before it’s too late … and what is so sad to me now to watch is how many people live their entire lives having no clue what their One Thing is.

Now, this blog post is not nearly long enough to go into the deep soul-searching journey it might take you to discover your One Thing. Or to cover the twelve or so years it took me, personally, to sort it all out. I can, however, recommend a few tools that might make it a much shorter journey, should you choose to go that route. (A few among many tools, mind you.) But I do want to stress to you, in this post, how incredibly important it is to find your One Thing.

At least start looking for it.

Because if you don’t look for it, you’ll never find it.

And the beauty of figuring out your One Thing now is that it colors every other aspect of your life. And if you are living according to your One Thing, (excuse me for a moment, I’m going to sound quite lofty here, my apologies), you will be living in alignment with your Life Purpose, and you’ll be happier than you’ve been before, even if you don’t have all the shiny bells and whistles you thought you needed back before you figured out your One Thing.

What I’m trying to say is: Find your One Thing.

Find out what makes you wake up in the morning feeling excited and energized, no matter how you slept the night before.

Find out what makes all the crappy occurrences in life (because there will still be those) more tolerable.

Find out what you are motivated to accomplish even if it’s very, very difficult and challenging work.

Then, rearrange your life as best as you possibly can to nurture that One Thing. Yes, I mean it! Rearrange your life! And I don’t mean to quit your job and move to Bali. (Though, you can do that if you really want to, I guess.) I mean to focus on small changes, and one thing at a time. But do change in order to give your One Thing room to breathe and grow.

You’ll be surprised by what happens once it takes root and really begins to flower. You’ll be carried along on its momentum to places you never dreamed of before. Things will seem to fall in place so perfectly it’s as if everyone around you– people you don’t even know– can see into your head and know exactly what you want to happen, then willingly help to make it happen.

Hey, I know it sounds crazy. I know it sounds too good to be true. I know you really just want someone to tell you the Secret of Life so you can be done with it already. But the problem with thinking like that is that you’re focusing on the wrong question in the first place.

The question isn’t … what’s THE Secret to Life?

The question is … what’s YOUR Secret to Life?

Curly was right. YOU are the only one who can figure out what YOUR answer is. And yes, it really will be just One Thing. Sure, there will be a whole lot more Other Things you enjoy, and love. But there will be only one ultimate One Thing, and that is your personal secret sauce to everything else.

Because when you’re living according to that, and you give it space, and you make it a priority, everything else falls into place. Space and time for everything else that you love and enjoy also happens.

Well … mostly. But here’s the other thing: what you don’t have time and space for after finding your One Thing and living it, you’ll realize you really don’t care that much about, after all. Perhaps it’s an enjoyable pastime, sure … but once you find your One Thing, your True North, your Life Purpose, your Why, everything else in your life will line up too, and you’ll see what’s most important and what’s least important more clearly than ever.

Sound like I’m talking riddles here? I promise I’m not. But I can’t give you any more answers than Curly could give me or Mitch all those years ago. Only you can find what this thing is for you.

From the other side of this quest, I can only tell you that it’s SO worth it.

Want more guidance? All I can recommend are tools. You could try this Dreambook, which went a very, very long way in helping me to my own realization. It asks a lot of questions, and if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll get to the bottom of your One Thing by the end. You don’t even have to use the planner part of it … I don’t!

You could try Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever course, another tool in my own toolbox. His goal-setting techniques could very well lead you to figure out your own top priorities on a deeper level, which is usually a First Step in finding your One Thing.

Or, you could simply browse some TEDTalks on YouTube to see if anything sparks some inspiration into your own inner workings. I recommend this one , this one and this one, personally.

Okay, okay. So I’ve talked a big talk here. But I assure you, I am speaking completely from my own experience over the past 6 months. (Yes, that’s right. I’ve only really had this figured out for about 6 months now.) And I’m going to share with you my One Thing, so you have an example of what I’m talking about.


Here is my One Thing, my True North, my Why:
To craft representative, engaging stories that will help readers by offering escape, refuge, identification, hope, insight, and/or change.

This purpose, interestingly, incorporates all of my core values: optimism, persistence, generosity, learning, openness, beauty, enjoyment, and love.

I didn’t even do that on purpose. It just followed naturally, once I narrowed down my values in the first place. And yes, it’s true: despite having written my first novel at 14, and drawing picture stories from a very young age, I wasn’t 100% convinced until recently that crafting stories was my calling. Like I mentioned above, there were a great many Other Things that I really enjoyed doing (and some of them easier and more financially stable than crafting stories), so it was hard to finally admit to myself that any of them was so much more incredibly important to me than the others.

However, once I did, and allowed that realization to really sink in, then fully committed, it was as if I experienced a Jean-Grey-into-Phoenix transformation.


In the best way. 😉

And so there you have it, my dears.

The Secret to Life is just One Thing. [holds up one finger] You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.


❤ J. R. Frontera and the Wordwraiths



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