One thing that has become clear to me as I get older and raise a family is that human beings need a bigger purpose in life. We need big goals and big dreams that we can endlessly pursue. Without this, we inevitably stagnate and decline.
You can clearly see our need for a higher purpose throughout society. You see this in the great religious traditions that provide followers with meaning, structure, and direction. You see this in the advice of successful and influential people such as Jordan Peterson that encourage people to “aim high”. You see this in the success of industry titans like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, who propelled their workers and themselves to great heights using a big vision and persistence in reiterating it at every step of the journey.
Clearly, there are many ways of working toward big goals and there are many goals you can work toward. I want to focus on one technique that I’ll call “The Big Project”.
Characteristics of the Big Project
The Big Project is a significant project that provides you with a platform to learn many new things. A good Big Project should have a few defining characteristics.
- It is Ambitious. The project will be ideally working towards a broad, lofty, and exciting goal. As Peter Drucker says in his book “The Effective Executive“: “Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.” (pg. 111)
- It Matters to You. The goals of The Big Project should be aligned with your personal values and beliefs, and propel you toward an outcome you care about. If you don’t care about the Big Project, you won’t stick with it. Similarly, you want The Big Project to be building skills that are actually relevant to you.
- It Matters to Others: The Big Project should have some tangible real-world relevance to others, rather than just being a “toy” project for you.
- It has Identifiable Milestones and Subtasks: Although the project should be large in scope with no clear “project complete” criterion, you should still be able to complete well-defined subtasks along the way to help you stay motivated and ensure the project is meeting your goals. These subtasks should be achievable, but also provide room for growth. You want a challenge, but not so much difficulty that you get overwhelmed and demotivated.
- It is flexible and adaptable: A good Big Project should be flexible and adaptable, and allow for changes and adjustments as needed. This can help you stay on track and achieve your goals even if unexpected challenges or roadblocks arise.
Why Pursue a Big Project?
First and foremost, working on a Big Project is satisfying. It can provide excitement and some sense of meaning if you are thoughtful about what you choose to work on. It can boost your confidence and self-esteem, and provide a sense of accomplishment.
The Big Project takes advantage of the power of compounding, as the philosophy is to consistently build something over a long period of time. Through the magic of compounding, you may reach heights you didn’t expect and couldn’t achieve if you only worked on quick and shallow projects.
The Big Project also provides focus. With a clear overarching goal that inspires you, you will less likely be led astray by activities that don’t propel you toward that vision. You also become less likely to fall into the trap of never-ending planning, because it becomes much more clear what you should work on.
The Big Project can take many forms, depending on your goals and interests. Some more common Big Projects would include raising a family or living your life in accordance with a particular religious moral code. Both of these things are Big Projects in my life and many others.
In my professional life, one of my main Big Projects is my website, which includes Articles on efficient learning, spaced repetition, productivity, programming, and data science, as well as Download Mark’s Brain, which is a full stack web application that I built for sharing notes and flash cards, synced with my personal collections in Anki and Roam Research.
Together, this Big Project meets all the characteristics required.
First of all, It’s ambitious and large in scope: there is no limit to articles I can write and articles and books I can learn and take notes on. I also have long-term ambitions for Download Mark’s Brain to develop it into a collaborative flashcard development site with the lofty goal of converting all of human knowledge into testable Q+A format.
Furthermore, it matters to me personally for many reasons:
- Writing is a skill I want to develop and it also clarifies my thinking and learning
- I want to develop my skills in the myriad of programming patterns and technologies involved in developing a full-stack application
- I want to grow and maintain my personal knowledge management system
- I want to maintain a consistent and fast-paced learning / reading cadence
- I want to eventually build a self-sustaining business
It also matters to anyone else that benefits from my writing and shared notes and flashcards, it is easy to create clear milestones and subtasks, and there is great flexibility in the direction I can take the project.
I challenge you to find at least one Big Project in your life. Whether it’s raising a family, living according to a particular moral code, or working towards a professional goal, a big project can be a powerful tool for your well-being, development, and growth.For access to my shared Anki deck and Roam Research notes knowledge base as well as regular updates on tips and ideas about spaced repetition and improving your learning productivity, join "Download Mark's Brain".