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What Is Mine to Do?

When presented with so many opportunities, how do we choose?

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Source: 'Nastia11, istock'

Sometimes, it feels as if the world is calling on us to do way too much. With the explosion of the internet and our constant connection to it, we’re exposed to zillions of topics, challenges, issues and opportunities.

With a multitude of problems in the world that need solving, with hundreds of opportunities you can see to make money, zillions of groups you could join to have fun and thousands of educational opportunities to enhance your life, how do you figure out where to focus your time and energy?

We can’t do it all—or more accurately, we can’t do it all well. It’s like donating 50 cents to every non-profit on the planet, you’re not making an impact while you drain your bank account. Scattering yourself too far makes no real impact and drains you of precious time and energy.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re thinking, “But Dr. Matt, I’m a great multitasker!” No, you’re not. In a study at Stanford University a few years ago, researchers found that people who try to focus on several things at a time cannot recall information, move from one job to another, or even pay attention as well as those who focus on one task at a time.

One of the researchers, Dr. Anthony Wagner, said this about multitaskers: “When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal.” In other words, they’re like Dug in the movie Up! They are distracted by every “squirrel!” that comes along.

When we’re bombarded by all the things we could do—or maybe think we should do—we lose the ability to focus as well. We scramble through the day doing a million tasks but doing none of them well. We have trouble filtering out what is insignificant. We get tugged in a thousand directions. As Dr. Orison Swett Marden wrote:

“One of the secrets of a successful life is to be able to hold all of our energies upon one point, to focus all of the scattered rays of the mind upon one place or thing.”

Here’s the question you need to ask: What is mine to do?

In my one-on-one coaching, I work with incredibly intelligent and capable people. They have multiple talents and enthusiasms, and they get tapped constantly to help with this project or to go on this Board, to consult with this startup or help this non-profit. They could do almost anything they put their minds to—but it doesn’t mean they should. They know (or learn quickly) that if they scatter their energy too far, they become burned out and ineffective.

Just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it if it’s not yours to do.

So how do you figure out what is yours to do? One of the first steps is to stop saying “yes” automatically to everything. Take each activity you’re currently doing, or contemplating doing, and question it. Stop before jumping into something, and run it through a few filters to see if you and that activity are a match.

For example, say your children’s school asks you to run a fundraiser. You really want to help out the school and support your children’s education. But pause for a moment. Ask yourself: “Is this mine to do? If I take on this event, will I enjoy it? Are there other ways I could contribute to the school that would fit my schedule and what I enjoy better? Will this interfere with other important priorities in my life?” You may find that the event is yours to do, in which case, you’ll feel good doing it. You may discover that it is not yours to do and you’ll feel great saying “no” and finding other ways to help out the school.

As you ask these questions, listen to your gut. Intellectually, you may be able to justify an action. “I’m experienced in running events. I don’t see anyone else who has the talent to do it. Unless I do it, it probably won’t make the money they need to make.” But if that decision doesn’t feel right, I suggest you back off. Your intuition is telling you that it is not yours to do. As John Carmack (who is a game programmer, aerospace and virtual reality engineer) says, “Focus is a matter of deciding what things you're not going to do."

Another very timely example: In this political climate, there have been a ton of calls to action on both sides of the political divide. You may feel strongly about supporting certain issues or people. You may want to step up in civic participation. Great! But what is yours to do? Run for office? Sign petitions? Start a local non-profit? Pray and get your own house in order? Just because your friends are on a certain band wagon doesn’t mean that same vehicle is yours to do.

Part of discovering what is yours to do is getting clear on what is not yours to do. But if you just eliminate possibilities that aren’t yours and leave it at that, you’re simply hanging out and existing. You’ll just float through life and end up with little to show for it. It’s like starting at college and saying, “I don’t want engineering, or psychology, or art or business. I’ll just take a bunch of classes and after four years, wherever I have the most credits, that’ll be my major.”

To feel alive and be effective, you need to choose something that is yours to do. This is not only regarding causes, organizations or issues you feel strongly about. It’s also about your life in general. What is yours to do? What is your mission or purpose? And what can you do to reflect that?

For example, my purpose is to empower the planet. That could have meant inventing clean water devices that could be used universally. It could have meant founding an organization that educates girls in developing countries. That could have meant developing something like Facebook so ideas could reach masses of people quickly. But those aren’t mine to do. To fulfill my purpose, I focus on empowering the planet by teaching and helping individuals remove internal obstacles to unleash their individual power and brilliance.

What is yours to do? Your first choice or choices may not end up being right for you. But it’s only by taking action and stepping into it that you’ll discover whether if fits or not.

“Make your life a mission—not an intermission.” —Arnold H. Glasow

To your TOTAL empowerment!


Dr. Matt


Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at or visit his blog at


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