big picture goals

How to Accomplish Anything “Big” In Life Without Getting Swallowed.

by MJ DeMarco · 15 comments

You can’t PAY your way to the top, you have to EARN it.

And by earn it, I mean work for it.

This often means starting at the bottom, and working your way up.

This means having a “big picture” goal but also seeing the small picture in front of you.

All too often, entrepreneurs get so overwhelmed with the big picture that we let it massacre our senses, and our ability to engage in process.  It stops us cold into not taking action.  “OMG, it’s just too much!

I call this the “big picture syndrome” — the point at which your grandiose vision and idea is stalled-out by lack of action — you simply can’t grasp all the difficult steps you know it will require to make it happen.

In other words, you have a mountain to climb and you’re staring at the top.   Such thinking is overwhelming and causes entrepreneurs to be paralyzed in action.

Recently on the Fastlane Forum, a user posted a common quandary about starting a website business — do I hire out for it?  Or learn?

His argument suffered from the “big picture syndrome” — he assuaged it with this statement: “It will take me forever to become an expert in computer programming”.

The problem with this mindset is its flawed premise: “In order to build a fully functioning website, I will need to become an expert in computer programming, and becoming an expert will take years”.

I often preach that if your beliefs are flawed, so will their conclusions.

Yes, becoming an expert in programming will take years.  But the flawed premise is this: You don’t need to become an expert to build a website — you just learn along the way and during the process!

I’m not an expert in any programming language but that didn’t stop me.   I learned by trial-and-error — each step in building something substantive was a minor problem that I sought to solve.  As I solved each problem, I slowly learned.  At some point, I started becoming more proficient. 

This is the art of learning — you get out and DO, you get out and EXPERIENCE, you get out and TRY — you don’t say “Oh, I need to become an expert” and then take action.   Learning is all apart of the process of “taking action”.


How do you get started?  What’s the first problem you need to learn and solve?

As you climb the stairs, something incredible happens — you start learning and become proficient in the very thing you claim NOT to be an expert on.

I recently finished The Millionaire Fastlane audiobook which my company produced in house.  As I started that journey, I readily admit: I knew NOTHING about producing an audiobook.

However, months later after diving into the process, I can NOW say, I know plenty — enough to be dangerous.

So how did I accomplished this feat?  I tackled each step in the journey by only focusing on the step directly in front of me.   What audio equipment do I need?  What software?  What editing?  How to edit?  What about disc reproduction?   On this journey, I didn’t focus on STEP #32 until I arrived there.    I didn’t focus on the top of the stairs but the step in front of me!

If you haven’t yet read Sara Blakely’s billionaire success story, you need to.  It reinforces this concept of learning and tackling challenges as they come, instead of worrying about things that may or may not happen for months, or years.

In 10 Lessons I Learned from Sara Blakely That You Won’t Learn in Business School, she says:

6)      You don’t have to go in order. Sara’s passionate commitment to her new Spanx product was so fierce, she just tackled each task in the development and marketing journey as they came up, not necessarily in the best order for a smooth launch.

7)      You CAN figure it out you have the ability. Sara knew absolutely nothing about women’s undergarments, patenting a new product, manufacturing, marketing, product development, website development, online commerce, and more.  But that didn’t stop her. She researched what she needed to, hired out what she couldn’t do, and marched forward with undying commitment and energy. Don’t stop yourself from pursuing an idea because you don’t think you have what it takes.

9)      Don’t worry about the outer “stuff” until the time is right. Sara worked tirelessly from her apartment creating her product, avoiding investing in outside office space or other marketing and business tools until the product had taken off.  She didn’t have a formal website until she made it on the Oprah show and needed one.  Anything that wasn’t essential to building the product and getting the name out there simply wasn’t a priority.

Bottomline?  Quit staring at the top of the stairs and all the steps needed to get there — the first step is the only challenge you have!

Then move to the next, and the next, and the next.

Do this enough times and eventually you’ll find yourself at the top of the stairs, and perhaps, on the cover of Forbes magazine like Ms. Blakely.

~ MJ


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  • Gloria Tortorella

    After reading your book last year I admit I felt inspired but truly overwhelmed. I really want to develop my project, I believe in it, but I feel so powerless in front of this huge staircase to the top.

    I always give the “one step at the time” advice to my boyfriend, maybe I needed someone to tell me the same thing :)

  • Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon

    Hy MJ,

    You make some great points!  Even in school, the business teachers always are saying that in order to be an entrepreneur you need to take lots of business classes, write a complete business plan, etc., etc., etc. before you even consider starting a business.

    Total BS and I’m glad you’re calling people on it!  Start a business, learn from your mistakes, and keep on going until you succeed!  Imagine how many would-be entrepreneurs get discouraged from hearing the “big picture syndrome” from their teachers!  Very sad…


  • Khuram

    Great message. Focusing on the goal can do more harm then good, focusing on the next step makes for a much “lighter” mind. One thing you didn’t mention is that you’ll fall down each step of the way as you are “figuring out” because by definition you haven’t done it before. So as you go through each step, be prepared to screw up over & over again, but you’ll eventually figure it out. Great post MJ. 

    • MJ DeMarco

       This is so true.  Mistakes and failures are apart of this process.   Sara talks about this too in the article … failure is not an outcome, but a lack of trying. 

  • Abdul Ngoko


    Thanks for sharing this.This is the big difference between you (MJ) and the so called Gurus out there.You teach something and you have a Billionaire example to relate to….Not here’s a single mom making $ 5,000/month, so can you!!.Keep up the spirit man.

    With all Love from East Africa for keeping us inspired!!

    Thank you,

  • Benji Walklet

    Great post, MJ!

    I remember that I too was one of those people on the forums a year ago asking whether I should learn to do things myself or just hire someone to do the things I wasn’t an expert at.

    Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of both by simply doing/taking action. More importantly, I’ve done things in bite-sized pieces, step-by-step, following the ready, fire, aim philosophy. Take action, then make adjustments. It’s really the best way to learn.

    Hell, my website sucked from an aesthetic and marketing perspective when I first put it out there. But by continuing to make adjustments I’m getting closer and closer to the end goal. After all, what is there to lose? Will anybody really come out and criticize me for making my brand better? I don’t think so…

    Thanks for confirming this process. You’ve had a great influence on my life!

    • MJ DeMarco

       Thanks appreciate that! =)

  • Tiago de Melo

    MJ, I am waiting a new video from you, I LOVE YOUR VIDEOS! :)

    Best Regards,

  • John Wood

    This was exactly what I needed to take the next step in my project. Very easy to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed but just look and the next step and it seems much easier to tackle. Thanks MJ.

  • Anonymous

    I think people should only outsource to leverage their time, and not because they’re too lazy to figure things out.

    If you put your entire business in the hands of somebody else, then you’re asking for trouble because you have no control.

    I know a business owner that got into a argument with his website desinger. The designer deleted the entire website and then dissapeared.

    Then you have the Winklevoss Twins that outsourced to Mark Zuckerberg. Lol. You have to be careful with that.

    • MJ DeMarco

      Outsourcing horror stories … perhaps another blog post.  Zappos founder Tony Hsieh has a good “anti-outsourcing” story as well – if you want to control customer service and other functions, outsourcing outsources control and elevates risk.

  • Fabricio

    OMG! audiobook – i didnt know this! i really want to buy this although it will delay a little.. MJ, you know that u dont have customers here but fans? :D

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  • Scott Mollenkopf

    This is great advice and it came at the perfect time for me. I am overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to do and the barrier of entry to my selected path. The feeling of being overwhelmed is because I am not looking at the step in front of me, I am looking at the thousand other steps that I have to do 6 months, a year from now. TY MJ!
    and I can not wait for the next book!

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