By Francis P. Xavier, SJ

G. Keller and J. Papasan, The ONE Thing, Bard Press, Austin, 2012

Success = Priority:

During a visit to the house of Martha and Mary, Jesus admonishes Martha: “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, indeed only one” (Lk 10:42-43). And what is that ONE thing? The book titled The ONE Thing by G. Keller and J. Papasan discusses it. The book begins with a Russian proverb: If you choose two rabbits, you would not catch either one. Target one rabbit and pursue it, rain or shine. All of us are looking for and working towards success in life. Success depends on our priorities. And we need to focus on these priorities. Once this is clear then we are on our way to success.

The road to success is always under construction (p.206).  As we go, we make the necessary course corrections, and we make progress. All that matters initially, during, and at the end is that we are clear about our priorities. After all, success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right, since doing the right thing would save you from monitoring or worrying about everything else (p.55 f).

Anatomy of the Question:

Life is often construed as a bridge between questions and answers. Asking or posing a question might be easier, but what is important is to find out the answer. But answer comes from a question. If the question is right and meaningful, we are enthused to work for it; and if the question is a wrong one, we would get the answer too wrong. If the question is most powerful, then the appropriate or relevant answer would even change the course of our life (p.104). So the authors pose this question for our consideration. “What’s the ONE Thing I can do/ such that by doing it/ everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” (p.108).

Deciphering the priorities would set in focus also the purpose of our life.

This question sets in focus our priority(s). What are the things or what is the one thing that only I could do? We could focus on what is most important and urgent and work on achieving it. Adding a timeline to our priorities also would help us do things better and with confidence. Building an effective team would be the next important phase in doing our best and most in life.

Life and Purpose:

Deciphering the priorities would set in focus also the purpose of our life. Priority in life not only gives us the purpose of life but also leads us to productivity (p.137). When you do not know where to go, any road would take you there. On the contrary, when you have a clear and definite purpose in your life, you not only search for meaning in life, but also you find clarity in life. And clarity in life ushers in conviction in your direction, accelerating faster decision to do better (p.143). Life lived for a purpose – for one’s own good and for the good of others – brings in happiness. Hence, priority in life makes clear the purpose in life. But the purpose is derived from the one question we often ask ourselves: What is the ONE thing that I need to do, which would make all other things needless? And this question is the anchor of meaningful, relevant and useful life as this right question brings in the right answer, giving the right direction in life.

Commitments in Life:

The next phase is leading a successful life. No person is an island. Everyone is an integral part of the human society. Hence, each one of us has commitments in life. Commitment envisages process, rather than outcome. A research conducted among the students indicated that the students who visualized the process performed better than those who visualized the outcome (p.152). Hence, priority is not only goal-oriented but also process-oriented. Living by priority is most essential to realize one’s life-goal(s). And if the goal is fueled by commitments in life, it is all the more long lasting and self-satisfying.

Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right, since doing the right thing would save you from monitoring or worrying about everything else.

You need to ask yourself ‘What is the ONE thing I want to do in the next five years, this year, this month, this week, today, and right now?’ (p.150) This would take us through our commitment to the summit of our goal and happiness.

Four Hurdles:

In this attempt, there are four hurdles (p.191): i. Our inability or hesitancy to say ‘no’ when we cannot or do not have time; ii. Fear of chaos, which is the unknown fear about invisible obstacles. It could be also the fear of failure; iii. Poor health habits, which prevent us from being active and energetic; iv. Circumstance or surrounding that does not help us reach the goal. Against all these possible obstacles we need to fight and make progress – mentally first and physically later. Once we have the inner confidence, we are armed with the external courage to go ahead towards the goal along the path of commitment with our priorities as milestones. While this could be the formula for success, the formula for failure is to try to please everybody (p.195) and finally satisfying nobody.


Asking the right question about the ONE thing necessary unlocks the energy gate within you and opens up possibilities to achieve greater things, leading to success and happiness. Keep asking yourself, ‘what is the ONE thing that matters in my life (today/now)?’ When you focus on the purpose of your life, you come to know your priorities. When you focus on your priority, then life becomes meaningful and success becomes possible.

Fr. Francis P. Xavier, SJ has been in administration as Provincial (MDU), Director (LIFE and LICET), and Vice president of Jesuit Worldwide Learning. Currently, he is the Rector of Loyola Jesuit Institutions, Chennai. An author and researcher, with several books, articles, and webinars to his credit, his research now is on ‘Religion and Science.