NOTIONS Bruce Hetrick: Readers share insights on the elusive ‘one thing’

In the movie “City Slickers,” Billy Crystal plays a fellow in midlife crisis. He escapes to a guest ranch, where he meets Jack Palance as a wisdom-dishing cowboy.

On horseback one day, Palance asks, “Do you know what the secret of life is?” “No, what?” Crystal asks. Palance holds up his gloved index finger and says, “This.” Crystal says, “Your finger?” Palance says, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean #*@%.” Crystal says, “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?” Palance says, “That’s what you’ve gotta figger out.” Recently, I asked readers whether they’ve seen more and more people seeking “something more”-that elusive “one thing.” Many sent enlightening responses. A North Carolina reader has found “something more” in physical and emotional hideaways. “When I was working and had much less time for myself, I found solace in meditation,” she said. “Reading or having a silent and safe private space afforded me peace. Now that I’m retired, I have several places where I immediately gain a sense of serenity, balance, yin and yang.” Spirituality colored many responses. “I have one simple answer,” said a Zionsville attorney, “The acceptance of and faith in Jesus Christ. Everything flows from Him.”

Former Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce President John Myrland, who recently departed that job for the ministry, wrote to say how happy he had been at the Chamber and how he’d expected to retire from there.

“Then, something happened,” Myrland said, “I was called to ministry because God has a plan for my life, and God wants me to live out that plan, rather than something I want to do.”

There were contradictions among readers, of course.

A local writer told of ditching his hectic ad-agency career for home-based freelancing, which provides more time for family and community.

“My kids seem to be growing up with a sense that life isn’t all about a paycheck,” he said, “that we have an obligation to improve the world around us. Maybe that’s the best thing I’ve managed to accomplish: quietly imbuing them with the idea that life isn’t all about them and their needs.”

An Indianapolis appraiser also preached public service.

“Many who are seeking ‘more’ are focused on themselves,” she said. “By doing for others, the return is the ‘more.’ Those who are selfishly self-absorbed can never see outside of themselves to even recognize it.”

But an Indianapolis reader said public service is “overrated.”

“My eight years running a volunteer center proved to me that darn near everyone looks for the elusive ‘meaningfulwork’ pot of gold at some point or another,” she said. “People want to do work that doesn’t feel like work. Some may feel a twinge of guilt that they have been a financial success with a career that has become easy or, worse, boring. They think if they could just sit in rocking chairs holding babies born with AIDS, they will find that connection.

“In reality,” she said, “the meaningful work that needs to be done is probably very similar to what these people are already doing: administration, project management, marketing, clerical work, policy development. Who wants that?”

Instead, she’s found “something more” in everyday life and work.

So has the southern Indiana woman who e-mailed this:

“Our life has been pretty simple,” said the reader who signed herself, simply, “Grandma Hampton.”

“Our main work was farming for over 30 years. Now enjoying retirement, I remember the years of preparation-preparing the soil, sowing the seeds and tending the crops.

“I remember equipment breakdowns when my husband spread out a blanket to lay the parts on in the order he took them off, and of how I would marvel at how he got them back together.

“As a farmer’s wife, I have helped sort hogs, held sacks to be filled with grain, warmed baby pigs on the register, hauled grain, driven the tractor and was sent for many repair parts.

“I remember shared times when the girls and I rode along to feed the pigs or look over the growing crops, and times when we took a picnic lunch to the field to eat with their dad.

“Farming nurtures family ties in ways money can’t buy. We had barnyard conferences and talks around the dining room table.

“The harvest-or the satisfaction-doesn’t just happen. I see a comparison between the cultivation of the soil to that of other business opportunities.

“I can’t answer your question about satisfaction, but for me, accepting by faith the word of God is what sustains us in our times of pain. It is the preparation ahead of time that guarantees the successful completion of a task when the opportunity comes to perform it.

“As we grow older and look back, we feel satisfied and blessed with our nearly 60 years together. Our children and grandchildren and our friends are also the ties that contribute to our happiness. I see many problems that face people today that we didn’t have, but I think faith is still the substance of things hoped for.”

Just one thing.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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