“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.” – Daniel Burnham
I sat in a line of cars waiting for a light to change to green to release the compliant flock to pastures beyond. The Jeep in front of me had a vanity plate with “YOLO” and what I’d guess was their age when they bought the Jeep. YOLO is a trendy acronym nowadays, and part of me is glad to see it. Not the self-absorbed Instagram look-at-me–selfie! YOLO, but the what will you do with this one precious life YOLO.
What I like about the Burnham quote is that it gets to the heart of it; what is your contribution going to be? Will it inspire current and future generations or will it sink into the abyss of anonymous whispers? Look, a ripple is a ripple just the same, but what if you could make a real splash while you’re here? Seems like a nice way to cap a life.
Daniel Burnham was a force of nature back in his time, with his architectural firm designing projects as diverse and continually fascinating as the Flatiron Building in New York and The White City for the Chicago World’s Fair. As a diabetic, he suffered health issues later in his life. He famously learned about the death of his friend Francis Millet when he attempted to reach him with a telegraph as Burnham was sailing east on the SS Olympic while Millet was sailing west on the Titanic. Burnham would also die that year, though less dramatically. By all accounts he lived a large life, filled with big projects that echo across the landscape and our imagination today. I’d guess Burnham, as in his own time, might shake his head at the transactional nature of many projects built designed today, but wonder in awe at the scope of others.
So what of our own plans? Will their scope awe our grandchildren or will we be a curiosity, a relay runner who once passed the baton to another runner who passed it to them in the short sprint through life? Our sons and daughters and grandchildren will do things that would stagger us. Hell, they already are. That is as it should be. So what is your own magic that stirs the blood of those around you? Make no small plans.