Curly’s Law: How a Fictitious Hollywood Cowboy Showed Me the Meaning of Life

By Seamus Anthony

Part Two of a Three Part Series (here’s the first)

By Seamus Anthony

One line from the cheesy 1991 movie City Slickers (yes, the one starring Billy Crystal) helped me to achieved absolute and total spiritual enlightenment in a blinding flash of inspiration.

And no, I am not kidding you.
Well, actually … maybe just a little bit 😉

But the point is I did get something amazing out of that film and this is a thing that I later came to see being referred to as “Curly’s Law“.

Curly’s law states simply this: Do One Thing

curly's law city slickers

Curly was the tough old cowboy character played by the late Jack Palance. Here’s the scene from the movie where Curly espouses his life philosophy to Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

Now that little nugget of wisdom is so simple, that I dare say you’ve watched that movie more than once and never really gave that statement much thought at all. But I am telling you now that – unconventional source that it may come from – there is enough power in that little statement to change the world for ever, and to make the difference between you achieving your dreams or not.

The reason it blew my puny little mind so hard is because for years I had been struggling with the fact that I never seemed to be getting any real lasting results, either in terms of income or of artistic satisfaction, when I was always running around busy on a number of awesome projects. If I had so many great projects on the go, then why wasn’t i getting he pay off?

Well, when I watched that old cowboy hold up his finger I suddenly got it – I had a Zen-like Satori moment. Satori is a blinding flash of insight that brings instant enlightenment. I suddenly saw that my problem was that I wasn’t ever truly focusing with the kind of laser like intensity that I should have on just One Thing. I needed to discover what my One True Thing was and just do that.

But this wasn’t an easy thing to do. I am a musician who loves writing who loves entrepreneurship who loves personal development and spirituality – that’s four things! Which was I going to do? I tried to make myself just choose one but I couldn’t because this just seemed forced and I knew I would always be wishing I could write something if I just chose music or that I could start a cool business if I was only writing or whatever. So I decided to chill out and get to the bottom of the problem.

To cut a long story short I eventually came to the realisation that beneath my different interests lay a common factor – everything that I loved doing (career wise) revolves around media. If I am doing a music gig, well that’s about promoting my recorded work and it also leads to people being interested in buying my writing. And my writing is most often about personal development. And my personal development entrepreneurial ideas tend to be about selling media products designed to enrich people’s lives. So essentially my One Career Thing is media and the different aspects of that all complement the single main career purpose, so whatever I am doing, whether it be writing, making music, or working on my personal development business interests, I am always working away at my Career One Thing which is Media.

But What About The Meaning of Life?

Oh yeah, that.

Well, above and beyond the career question, I felt the need to go deeper and find out what my One Thing for my whole life is. My Definite Major Purpose as Napoleon Hill calls it in Think and Grow Rich, and as it is more commonly known, my True Life Purpose.

Whoa … a heavy question. In City Slickers, it is basically implied that Billy’s Crtsytal’s One Thing is his family, but to me that seems a bit one dimensional. Family is certainly one of the most important aspects of life to me but yet I still felt that there was something deeper, or higher, that underpinned everything like Family, Career, etc.

I had to go through a process to find this out (the complexity of which is beyond the scope of this article) but I did come to a realisation of my true Life Purpose, One Thing, or Major Definite Purpose.

I don’t believe it helps me to go telling every person in the world what this is, because it would read trite compared to the intensity of the the experience of discovering this One Thing and the power that keeping my focus on this thing brings into my life. But I am here to tell you today that if you can go back and discover what your One Thing is, well you will never look back and a lot of your problems and frustrations and confusion will dissapear into thin air once and for all.

So by now you may be thinking “Gee how did we get from a cowboy whose One Thing was simply ‘bein’ a cowboy’ to deep and meaningful shit like the above? And where’s the one-thingness gone anyway? You’ve been talking about all kinds of things…”

Well, to clarify: What I am saying is that when you discover what your overall One Thing is in your life, you will then find it easier to identify your lesser One Things, or if you like, your Sub-Things. For example, underneath your Major One Thing might come four headings “career” “family” health” and “society” (you might have more headings, or different ones, it’s just an example). And each of those could be broken down into smaller and smaller subsections, like in a family tree or the random company employee-structure diagram below that I grabbed off the ‘tubes.

And you can keep breaking these things down until you get to the level of your daily To Do List. And here’s where the power of Curly’s Law really kicks in on a couple of levels.


Firstly, you will know that everything that is on your To Do List is congruous with your One Major Thing, and that if it’s not, then you should just shaft that thing out of your life.

Secondly, when you are doing anything, JUST DO THAT ONE THING. Here’s where all of the Zen stuff you’ve ever read comes in. Zen masters say that true enlightenment comes from Present Moment Awareness which means only putting your focus on whatever is happening in this moment right now. That’s what the Zen dudes are on about when they are doing archery or flower arranging or of course meditating, they are just focussing on the thing that they are experiencing at this precise moment now.

And that’s how they find such contentment and fulfimment and inner peace. Think about it, when you are doing something that you enjoy so much that you are absorbed in the ‘flow’ of what you are doing to the exclusion of everything else that is there to distract you should you allow, don’t you feel at peace? Maybe you love knitting, and when you knit you just count and twiddle your needles and stare at the wall and become very peaceful because you are just knitting, you are not knitting while checking your emails, while wondering what you are going to have for dinner while talking to your husband, you are just knitting and that is why you are at peace.

Simplicity brings peace because it eliminates tension. Complexity causes tension.

Just Do One Thing.

The cowboy said it, the multi-millionaire said, and I am saying it.

Just Do One Thing and you will experience greater success and inner peace in your life than ever before.

“Wait A Minute? What multi-millionaire?”

I didn’t I mention him yet? Well you will have to wait until the next post in the series about Curly’s Law, where I show you examples of mega-successful dudes and how they used mono-maniacal obsession to get to the top of their chosen fields.

Hi, I'm Seamus Anthony. I am an author, artist and musician from Australia. Here at Rebel Zen, I document my journey as an creative artist and human and in doing so, hopefully help you in your own progress through your life of creativity. Go get your free E-book by me: "Taming The Monkey Mind".