It's hardly a secret that Barack Obama, like every president no doubt, muses about his ultimate legacy and spot in the presidential pantheon. He approaches his second term confronting tough and shifting challenges that will play big roles in shaping the rest of his presidency and his eventual place in history.
In the coming months, Obama will have to decide where to be ambitious, where to be cautious, and where to buy time.
He draws political strength from his surprisingly easy re-election in a bad economy. It's partly offset, however, by Republicans' continued control of the House, plus their filibuster powers in the Senate.
Some of the big issues awaiting the president's decisions are familiar, long-simmering problems. They include immigration and the need for a tenable balance between taxes, spending and borrowing. (Read More: Obama: 'I Still Think We Can Get This Done'
Another issue, gun control, jumped to the national agenda's top tier this month following the massacre of first-graders and teachers in a Connecticut school. And the issue of climate change remains unresolved. (Read More: Obama Names Biden to Head Gun-Control Effort)
Veteran politicians and presidential historians say it's almost impossible for Obama to "go big" on all these issues. Indeed, it might prove difficult to go big on even one. While some counsel caution, others urge the president to be as bold and ambitious as possible.
"Americans are yearning for leadership," said Gil Troy, a presidential scholar at McGill University.