By Jim Whitt
A four-year-old girl was applying her artistic talents rather liberally to a coloring book her grandfather had given to her. It seems her crayon was straying beyond the defined boundaries. Being a good grandpa he wanted to keep her on the straight and narrow so he explained that she was supposed to color inside the lines. Her response was priceless, “Those aren’t my lines.”
That reminded me of an interesting experience I had at one of my recent speaking engagements. In my presentation I talked about the relationship between psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and fulfilling one’s purpose in life. Maslow said the highest of human needs is self-actualization — the need to fulfill our own unique potential. During a break, an audience member told me that he had learned about the concept of self-actualization while in college but that no professor had ever explained how to attain it.
That reminded me of a Wall Street Journal article by Robert Guth entitled Raising Bill Gates. It seems the Microsoft cofounder was a rather difficult child during early adolescence, pushing his parents to seek the counsel of a therapist: “‘I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,’ Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the psychologist told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.’” My mother read the same article and made a point of telling me that I had much in common with young Bill Gates. The problem was my folks couldn’t afford a therapist! Gates’ parents took the counselor’s advice to heart and gave young Bill a lot of rein. So much so, that a few years later when he announced he was dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft they didn’t object. We all know how that turned out.
Isn’t it strange that we are taught about self-actualization in our educational system but are never taught how to self-actualize? As children we ask our parents and teachers questions about what we are supposed to be or do when we grow up until we are told to stop asking so many questions. We’re told to go to school, get good grades, get good jobs, make as much money as we can, save as much money as we can and retire as comfortably as we can — then we die! We are taught to not color outside the lines. No wonder Bill Gates dropped out of college. He must have looked at the academic coloring book and thought, those are not my lines. So he left to draw his own and colored to his heart’s content.
No one ever told me how to self-actualize in school so I had to learn it on my own. One day when I was 35 years, 6 months and 16 days old I was coloring way outside the lines and discovered my purpose in life, to help people reach their full potential. At a meeting several years ago I followed a speaker from Microsoft who shared the organization’s purpose with the audience — to help people and organizations around the world reach their full potential. I guess Mom’s right, Bill Gates and I have a lot in common. The biggest difference between Bill and me is about $30 billion a year.
We give children coloring books and tell them to stay inside the lines. And they do. They go to school, get good grades, get good jobs and grow up to be frustrated crayon artists. They want to reach their full potential but are conditioned to never color outside the lines someone else drew! I meet them at my speaking engagements. They ask if I can help them. I tell them I can. It’s all in a book called The Transformational Power of Purpose: Finding & Fulfilling Your Purpose in Life. It’s a coloring book that helps people draw their own lines — then they color the picture of their lives.