By Jim Whitt
In the film Dead Poet’s Society Robin Williams portrays an instructor in a private school charged with the daunting challenge of teaching teenaged boys the value of poetry. In one poignant scene he huddles the entire class around him in the middle of his classroom and recites these lines penned by Walt Whitman: “O me! O life… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here ─ that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”
Then, as he searches the eyes of the young men, he asks, “What will your verse be?”
Author Po Bronson was asking himself a similar question. It ended up becoming the title of one of his books, What Should I do With My Life? It wasn’t like Bronson hadn’t been successful. He had already written three best sellers: The Nudist on the Late Shift, The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest and Bombardiers.
He described his quest on his web site: “For answers, I crossed the landscape of America to find people who have struggled to unearth their true calling – people of all ages, from all classes, of every profession, who have found fulfillment; those who fought with the seduction of money, intensity, and novelty, but overcame their allure; those who broke away from the chorus to learn the sound of their own voice.”
Are we merely mass produced clones in a chorus? Or does each individual possess a specific and unique voice? I agree with Shakespeare and Whitman. The world is a stage, life is a powerful play and we each have a role. The curtain was raised from the foundations of the world and each succeeding generation constitutes another act. New players continually appear to deliver their verses, and then exit to make way for others.
You were created with a unique voice to deliver a specific verse in life’s powerful play.
You Are Not a Clone
For most of our lives we hear purpose expressed in terms that define us as mere members of a chorus — that our purpose is to “serve God” or “to have relationship with God” or “to glorify God.” So, how do we “glorify” God? Jesus revealed how he glorified God while praying just hours before his crucifixion, “I glorified you (God) on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do.” If that is how the Son of God glorified God then how do we glorify God? By completing down to the last detail what he assigned us to do.
When we are fulfilling our purpose — our assignment — we are glorifying God. So it’s essential that we find out what that assignment is. According to the Avodah Institute, Avodah (Ah´-voe-dah) is a Hebrew word used in the Bible that has two distinct yet intertwined meanings: worship and work. What purer form of worship could there be than to be actively fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives through our work?
If God has the hairs on our heads numbered and a fallen sparrow doesn’t escape his notice, doesn’t it seem logical that each individual must play an important role in an intricately designed plan? If not, life is just a cruel experiment — reducing the role of the human species to little more than laboratory animals navigating the maze of reward and punishment, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.
There has to be a specific reason for my existence or I’m just an interchangeable part with anyone else. There has to be a reason for my uniqueness. If everyone’s purpose is the same, then why didn’t God just clone Adam?
In The 6th Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the role of a helicopter pilot who survives a near-fatal accident and returns to his home — only to find that he’s been replaced by an exact duplicate of himself, a clone.
I watched an interview with Arnie while he was out on the talk show circuit plugging The 6th Day. The host asked him if he would like to be cloned. “Yes,” he replied. “Because I want to do so many things and if there were two of me I could accomplish so much more.” I guess even then he was thinking about becoming governor of California.
After successfully cloning animals, it was only a matter of time before someone started thinking about cloning humans. Of course, the issue of cloning brings with it some sobering moral and ethical questions. Cloning plants and animals is one thing, but when we start thinking about cloning humans, we start wondering if man has gotten too big for his britches.
I don=t think we have to worry about there being two Arnolds. In his book, If I Knew Then What I Know Now, Bill Bonnstetter contends that even if someone could recreate you physically, no one could clone the part of you that’s really you:
Your mother’s body chemistry would need to be the exact replica of when you were in the womb. Some research suggests that outside environment has an effect on the baby before birth, so this variable would have to be duplicated as well. After your entrance into the world, every interaction and relationship would have to occur at exactly at the identical point of time and each response would have to be repeated exactly C after all we are looking for the perfect match. You see, in order to duplicate you, we must replicate the billions of interactions you have throughout your life, which is absolutely impossible.
There can’t be two of you. If you can be positively identified by your fingerprint, the pattern of the blood vessels in the retina of your eye, the unique swagger of your walk and the DNA in a single cell of a single strand of your hair doesn’t it only make sense that you were created for a singularly unique purpose?
Your Piece of the Puzzle
A play has many roles. Each is important. If each actor simply recited lines in the absence of the other actors the play wouldn’t make sense. The actors would deliver disconnected, meaningless lectures. Each actor’s lines are woven into the intricate tapestry of the entire story. Each role is different, yet each fulfills a purpose. Your roles may be multiple and varied but your purpose is singular and unique.
Imagine that you are a puzzle piece. By yourself what value do you have? Your uniqueness, devoid of the other pieces, renders you an ill-conceived object of abstract art. The fundamental principle of architectural design is “form follows function.” Your piece of the puzzle by itself has no function. That would make you dysfunctional. Dysfunctional people epitomize purposelessness.
What do you need to be functional? One, you need to be on purpose (delivering your verse) and two; you need to find how you fit with the other pieces in the big picture (the powerful play). The puzzle is only fully functional when all the pieces are in their proper place.
Maslow said that we have a need to give ourselves to something that is bigger than we are. We’re all standing around with a puzzle piece in our hands subconsciously asking, “Where does my piece of the puzzle fit in life’s big picture?” This is why so many people are not motivated in the workplace. They see no connection between their work and life’s big picture. The result is to work as little as possible to earn as much as possible to quit working as soon as possible. The ultimate goal in life for most people is retirement. What’s wrong with this picture? That’s just it. There is no picture.
Have you noticed how many people today are involved in some type of activist group? These people willingly contribute thousands of dollars to these causes. They show up at rallies and protests, and pay their own way. Why? Because they want to give themselves to something bigger than they are. They aren’t filling that need in their vocation so they look outside their work for a cause to believe in. They want their piece of the puzzle to count in life’s big picture.
In analyzing my own purpose and in helping others find and fulfill theirs, I’ve found four critical elements that are common to an individual’s purpose. Your purpose is PPSS:
• It is positive. You were created to make a positive contribution to life’s powerful play.
• It is powerful. Your purpose is part of something much bigger than you are. Your piece of the puzzle is critical.
• It is simple. It’s a verse, not a dissertation.
• And most importantly your purpose has something to do with serving others. You were not put here on earth to be self-serving.
Humans are the only animals that can choose to serve. It is the unique attribute of our superhuman race. All other animals must be forced to serve. They serve only when manipulated by reward and punishment.
In the brilliant Italian film, Life is Beautiful, Guido, the lead character, has gone to work in the restaurant of a hotel owned by his uncle. In one comical yet poignant scene, the uncle is tutoring Guido on the finer points of being a waiter, “Serving is a supreme art,” says the uncle. “God is the first servant.”
If we are indeed created in God’s image, then the most critical element of our purpose has to do with serving. Since serving is a supreme act it is a superhuman desire to serve others. The only way we can serve God is by serving others.
“I don’t know what your mission in life is,” said Albert Schweitzer, “but you’ll only find true happiness by serving others.” In some form or fashion, everyone’s purpose has to do with serving. It can be as altruistic as Mother Teresa caring for the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta or as capitalistic as Sam Walton building the world’s largest retailing empire on the simple philosophy of 100% customer satisfaction. Serving will bring you happiness. Serving will bring you success.
Your Superhuman Is A Servant
All of the superheroes in literature are selfless, tireless servants. They expect nothing in return for their noble acts. They are motivated not by reward and punishment but by the fulfillment of their purpose. They understand who they are in life’s big picture. Their service to others is a “supreme act.” That is why they are “super.” Super and supreme share this common definition in the dictionary — superiority over all others.
It is the superhuman that performs supreme acts, not our animal bodies. The animal survives by responding to legitimate needs and fears. The superhuman thrives by responding to the call of purpose. Your superhuman is supreme or superior because it is created in God’s image, a perfect reflection of his Creator.
Let me stress simple. Too often people think of their purpose in terms of a “mission statement.” The problem with this is the same problem with most organizations’ mission statements. They are so long and convoluted that any meaning they might possess is lost in the verbiage. And as I tell consulting clients, if no one can tell you what the mission is, there is no mission. People who have crafted personal mission statements have done just that — they’ve crafted them. Your purpose isn’t something you craft or conjure up. It’s something you already possess so you simply uncover it through a process of self-discovery.
I’ve stopped using the term “mission” because people automatically try to craft their purpose in “mission statement” terminology. Your purpose is not a page-long diatribe. Most mission statements are filled with “whats” and “hows.” Your purpose is the “why” behind the “whats” and “hows.” The “whats” and the “hows” are roles and vehicles which I’ll discuss in the next chapter. And you don’t define your purpose, you find your purpose. It has already been defined for you by God. It’s the reason you were created — your reason for being. It’s your verse — not the whole play.
The Quantum Leap
Chad came to one of our workshops carrying his “mission” statement. It was a page-long, typewritten, personal constitution in 8-point type developed from the many self-development seminars he had attended. In spite of all this verbiage, he was still searching for his purpose.
Chad is a strapping, 6’8” tall man’s man who played football at the University of Tulsa and likes to hunt and fish. He wanted to know his purpose and he wanted to know it now. If discovering one’s purpose was a matter of physical force, Chad would have squeezed it out of himself, or somebody else, a long time ago.
We often invite past participants to come to our workshops and share how they discovered their purpose and the impact it has made in their lives. In the workshop Chad attended, one of our past participants shared her story. She concluded her brief testimonial with, “My purpose is to shine the light.”
This, as I learned later, made Chad mad. “Here was this woman standing up there telling me that her purpose was to shine the light,” he told me. “It wasn’t fair. Her purpose was only three words. I had 3,000 words but no purpose.” But that was a catalyst that helped Chad make a “quantum leap” in the purpose process. After the workshop he described this to me in scientific terms. Although I knew our process worked I didn’t know how it worked. His description made sense to me so I asked him to write it down. Here’s Dr. Chad’s Quantum Physics of Purpose:
Quantum physics looks at the incredibly small relationships within and around the atom. Most of us have looked in some form or fashion at what is termed “Newtonian Physics” which deals with the study of such things as the way that matter interacts with other matter, i.e. velocity, gravity, etc. It can describe the order of planets or the energy exchange that occurs during a car accident or a game of pool.
Quantum physics on the other hand goes much smaller and describes the interactions of electrons, how they surround the nucleus and other subatomic actions. It looks at the electrons, protons and neutrons and takes into account that the rules of regular physics change dramatically when we reduce to the subatomic level. This is where the purpose workshop fits in. Hang on to find out how.
Quantum physics describes the particles that make up the subatomic particles. It gets real small real quick. The electrons don’t really orbit the nucleus like planets; they are really like blurred probabilities around it. Protons and neutrons are really made of three quarks each with a flavor and one of three colors. Oh, and let’s not forget the gluons (what a great name!) that act as glue to hold the whole mess together.
All this craziness was started with the idea of the quanta. A quanta is the smallest amount of energy that an electron can give off or absorb when a change of energy level occurs. This is where it relates back to the concept of orbiting planets. To get from one level to the next or back to the original level, an amount of energy is given off or absorbed by the “orbiting” electrons. It also can be related to stories in a building. A person cannot get off the elevator between the third and fourth floors. You have to either get off on the third or the fourth. When a person does get off there is a certain amount of “weight and space” or “energy” that is either given up or received. When electrons exchange levels or blurred probabilities of levels in their relationship to the nucleus they give off a whole number of quantas.
The concept to grasp here is that it takes a certain amount of energy to be used or given off to get to or from a certain level and it can only be a whole number amount.
Some of us try, in our search for purpose, to give a little effort towards finding our purpose. At the purpose workshop one of the things that become evident is when people start reaching their supernatural level of purposeful revelation. We hear things like, “I just found my purpose. I got it” or “Wow, I have known that all the time, but I just now connected with it.” These are supernatural moments where the quanta level of understanding is given off or received and the perfect fit is established for revelation of your purpose. These people have just made a “quantum leap” from searching for their purpose to having it revealed to them by God. Their purpose had been out there the whole time in a level of “blurred probabilities.” They have just released the just-right “quanta” amount of energy for it to be revealed.
I can’t improve on that. It’s impossible to predict exactly how or when someone receives the revelation. The main thing to keep in mind is not to worry about it but stay engaged in the process. Your purpose might be revealed to you at anytime while you are reading this book or completing one of the exercises. It may happen after reading chapter one or three weeks after you’ve finished the book. It may come to you while you’re jogging. That’s when my wife, Sondra, discovered her purpose. It came to her one day while jogging on her mini-trampoline and listening to a Leo Buscalia tape on her walkman.
We have people who discover their purpose at different times during our workshops and some who discover it after the workshop. One of our participants, Trisha, left frustrated only to discover her purpose two weeks later on a flight home from a vacation. As she looked out the window at the wing of the plane, the words of a popular song came to mind:
It hit me as we were landing at DFW, “wind beneath the wings.” My purpose is to be the wind beneath the wings of people I love. Whether it be my sister campaigning for her husband or my friend who is beginning a new business or Ike (Trisha’s husband); I want to be their invisible support that helps them to “fly.” I was very reluctant to tell my friends because I was afraid they would laugh or think it was very corny. But when I finally told them they all agreed that this was without a doubt my purpose and even gave me other examples of how I have always been doing it.
A couple of weeks after attending one of our workshops, Debbie wrote to tell me of a dream she had:
I had a wild dream last night and the phrase that kept going over and over in my mind throughout that dream was, “help others find their dream.” I don’t know if this is my “purpose” or not and I don’t know where to go from here, but I’m wondering if this is my purpose I’ve been looking for.
I know that I have a great desire to help people find out what they want to be or what direction they want to go in life. I am particularly interested in helping high school students find out what direction they want to go in. It angers me that there are not more programs in high school that help those students with career choices. Many of them do not go on to college because they don’t know what they want to do so they do what is familiar to them — continue their “career” with the part-time job they have had through high school or go to work doing something their parents are doing or whatever.
So, maybe this is a passion I should explore — just don’t know where to start.
Anyway, I thought I would share this with you. You said that “it would just come to you one day” and this one came in a dream.
Debbie experienced the “quantum leap” in a dream. When you are searching for your purpose be prepared. It’s like Candid Camera — don’t be surprised if sometime, somewhere, someplace when you least expect it, God steps up to you and says, “Smile! This is your purpose!”
Kirbyjon Caldwell graduated from the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA. He did a stint on Wall Street then returned to his native Houston to work for a bond firm. But the path of God’s purpose included a supernatural detour. He quit his job and enrolled in seminary. His first assignment after graduation was a church with 25 members in a middle-class black neighborhood in Houston. Today it has over 10,000 members.
But that’s just part of the story. Using his financial expertise he founded the Power Center, which pumps $30 million into Houston’s economy each year and employs nearly 300 people. The Power Center includes a small business center, a private school, a technology center, a hospital clinic and a bank.
“They say there are two great moments in your life,” Caldwell was quoted in a USA Weekend article. “When you are born and then when you know why you are born.” What’s it like when you know why you were born? He described it like this, “It was like an eclipse, when your mind, psyche, soul and spirit line up in perfect harmony with God’s primary purpose for your being.”
Sounds like the Quantum Physics of Purpose to me.
The Transformational Power of Purpose: Finding & Fulfilling Your Purpose in Life contains exercises at the end of each chapter that will help you find your purpose in life and set you on the path of its fulfillment.