OPINION – What’s the difference between a life lived with purpose and one that is not? It’s the difference between a collection of art supplies and a masterpiece.
Each of us has the potential and resources either within or around us to live lives of purpose but relatively few people chose to do so. The problem isn’t that we’re overly proud, it’s that most human beings habitually undervalue themselves.
G.K. Chesterton described this sad tendency in “The Defendant” when he wrote:
There runs a strange law through the length of human history — that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.
There are a number of factors that influence the decision to undervalue ourselves. Some people are intimidated by a fear of failure. Others tend to focus on their inabilities rather than their abilities. Whenever we find ourselves unwilling to pursue and defend our own dreams it usually stems from a lack of purpose in our lives.
To understand what is meant by purpose, it’s helpful to visualize four equally-sized circles slightly overlapping one another as they come together at a central point.
The first circle represents something about our lives that we we love doing. The next circle represents that we are great at doing it. The next circle epitomizes that we are paid to do it. The final circle is a representation of the fact that it’s something the world needs.
The junction of where our love of it overlaps with our talent for doing it exemplifies our passion. Where our “we are great at doing something” circle meets the one representing that “we are paid for it” is where we find our profession.
Where “we are paid for doing it” meets the circle representing how “the world needs it” is where we find our vocation.
And where “the world needs what we’re doing” combines with our “love of what we’re doing” is where our personal mission resides.
Purpose is found at the junction of our passion, our profession, our vocation, and our mission meet.
Many people in looking at such a diagram will quickly discover that they possess some, but not all, of the components that create the perfect combination of purpose.
Those who find that they are, in fact, living with purpose almost invariably express deep gratitude and feel great satisfaction in their lives. Their efforts haven’t made them better than everyone else, they’ve simply dialed into something that is uniquely theirs.
Examples of personal purpose include healing the sick, liberating the captive, feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant, proclaiming truth, and creating beauty. Note that none of these are dependent upon titles, political power, or social and financial standing.
A common misconception is that purpose only counts if our efforts are recounted in news stories or otherwise given awards and public acclaim. This falsely leads many to conclude that their efforts would be wasted or lost in the shuffle.
One of my favorite examples of the power of purpose was the life of my friend Lynn Patterson, of Cedar City, who died Tuesday.
Patterson was an absolute master at feeding the hungry and creating beauty. That some may not have heard of him in no way diminishes the excellence of his work.
I knew Patterson as the quiet, yet steady, creative force behind a number of high profile galas and formal events. His ability to turn modest resources into stunningly elegant decorations, meals, and displays was unmatched.
Patterson and his family created and ran a local Community Supported Agriculture farm called Red Acre Farm. Hundreds have benefited from his labors as he tirelessly worked his gardens.
Once, when my wife and I were dropping something off at his home, Patterson graciously invited us to stay and dine – even though they had just finished their dinner. What he prepared for us was gourmet quality but it was the unhesitating kindness with which he invited us to share a meal that made us feel like honored guests.
Our mutual friend Teri Helms perfectly summed up Lynn Patterson’s gifts; she said:
He understood with unwavering clarity the power and importance of feeding the hunger that exists within every human being for meaningful relationship. Just like he cultivated the earth, he was always about the most important business of valuing and investing in people.
As his friends and family gathered to lay him to rest this past weekend, smiles and laughter displaced the tears as we considered how the masterpiece of his life blessed everyone around him.
That’s the difference that living with purpose makes.
It can only happen when we finally recognize and act upon the knowledge that we’re much better people than we’ve been led to believe.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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