How to Discover Your Purpose in Life

Finding a worthy purpose in life is key to one's success.

Finding a worthy purpose in life is key to one’s success.

The late Zig Ziglar said people were either “wandering generalities” or “meaningful specifics.” Those who wander aimlessly through life with little to no sense of purpose or commitment fall into the first group, and those who know what they want and are heading in that direction comprise the second. You want to be in the second group. You want to be a “meaningful specific.”

Self-help guru Anthony Robbins writes: “There are people…who seem constantly lost in a fog of confusion. They go one way, then another. They try one thing, then shift to another. They move down one path and then retreat in the opposite direction. Their problem is simple: They don’t know what they want. You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it is.”

You want to be in the group that knows where it’s headed. You want to be in a group that knows for what it’s aiming. You want to be the kind of person sets goals – or “targets” as Mr. Robbins says – and who can measure his or her success by hitting a target and moving onto the next one.

The best way to accomplish this is by identifying a general story arc for your life and then setting a series of incremental goals to move you along that arc. It may seem awkward or even corny to think of your life as a story, but that’s essentially what it is. Several years ago, I taught high school history, and I would challenge my students to see history not as a collection of names, dates, and facts to memorize, but rather as a collection of stories to enjoy and learn from. When I think of the American Revolution, I don’t see a bunch of dates, names, and places. I see a story of ordinary people embracing a “glorious cause” (as George Washington described it), facing incredible odds, and emerging in triumph to start the greatest nation the world has ever seen! The same dynamic is at play in any era of American history, whether we’re talking about the Civil War, the fight against slavery and segregation, the struggle for women’s suffrage, or America’s victory in the Cold War. And in the midst of all these exciting time periods are people — heroes and villains, activists and spectators, human beings all. These are people with individual stories of achievement and adversity — of mistakes and setbacks. Some of them, like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, completed their journey to become great statesmen and heroes. Others, like Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, John Wilkes Booth, and Lee Harvey Oswald, went the other direction.

Knowing one’s overall purpose and direction in life helps keep a person honest and on track. While people may compromise and will certainly make mistakes, if they have a definite purpose in life, they can get back on the path and resume their trek to success and fulfillment.

The first step then in creating your story arc is to determine your major, definite, overall purpose in life. You can accomplish this by asking yourself a series of questions:

  • What do you want to be known for or remembered as?
  • What kind of mark do you want to leave?
  • What kind of difference do you want to make in the world around you and in the lives of those you care about?
  • What do you want to be, do, or have in life?

If you’re a person of faith, this story arc creation process should be (to steal a phrase from a former pastor of mine) “bathed in prayer.” You will never be happy if you’re not congruent, and to be congruent, you must act in accordance with your deep values and convictions. A person of faith must tie this process in with his or her faith.

If you’re not at present a person of faith, this is a time for you to really confront the highest questions of existence and reality. Don’t go through life as a “wandering generality.” If America’s Founders were correct and there is a Creator, the most important connection or relationship for any person to pursue is with that Creator.

Whatever your faith perspective, being clear on your core convictions, deep passions, and personal aspirations is critical. Don’t skip this step. All others flow from it. The clearer you are on your purpose, the clearer you will be about life.

Why Presidents Day is Celebrated (and Why it Shouldn’t Be!)

720px-US-WhiteHouse-Logo.svgWant to know why Presidents’ Day is celebrated? Well, the generally understood (though not official) purpose of “Presidents Day” (alternately spelled President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or Presidents Day) is to celebrate the American presidency and remember all those who served as President of the United States. This, however, is not the actual, legal purpose of the holiday.

The Origin of Presidents Day

In 1885, Congress officially set aside February 22 as a national holiday to honor the birth of America’s first President, George Washington. Thus, the holiday we know as “Presidents Day” began as a day to celebrate only one President. And, legally, it is still (at least at the federal level) a day exclusive to George Washington.

In the decades following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, there began a movement to honor the 16th President as well as our first one. Since Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) fell so close to Washington’s birthday (February 22 by the modern calendar), it became popular and fashionable to celebrate both birthdays. (Those readers who have birthdays on or close to December 25 understand how this kind of thing happens). Some states began doing this.

In the 1960s, Congress considered officially re-naming Washington’s holiday to “Presidents Day” to honor both men. That was shot down, but Congress did pass the Monday Holidays Act, taking Washington’s birthday holiday away from his actual birthday and moving it to the third Monday in February.

By the late 1980s, thanks to several states and (most significantly) retail establishments advertising “Presidents Day” sales on TV, the name “Presidents’ Day” stuck in popular culture.

Most businesses, calendars, and individuals now say “Presidents Day” rather than “George Washington’s Birthday Observed” (even though the latter is the federally designated, official name for the February holiday).

The Legacy of Presidents Day

Though the original intent behind the “Presidents Day” concept was to honor both Lincoln and Washington, the day has lost much of its significance. It now stands as a weak celebration of all our Presidents.
And, most people pass by the holiday with little regard for its meaning anyway. They simply see it as a day off work. An extra day to travel, visit family, or shop.

The Monday Holidays Act may be good for the economy and convenient for families, but it’s terrible for holiday celebrations. After all, the root concept behind “holiday” is “holy day” – a day to set someone or something aside as sacred and worthy of celebration.

Of course, I’m not saying that George Washington was holy. He was a flesh-and-blood human being — one flawed in many areas. But the original dream (carried out in 1885 by federal law) to honor the Father of our Country with a day set aside for esteem and celebration has long vanished.

And, for that matter, those who wish to honor Abraham Lincoln by hijacking Washington’s day have fared little better. Their man has also been lost in the ambiguous, meaningless “Presidents Day.”

Moving Forward

At this point, the term “Presidents Day” is deeply entrenched in American culture and in popular lexicon. Eradicating it will be nigh unto impossible, unless we move “Presidents Day” to another date (say January 20 when we inaugurate Presidents?) or return Washington’s birthday holiday to the actual day of his birth. As for honoring Lincoln, the expensive solution (expensive in terms of cost to the federal government, but perhaps good for the economy) is to have two holidays in February. Give both Washington and Lincoln their own individual day.

Whatever our society decides, the status quo is unacceptable. At a time when the American people repeatedly demonstrate a pathetic ignorance of basic history and civics, we should be holding up our nation’s father, not relegating him to irrelevancy. Maybe some day enough Americans will recognize that, without George Washington, they likely wouldn’t have a nation to live in, let alone a holiday in February to appreciate. It will be great day for America if that awakening ever occurs.

America’s Greatest Leader Dies…216 Years Ago Today

washington-death1Two hundred sixteen years ago today (December 14), George Washington breathed his last breaths and slipped into eternity. The death of George Washington marked the passing of America’s greatest leader – then and since. To be sure, our nation has been blessed with wonderful leaders, including several of Washington’s contemporaries (the men we know as “the Founding Fathers”) and many of our Presidents, military leaders, civil rights activists, and religious figures throughout history. But Washington tops them all given the sheer breadth of his experience (political, business, and military leadership) as well as the indispensable nature of his contributions. Without Washington, there would be no United States of America today.

While certainly an imperfect man (Washington, after all, was a slave owner – though a progressive one whose conscience led him to manumission), George Washington embodied the highest ideals of character and service. Faced with the temptation of becoming dictator (or perhaps king) after the American Revolution, Washington instead chose retirement. Then the nation’s leaders begged him out of retirement to supervise the Constitutional Convention and to accept the presidency under the new Constitution. Washington faithfully served two terms and, once again, turned over the reins of power and headed home to Mount Vernon.

Anyone wishing to be a great leader should look to the life and legacy of George Washington. To steal a phrase from one of Tina Turner’s songs, Washington was “simply the best.”

In the end, Abraham Lincoln summed up Washington’s legacy the best: “To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked, deathless splendor, leave it shining on.”

6 Leadership Principles Every Leader or Manager Must Know

When I was in my teens and twenties, I wanted to be a leader. Those who knew me well back then will remember how high those aspirations were. Whatever God had in store for me, I knew leadership was a part of it. And while I’ve not (yet) led any countries or Fortune 500 companies, my expectation to spend my life in leadership has come true.

In the course of my professional career, I’ve been a project coordinator, non-profit middle manager, private school teacher, department chair, the administrator of a small private school, and the pastor of two churches. And I can say this: leadership isn’t always fun.

With this blog post, I want to share six principles I’ve learned are crucial to understanding what leadership is really all about…

1. Leadership is based on responsibility.

Leadership is NOT about giving orders or being in the limelight. It’s about responsibility. You’re not a true leader, unless you fully and completely engage the people you’re working with and totally embrace the responsibilities you’ve been given.

2. Leaders get criticized.

Most of my life, I recoiled from, withdrew from, and tried to avoid confrontation and criticism. Unfortunately (for my sensitivity), leadership is all about agitation and confrontation. Why? Because leadership involves change. It involves moving people from one place to another and challenging people to do X or Y, when they may have other plans. It involves sticking your neck out. And, quite often, it means that you’ll get criticized — sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently. Sometimes, the criticism is based on a misunderstanding. Being misjudged and criticized unfairly is the hardest type of criticism. Of course, sometimes, the criticism has merit. 🙂 And a good leader learns from it and is humble enough to admit when he or she is wrong.

3. Leaders disappoint others.

My nature is that I want to encourage everyone and make everyone around me feel good. It’s why I love to crack jokes and have developed a sense of humor (that is, at least SOME of the time, effective 🙂 ). But there are times when the laughter needs to stop and tough decisions need to be made, and people get hurt or disappointed. And the leader is right at the center of it, and there’s nowhere to hide. A good leader has to stand up straight, make the tough decisions, and accept that he or she will at times be misunderstood. And that, at times, some people, including solid, good, wonderful people, might be hurt or upset due to his or her decisions or actions.

4. Leaders must be followers.

No leader can become a leader, unless he or she is first a follower. And not only that, but no leader can remain a leader, unless he or she remains a follower.

5. Leaders must be accountable.

As Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here.” Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of being a part of organizations in which I exercised some influence, safely under an umbrella of managers and leaders above me. That’s not the case, when you advance in levels of responsibility. While a certain amount of lee-way and patience can and should be extended to leaders at the top (when it comes to mistakes, inefficiencies, problems, etc. within the organization), there comes a point where all eyes are on the leader to address situations and resolve problems. And there’s nowhere the leader can run or hide. The leader is…the leader. And he or she is accountable as such.

6. It’s easier to give an opinion, than to make a decision.

When I was lower in the leadership food chain, I had lots of opinions and ideas. And I would often share them. The higher up I got, the more aware I became that sometimes, leaders must say ‘no’ to ideas, even sometimes GOOD ideas, because of the need to maintain direction and balance in the organization overall. Giving an opinion is easy. Opinions are the cheapest commodity on earth. Making a decision is hard, because it affects more than simply your mood or state of mind or even your life. As a leader, the decisions you make affect a lot of people. This requires wisdom. And wisdom is not a cheap commodity. It is, in fact, more precious than gold and all the rare gems in the earth. And it’s something I pray for every day.


Success is in Your Blood

7086297_mBillions of people live on planet Earth today, and a staggering number of them are going through life each day believing they are not worthy of love or happiness and that they are incapable of achieving their dreams.

The truth is that you have incredible value and potential. You are, in fact, created for success. In the words of the magnificent document that started the United States of America, all members of the human race “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While our nation has struggled through its history to live up these noble ideals, it must be acknowledged that the principles of the Declaration of Independence have provided inspiration for hundreds of millions of people and bear a great deal of responsibility for the rapid rise and success of the United States as a nation.

If the Declaration of Independence is correct (and I believe that it is), then it means that the Creator of this universe has endowed you with not only life, but with the capacity to pursue a life of accomplishment and happiness. You have a destiny carved into your humanity. You have potential for greatness stamped on your very soul.

For some of you, this talk of a soul and of a Creator may be unsettling, but who are we to argue with the Founders on such a fundamental point?

What’s this all have to do with blood? Well, your blood delivers essential substances, such as nutrients and oxygen, to your body’s cells, while also transporting away metabolic waste taken from those same cells. I’m not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m not qualified to elaborate on blood’s nature and functionality much more than that. I would, however, like to take that concept of blood flow (specifically as it relates to the delivery of vital materials and the removal of waste) and apply it to our personal development. In order to succeed, we need a healthy mental delivery-and-transportation network that brings in the good stuff and takes away the bad.

If you will purpose in your mind to retain and focus on the good stuff, while learning from and then discarding the bad, you will be positioned for an extraordinary life indeed. And then you can truly know that…

Success is in your blood.

Is There Such a Thing as Absolute Truth?

The question of whether objective, absolute truth exists normally comes up in philosophical and religious circles, but it’s also become a matter of considerable interest and discussion in self-help circles. The other day, a blog I frequent had an article titled “There is No Such Thing as Absolute Truth.” In the article, Rene A. Bastarache, a hypnotist and self-help blogger, contends that “every viewpoint” you’ve absorbed “has been taught according to the ulterior motive, understanding or individual perception of the person teaching it,” and therefore is more akin to “propaganda” than objective truth. Is he right?

There is no such thing as Absolute Truth?

When one says “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” it immediately begs the question of whether that assertion is true. The very statement itself is self-defeating, since the point it’s making is presented as….an absolute truth.

In the article, Bastarache makes the argument that people all have their own biases, perspectives, agendas, and so forth and that we humans rarely agree on what is true. In the face of this confusion, how can we be sure that truth exists? The fact that people disagree about what constitutes truth does not, in and of itself, negate truth claims. Many people in the course of human history (and some even today) believed the earth was flat. They were (and are) objectively incorrect in that belief, regardless of how long they held the belief or how sincere they were.

Even when it comes to the sensitive issue of religion, not all religious claims are relative. While it’s true that people’s religious beliefs are influenced (perhaps decisively) by their upbringing and/or cultural perspective, many of the basic truth claims from the various world religions are assertions of fact, not feelings. And many of them can (and should) be tested. Either Jesus of Nazareth lived in first century Judea and was crucified — or not. Either Jesus rose from the dead — or not. Either Muhammad (Mohammed) was a prophet or he was not. And so forth. These aren’t simply matters of preference or belief. To say that they are would be like saying it’s only a matter of belief or opinion whether Julius Caesar existed.

Perspective is Relative — Truth is Not

I agree with Bastarache that bias, setting, and other circumstancial factors — things which make up one’s perspective — are indeed relative. In other words, each person has a relative perspective in relation to people and events. But this doesn’t mean the referent is relative. A referee on the football field can only see what he can personally observe. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things happening outside his field of vision.

A person may have an emotional reaction to a particular dish he or she is served at a restaurant based on a long-standing bias or past experience, but that doesn’t negate the fact that such a dish is now on the table. While my thoughts and feelings are certainly critical in shaping my attitude as well as in developing effective goals for growth or improvement, my thoughts and feelings do not change the facts themselves. Reality is still reality.

The Truth and Your Success

Those of you who have read Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Oprah Winfrey, and other personal development gurus may resist the idea that reality is absolute or, in any way, limiting. But your resistance is unnecessary. I’m not saying you need to be stuck in your current reality. I’m arguing that you need to be consciously aware of the current reality in which you live as well as where you’re headed in life.

All of the self-help gurus extol the virtues of clearly understanding your starting point (your present reality) and then, through education, planning, and discipline, developing and executing a plan that will take you from Point A to Point B. And while they have a lot to say about attitude, confidence, beliefs, and perspective, none of them advocate tossing common sense out the window. For example, in his classic Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement, Anthony Robbins writes: “If you’re four feet eleven inches tall, there’s no sense deciding your outcome is to win the NBA slam dunk contest next year. No matter what you try, it won’t happen (unless you work well on stilts).”

As a voracious reader of personal development literature, I know how pervasive the view is that beliefs dictate reality. Henry Ford, for instance, once said: “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Please understand that the context of this quote is confidence and personal achievement. Neither Ford nor any other self-help author is saying that your beliefs affect whether the sun rises tomorrow or whether gravity exists or whether your favorite baseball team wins the World Series. What Ford and those like him are saying is that, when given the chance to seize an opportunity, perform a task, or make a contribution, your sense of confidence will determine your level of effectiveness and degree of success.

This doesn’t prove that truth is relative. On the contrary, it is itself an absolute truth.

The Power of Positive Beliefs

Anyone who disciplines his or her mind to adhere to a positive outlook on life and a deep and abiding sense of belief and faith will experience greater success and happiness than those who live in doubt, fear, or anxiety. This is something which is true for every person in every part of the world, regardless of the specific religious belief system he or she embraces. Belief has great inherent power.

The Power of Human Belief

Those with strong belief will generally go much further in life and enjoy their lives much more fully than those without such faith or belief. This is true whether the object of their belief and/or faith is themselves, other people, a cause or country, an inanimate object, or a Higher Power. And this truth has been affirmed by most religions and the overwhelming majority of self-help and personal development thought leaders throughout human history. Here’s a sampling:

  • “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” -Gautama Buddha
  • “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” -Marcus Aurelius
  • “We can’t have full knowledge all at once. We must start by believing; then afterwards we may be led on to master the evidence for ourselves.” -Thomas Aquinas
  • “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs.” -James Allen
  • “In any project the important factor is your belief. Without belief there can be no successful outcome.” -William James
  • “By thought, the thing you want is brought to you. By action, you receive it.” -Wallace Wattles 
  • “Man, alone, has the power to transform his thoughts into physical reality; man, alone, can dream and make his dreams come true.” -Napoleon Hill
  • “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” -Mahatma Gandhi
  • “You become what you think about most of the time.” –Earl Nightingale
  • “You must understand that seeing is believing, but also know that believing is seeing.” –Denis Waitley
  • “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.” -Anthony Robbins


Consider, as but one example, the power of the placebo. The so-called “placebo effect” is when patients have experienced noticeable improvement in their health as a result of treatments which they believed would be effective, even though the treatments (in and of themselves) contained no scientific or medical properties to make them effective. The placebo effect, of course, cannot boast a 100% success rate, but there are too many instances of real success to dismiss it as mere coincidence.

The fact is that belief itself has real power.

What About Religious Faith?

Many people of faith are uncomfortable with (and some are downright resistant to) this idea that Belief = Power. This is unfortunate and it betrays the fact that many people today are incapable of or unwilling to engage in critical thought and analysis.

There are different forms of belief and different levels of success. When it comes to successfully asking someone out on a date, doing well on a job interview, raising money for a business venture, or even (more generally) developing a positive outlook on life, belief indeed has power! No religion or faith group will deny this. An atheist with a strong sense of self-confidence and a disciplined, positive mindset will likely be more effective on a job interview than will a Bible-believing Christian suffering from a poor self-image or negative attitude.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he based the logic of the Founders’ reasoning (which was their explanation and justification for rebelling against Great Britain) on the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Specifically, he referred to “rights” and “self-evident truths” that stem from said Laws. If we agree with Jefferson (and a great many other social and political philosophers) that there is such a thing as natural law, then we accept that God has woven into the fabric of reality itself certain laws, like the Law of Gravity, the Law of Causality, and (to some extent) the Law of Attraction.

Want biblical support for the Law of Attraction? Look no further than the book of Proverbs. Here are just three verses from Proverbs which address its basic premise…

  • “For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he…” -Proverbs 23:7a
  • “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” -Proverbs 18:21a
  • “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” –Proverbs 17:21

I find much of what has been written concerning the “Law of Attraction” to be bogus, especially the idea that we are responsible for everything that happens to us (as some purveyors of the Law of Attraction maintain) and that there’s this all-powerful, impersonal, pantheistic Universe (similar to the “Force” in Star Wars). I’m a monotheist, not a pantheist. But…

Whatever your feelings regarding pantheism or monotheism, people can and do influence the circumstances around them as well as the attitudes and behavior of others via their own thoughts and attitudes. In this way, we do tend to attract a kind of life that reflects what our minds consistently think about and dwell on. This is common sense and, in no way, does it undermine Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other mainstream religious faith.

Of course, speaking for myself, I believe there are other considerations to keep in mind when it comes to the religion. There may be some truth to the Law of Attraction, but there are other truths worth our time and attention as well. And I encourage all of you reading this article to explore which religion you believe is the most logically coherent and evidentially supported.

Having the Right Beliefs

Wherever you are on your spiritual or religious journey, know that the nature of your beliefs will dictate the course and quality of your life. Make sure they are the right ones. As the ancient biblical proverb says: “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

How to Make Your Speech More Politically Correct

We live in the Age of Political Correctness. There’s growing pressure in our society today to sanitize our behavior and actions so that we not offend anyone and that we, to every extent possible, safeguard our self-image as well as the self-esteem of everyone with whom we come in contact. Evidence of this exists all around us, and there are many reasons for us to be concerned, since political correctness and the freedom of speech (not to mention, religious freedom) cannot peacefully coexist for long.

But for today’s post, I want to take a lighter look at the subject by posting some examples of how people particularly sensitive to political correctness should adjust their words and change their patterns of speech. Here are some examples, courtesy of The Mammoth Book of 10,000 Zingers (edited by Geoff Tibballs):

  • “I am not stupid; I suffer from minimal cranial development.”
  • “I am not lazy; I am energetically declined.”
  • “I am not clumsy; I am uniquely coordinated.”
  • “I do not eat like a pig; I suffer from reverse bulimia.”
  • “I am not weird; I am behaviorally different.”
  • “I am not short; I am anatomically compact.”
  • “I am not overweight; I am gravity-enhanced.”
  • “I am not late; I have a rescheduled arrival time.”
  • “I am not unemployed; I am involuntarily leisured.”
  • “I am not a lousy cook; I am microwave-compatible.”

Once again, the above list is courtesy of Geoff Tibballs’ The Mammoth Book of 10,000 Zingers. I cannot fully recommend all the zingers in his book, since more than a few are considerably off-color and may be offensive to some of my readers. But some of the “zingers” are indeed humorous.