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.