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When I was around 10 years old, one day my stepfather stayed home from work. He had a bad stomach ache the night before and had felt very sick. I remember he had gotten sick at around 8:00 in the evening and had been ill most of the night. His illness continued into the early afternoon that day and I remembered when I went to school, that morning I could hear him moaning from his illness.
I remember the atmosphere in the house was just that we thought he was ill with some sort of a serious bug. My mother and he had recently gotten married around a year before. My little sister had just been born and she was no more than a few months old. He had recently started a business and everything in his life was going pretty well.
When I got home from school that evening, my grandmother was in the house.
“They took John to the hospital,” she told me. My mother wasn’t there. They were doing all sorts of testing to figure out exactly what was wrong with him. No one seemed to understand what was wrong. I didn’t see my mother for a few days because she was going to the hospital very early in the morning and leaving very late at night. Finally, a couple of days later, my grandmother sat me down and explained to me that they were going to be operating on my stepfather starting that evening.
Despite the fact that he was only in his late 30s, a terrible cancer had apparently infected numerous parts of his body from his stomach, to his bladder, to his kidneys. The surgeons were going to do what they could in an operation that evening; however, they gave him a one in a hundred chance of even surviving on the operating table. In fact, they didn’t even want to operate because they thought the odds were so slim that he wouldn’t be able to survive. The cancer had spread throughout his body so completely that they didn’t believe his system could take having so many organs removed at one time. He wanted the operation, however.
Before the operation, my mother apparently cried a great deal and members of his family had gathered beside him. Everyone believed it was the last time they would see him alive. As he was being taken away to surgery, he told everyone that he would be just fine and would see them in a few days.
The operation took over 24 hours if I remember correctly. When the operation was done, the lead surgeon came out and told my mother that the only reason he had survived was because of his inner strength and that he still had a lot to do. With a young family, a new business, a new wife and goals, my stepfather wanted to live in order to fulfill his objectives in life. He had things to do and things to accomplish.
Remember the periods of your life when you’ve had the most problems. You may have been depressed. You may have been overeating. You may have been unemployed. You may have been exiting a relationship. You may have been experiencing some sort of personal issues. Usually, if you reflect on this period, it is the period when you are least passionate about anything.
You are typically either growing or you are dying. You need to constantly be moving forward towards some sort of goal. Whenever progress in your life stops, you typically will feel some sort of discomfort. When you stop searching for a meaning, you feel empty and lonely. You must always be in the pursuit of growth and learning.
When I was in seventh grade, I decided that I no longer had a lot of respect for school. I stopped doing homework. In seventh grade, I did so poorly that my parents decided I needed to enroll in a private school. In eight grade, I flunked out of the private school. In ninth grade, I got a 1.7 grade point average for the year. I was in with a bad crowd and headed for a bad life in the future. I remember that my father said to me one day: “If you start trying in school, everything will fall into place and it will do so quickly.” I had nothing to lose and listened to him. I made it my goal to get the best grades possible. Within weeks, I was the Vice President of my class in the student counsel. I was a varsity athlete. I also ended the year with the best grades in my class for the year. I did this all by having a goal and making the pursuit of growth and learning a priority.
When you visit people who are chronically depressed and unhappy, you will generally find that they don’t have a goal. When you see people who are chronically unemployed, you will see that they generally don’t have a goal. When you find people who are incredibly lonely about this or that, you will find in most cases that they don’t have a goal.
Everyone has energy and we want to put our energies into solving difficulties. When people don’t have difficulties and objectives to solve, they will often make them up. Kids who are vandals and make trouble do so in order to have problems to deal with. Couples often get divorced after their kids leave home because they no longer have a common purpose and objective (the kids) to keep them together and moving forward. People need a purpose.
People who come up with one psychosomatic disorder or another typically have little purpose in their lives and their psychosomatic disorders give them problems to deal with. In fact, a lack of purpose for some people may even manifest in their body as a disease. Have you ever noticed how certain people are always getting sick? Many might argue that this is the body’s way of giving us something to deal with.
When we solve the difficulties that we have, we are in much better shape. Since we are designed for growth, we must make sure that growth is always fueled. Without fueling growth, we have no purpose and nothing to deal with.
My wife and I used to take exotic vacations to the middle of nowhere. In fact, we would go far, far away to places where there wasn’t even any Internet. Several years ago, I remember we took a vacation to a small island in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. It took us over 24 hours of commercial flights and finally a 90-minute float plane journey to finally reach our destination. We spent two weeks or so on a small island with literally nothing to do. Since I couldn’t work every single day, I became quite frustrated. After around four or five days of this, my wife started pointing out to me that she believed I was intentionally creating fights out of nothing at all to keep myself occupied. Since there were no problems at work, I decided to create some with my wife. My wife pointed out to me that we really didn’t have any problems with each other after a couple of stupid and drawn out arguments about things as banal as her leaving the cap off the toothpaste. I very quickly realized that I had nothing to fight with my wife about so I decided to fight with myself. I became depressed and decided that I had a problem. Then I realized this was crazy. I made sure that my office started faxing me a daily update of what was going on. Then I felt better. This gave me a sense of purpose again. I felt fantastic when I finally got back to the United States and was working again.
When you look at the happiest and most successful people out there, you will generally discover they have an amazing ability to keep themselves extremely busy with some sense of purpose. I remember reading one of Donald Trump’s books and how he talked about how he never, ever takes a vacation. He gets a charge out of the sense of purpose in his life. This is what I’ve seen time and time again among the most accomplished and happy people out there: They have an incredible sense of purpose. We get passion in our lives from growth.
Since we are designed for growth, we need to make sure that out growth is fueled, always.
Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” Without vision and purpose, people often don’t focus and they don’t reach their goals. The older and more common translation of this quote states that, “Without vision, the people perish.” I’m sure you have seen this as well. Without vision, people simply lose vitality and what makes them live and be alive.
Civilizations typically are conquered and die when their leaders fail to inspire a vision among the people. Conquest by an enemy with a vision is typically the last phase for a dying civilization. In your career and life, you too will be conquered if you don’t have a vision. If you don’t have a vision for who you will become and what you will achieve in your life, you will simply be forced into someone else’s vision. If you blindly go to work as a cashier at a Walmart, for example, you may be in service of a vision of the Founder of WalMart, Sam Walton, who long ago imagined a chain of stores like WalMart. You will also be in service of the manager of the store and others dependent upon your work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working as a cashier in a WalMart; however, there is something gravely wrong with this if you’re not in the service of your own vision when you are doing this.
Have you seen the sort of enthusiasm that overcomes people when they have a vision? When people want to achieve something and have vision their lives change. If you don’t have any vision and you don’t have a passion for your vision then you are going to have the sorts of problems in your life that you don’t want.
Many people in the world believe if they get rich and make a lot of money then all of their problems will be solved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the history of lottery winners often proves the opposite. Many lottery winners report experiencing more problems after winning the lottery than they had before doing so. The reason is because they may have experienced success in winning money but they don’t know anything whatsoever about being fulfilled. Fulfillment requires the satisfaction of becoming someone. For a healthy life, we need to feel fulfilled.
One of the biggest problems we have in life is the belief deep down that we shouldn’t have problems. The only people who don’t have problems are the people who are in cemeteries. The rest of the world has problems. Regardless of their station in life, most people in the world have lots and lots of problems. To not expect problems is stupid. Some problems are just more serious than other problems.
The secret is that you need to experience problems as part of a vision and as part of your growth. When you learn this, you will almost always experience happiness. Regardless of what happens to you in the world or if you are laid off by your employer, or lose a job, when you’re not pursuing growth, you are unemployed. If you are always pursuing growth, then regardless of whether you lose a job, you are always going to be employed. When you are unemployed (i.e., with no vision) you will create problems for yourself to give yourself something to do in order to be occupied. You must always be in the pursuit of growth and learning.
Having a goal or vision will propel you towards greater career success and happiness. Without a purpose, you will find yourself depressed and ultimately fail to achieve your goals. Don’t subscribe to the unrealistic problem that you should never have problems, but instead regard problems as part of your overall growth strategy.