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Several years ago, I had a girlfriend who had an older sister who was nothing short of incredible. She was a world-class swimmer and had set countless records in the state. She had times in swimming that would easily have qualified her for the Olympics, and she was planning on going to the Olympic trials in one year. In addition to this, she had been taking college-level course in high school since she was a freshman, and she had gotten the best score possible on all the exams. To top all of this, she had gotten a perfect score on the SAT and had overall amazing grades. Without even applying to many schools, she had gotten a scholarship to an Ivy League school, despite being from a fairly wealthy family. She had gotten such good scores on college-level exams in high school that it was not even going to take her three years to graduate from college. The girl was, in all respects, absolutely phenomenal.
From what I understand, her father used to beat her up. He would go out most evenings after work and get very drunk. He would then come home and mix some more drinks, and then literally get the girls out of bed and tell them they were not good enough, they were ugly, lazy, and so forth and slap them around. The mother did nothing through this. Sometimes when he was beating the daughters up, while the mother was sitting in a corner crying, he would yell at her, saying that he would not need to have other girlfriends if she were not so ugly. I cannot imagine being exposed to something like this growing up. It is hard to comprehend how truly awful it must have been. One evening the man chased my girlfriend’s younger sister around the house with a knife while naked, and he was thrown in jail for several days after the offense.
The father, it turns out, was also very smart. He had been a professional athlete, gone to an Ivy League school, and gotten a perfect score on his SATs as well.
From what I understand, the sister who had achieved so much had done so in large part because her father always told her she was never good enough. She wanted nothing more than to prove him wrong.
My girlfriend’s older sister went to the Ivy League school and she was not there for more than four or five months before she was abducted off the street one evening and raped by two men from a bad part of town, who had been hanging around near the school. After the rape, she was in the hospital for several days because she had been assaulted pretty badly. She then decided to take the rest of the semester off.
She went home and started smoking cigarettes (a few packs a day).
She started smoking pot several times a day.
She gained a bunch of weight.
She stopped swimming.
…She never went back to college.
She got a job as a waitress and within several months she married one of the cooks in the restaurant. The cook was a guy who never went to college and was very unintelligent. He was a big, muscular guy and was extremely intimidating. But he was nowhere near the young woman’s equal in terms of intelligence, social class, and so forth. Without being too insulting, the guy this amazing woman had married was from the wrong side of the tracks.
Within a few years, the girl had had a few children with her husband. They were both working low-paid jobs and living in a $500-a-month apartment in a bad neighborhood.
I used to go over to the house and see the girl, which was a sad experience for me on many levels. She was a voracious reader, who was reading various “deep books” like titles by Stephen Hawking and other complex books. She would always want to discuss these books but, to be honest with you, she understood them at a level far above my understanding. For example, if discussing a physics book like Stephen Hawking, she would not confine her discussion to Hawking but would discuss how Hawking’s theories did not make sense in light of a related theory (which I had never heard of) by Einstein that was in another book.
The girl eventually divorced the man and is now living alone with her children. She is alone and not really doing anything with her life. She probably will never go back to college and she will probably retire as a waitress.
I want to ask you something: Is this girl accomplishing her purpose in life? With all of the gifts she has, is her purpose limited to sitting around in a small apartment smoking all day? This may be her purpose, but I do not think it is. I think she was put on this earth to do much greater things.
Clearly this girl has faced severe and horrible obstacles in her life. No one deserves to be assaulted by another person–let alone her own father. No one deserves to be abducted and raped. However, just as this girl faced these obstacles, other aspects of her life were very easy for her. School was easy. Being an Olympic-level swimmer was easy for her. But life ultimately was not easy. The obstacles she faced were not easy to overcome. In fact, they were so difficult that this amazing person all but dropped out of life.
We all face obstacles on our way to becoming something. A child needs to learn to speak and walk. Then it needs to learn to read and write and everything else. We all have so much to learn from the beginning of our time on earth.
I can remember when my parents first bought me a bicycle. I tried several times to ride it and each time I tried, I fell down. Eventually, my parents put the bicycle in the garage. I was young back then, but I can still remember not believing that I would ever be able to ride a bicycle, not like all the other kids in the neighborhood. I thought bicycles were simply not for me.
Several months later my father went into the garage for something and I saw the bike. Much to our surprise, I hopped on and had no problem riding it. There were a bunch of kids playing out in front of my house; I rode right past them and they were playing and screaming “go!” at me. Some were pretending to stand in front of the bike as I approached, and then they would move out of the way at the last second. It was one of the most fun-filled and joyful experiences of my life up until that point, and the fact that I have not forgotten shows that it really had an impact on me.
The reason I could suddenly ride the bike was that I had grown in all that time, while the bike sat in the garage. Before that time, the bike seat had been too far from the pedals.
Not being able to ride the bike for a short time was simply an obstacle that was put in my path. Had I given up on bike riding at that point in my life, it would have been a tragedy. I came to enjoy and absolutely cherish riding my bike throughout my childhood. My purpose at that age was simply to ride a bike and to enjoy my childhood. How silly it would have been to have given up.
However, many people give up at the slightest sign of resistance. It’s true my girlfriend’s sister may have been traumatized and needed real help, but at the end of it all, she was left with a choice–to rise above and persevere, or to give up. Unfortunately she chose the latter.
Perhaps you have given up on something in your life as well.
I do not care what your religion is, but imagine for a moment if my ex-girlfriend’s sister were to meet her creator when she dies. It might go something like this:
Well, you certainly impressed me by breaking all of those Olympic swimming records and winning all of those medals. And the books you wrote about particle physics were absolutely unbelievable. From what I understand, you were one of the most popular professors at Yale University, and the fact that you became an astronaut later in life is even more than I expected of you. I am glad I gave you the skills I did. I am sorry about the abuse you suffered at your father’s hand, and I am sorry about the abduction and rape you experienced in college, but I needed to give you challenges of the highest order to give you the strength to become everything you were capable of being, and so you could show others what was possible in their lives.
“Well, you certainly impressed me by breaking all of those Olympic swimming records and winning all of those medals. And the books you wrote about particle physics were absolutely unbelievable. From what I understand, you were one of the most popular professors at Yale University, and the fact that you became an astronaut later in life is even more than I expected of you. I am glad I gave you the skills I did. I am sorry about the abuse you suffered at your father’s hand, and I am sorry about the abduction and rape you experienced in college, but I needed to give you challenges of the highest order to give you the strength to become everything you were capable of being, and so you could show others what was possible in their lives.”
And she would have to tell her creator the following:
“Olympic medals? What are you talking about? I never won any Olympic medals. I never finished college and I have never written a book. I was never a professor at Yale University and I was never an astronaut. But, yes, thank you for apologizing for what happened to me. It was awful, you are right. I was upset about this my entire life. I have been divorced several times and never married a man near my equal. I also shared my pain with my children all of my life and they too know the terrible pain I experienced. They grew up poor on the wrong side of town. Now my daughter is a waitress like me and my son has been in prison for most of his life. My other daughter is a drug addict. I cannot believe I died of lung cancer from smoking. You know what a good athlete I used to be! So, yes, thank you again for apologizing for what happened to me but you have the wrong person! I did not do any of those things you are talking about.”
The most important thing we can do in our lives is to do what we came here to accomplish and make the absolute most of ourselves. There is nothing more important than this.
What did you come here to do? While you may not know exactly why you are on this earth, or what you came here to accomplish, it is time you found out. You have natural gifts in something that can lead you to greatness. We all do. I have yet to meet a person without some significant gift. Their ability might be comedy, it might be getting along with people, it might be cooking, it might be working with complex ideas, it might be athletics–but we all have a gift, and it is there waiting to be used to take you to the life you deserve.
Your life is not just about being a nice person, being a good friend, being a good person, doing a good job at work, doing good business, being healthy, giving to charity, or being a spiritual person. It is about accomplishing what you were put on this earth to accomplish.
Say, by chance, that someone put you on this earth and told you to accomplish something. Knowing your particular skills and strengths, what would they have told you to accomplish?
I believe that you, in particular, were put here for a reason and whatever that reason is, you need to discover it and fulfill it. It is a positive reason, not a negative reason. I know that there is some skill and something untapped in you that will allow you to achieve a great deal in your life in some direction. What did you come here to do?
Most of us are either moving toward something or away from something. We are either moving toward our purpose in life or we are moving away from our purpose in life. Many people are after different things in their lives. Some people are looking for knowledge, other people are looking for money, while others are looking for status.
Were you put on this earth so you could be better than the next guy or gal? Were you put on this earth so you could be right in every argument? Were you put on this planet so you could have a bigger house than the next guy? Were you put on this planet so you could have a more important title than the people you work with? Are these the reasons you were put on this earth?
I interview people all the time for various jobs, and as a recruiter I used to interview several people a day. When I am looking at someone’s résumé and studying his or her résumé for some time, I very quickly get a good idea of what is important to the person and, in a sense, who they are. I can tell the conformist by a résumé. I can tell the hard worker by a résumé. I can tell the confused person by a résumé. I can spot serious (and not as serious) psychological problems by a résumé. After all my years in this profession, I can often deduce what is not on the résumé by what is on the résumé.
In interviews, my favorite part of talking to people is telling them what they did right and what is so great about their résumé. I always point out something that is “there and not there,” and whenever I do this, the person I am interviewing lights right up. Yesterday I was interviewing a guy and I said to him something I do not think he has ever heard:
“You went to a good business school but not the best. What’s so incredible, though, is that you managed to get a far more competitive job than most everyone who went to a school like Stanford Business School. You should be very proud of what you have accomplished.”
I could tell this man was really happy to have heard this. We live for these small moments of recognition, and when people see our potential for greatness, it brings light into our lives. When someone sees what is positive behind the things we have done, it is meaningful to us. We all should try and find the good in others as much as we can. Incidentally, the more we find the good in others, the more we can find the good in ourselves.
The other reason I have found complimenting people about their résumés and achievements to be so useful is that it often allows people to see there is purpose to what they have done. People love it when we notice what they have done that may not be immediately obvious to others. Noticing what people have done helps show that there is a purpose and value to what they are doing.
There is something wonderful in the world when we see a work of art that we admire that has power, when we see the smile of a child and it brings us joy, when we give of ourselves to others and feel joy in helping a person, when we help someone get a job, when we sit outside in nature and view the trees and flowers, when we spend time with someone we love, when we meet someone and we find an immediate spiritual connection. All of these things are powerful, and we derive true ecstasy from experiencing positive and nurturing things. The fact that we take joy in being around certain things and not others can also help us to devise our own purpose in life.
Is our purpose to be lonely, angry, resentful, vengeful, hurtful, stressed out, upset, and confused? Are we here to feel these things or are we here to feel more positive things?
We need to do what we came into this world to accomplish. What we are here to accomplish revolves around the things that give us joy, and it has a character to it that other things do not possess for us. When we find this, we can forge a path to greatness. Along the way to greatness, though, we are sure to experience numerous obstacles. The obstacles are going to be there for each one of us; they will be enduring and ever-present.
The greater your purpose, the greater the obstacles you will face.
I think my ex-girlfriend’s sister had a great purpose in her life and it is for this reason she faced incredible obstacles. You will face obstacles along your journey as well. The greater the obstacles you have faced, the greater your purpose ultimately will be. When the obstacles come along, push through them with everything you have. The key to meeting your purpose is pushing through whatever obstacles you face.
Think about your ultimate purpose in life, and what you are currently doing to accomplish it. Everyone is gifted with unique talents, and a failure to identify and utilize yours would be tragic for your life and career. The greater purpose you identify in your life, the greater the obstacles you will face. If you persevere and push through these hurdles, you will find the rewards to also be correspondingly greater.