In my last newsletter/blog, I talked about the importance of the “why” aspect of your personal vision. Your “why” is your personal purpose. It can be thought of as the reason you exist and a crucial key to finding meaning and joy in your life.
You’re probably familiar with the name Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and creator of a powerful and unique theory, which I studied back in grad school, called “logo-therapy.” Frankl taught that most mental and emotional illnesses are symptoms of a personal sense of emptiness or meaninglessness. Much of his therapy was to teach people to find fulfillment and meaning by letting go of their obsession with material success and discovering a higher purpose in their existence.
This idea reminds me of an inspiring article I read years ago in the Denver Rocky Mountain News about a 16 year old high school student who was doing just that (September 25, 1985). I was so impressed by the story of this young man that I clipped the article from the newspaper and have kept it these many years. Here is an excerpt.
Michael Hancock started thinking one day about friends who hadn’t survived the hassles of school. “These were kids I’d gone to elementary school with and they’d dropped out. It hurts you to know your friend has gone through everything with you, yet couldn’t survive.” That’s why Michael, 16, now junior class president at Denver’s Manual High School, began organizing his classmates to run a tutoring program for students in first through 12th grades. As a result of his efforts, about 30 students from two high schools volunteered last year to work as tutors after school and in the evenings at the Red Shield Community Center in Michael’s neighborhood.
He arranged for tutors to receive elective credits and sold the program to top students by pointing out that volunteer efforts look good on a college application. He also spent about three days a week at the community center coordinating the program and filling in when a tutor couldn’t get there.
The effort has come to the attention of district administrators, who want to expand the concept of students tutoring students.“It’s marvelous for elementary students to be able to look up to high school kids who are as effective as Michael. Michael could be the model for every kid in Denver.”
Michael has been class president for three years in a row, and was appointed to the Mayor’s Commission on Youth. Last year, he played junior varsity football but he is too busy this year.
“He’s constantly coming to me with proposals. If anything I have to tone him down. This neighborhood is better off just because of Mike.” says the assistant principal.
Michael brought representatives of the mayor’s office over to Manual to talk with students about problems in the area. Some of the results: lavatories and trash barrels in the baseball park so neighborhood residents could use it during the summer and better police patrolling of the school grounds to reduce vandalism. As a member of the Mayor’s Commission, he has pushed hard to improve teacher quality, perhaps because a single teacher at Denver’s Steck Elementary School made a big difference in his life.
I was impressed that a 16 year old boy could be so committed to making a difference in his school and community. I have no idea if Michael, at his young age, had written a formal personal purpose statement. Nevertheless, he certainly acted from a clear sense of purpose that may have sounded something like: “Make the community (school, neighborhood, etc.) a better place.” Or, “See a need, fill a need.” Or maybe “Rally people behind a common good.”
Michael was probably a pretty typical teen, in many ways. What set him apart was his vision. He looked around at the problems in his community and decided to take action. That action became a personal purpose from which he still lives. Michael’s name kept popping up in the newspaper over several years as he went to work for the Denver Housing Authority, then became local president of the Urban League, member of the Denver City Council and in 2011 became the major of Denver, Colorado.
My point is not that having a clear purpose leads to public service and acclaim. My point is that clarity of purpose brings meaning and direction to your life. In my last blog I gave you an exercise to think about your purpose. I want to encourage you to continue this journey. Living from purpose doesn’t need to change what you do or who you associate with. However, having a sense of purpose is like igniting a fire in your soul that will enable you to live from your better self, make a difference to others and discover deeper levels of fulfillment in your life.