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The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.” – Leo Rosten [Tweet this.]


High angle view of an artist drawing something on graphic tablet“How can I enter a career that matters, makes me happy and pays me well?”

A high school senior discerning between college decision, major selections, and life goals asked me this question. To answer her question, I shared this experience I had as kid in the hospital.

For my entire five-month interment in hospital, every morning the doctors rounded with the residents and front line staff. My primary burn doctor, Dr. Ayvassian, would guide a group of people in white lab jackets through my room.

On one of those days, in one of those visits, I remember the doctor asking one of the guys with him to sit on my bed. A man came from the back of the group, sat on my bed, and unassumingly looked down at the floor.

I recognized him.

It was Lavelle.

Lavelle was a janitor.

He cleaned my room and would visit with me while working. Although other staff seemed rushed, he always took time to talk with me.

Back then, his work didn’t really mean a lot to me. I just thought he was cool, loved his music and liked the way my room smelled when he was finished. But years later I learned how important his work actually was.

You see, with burn care, the number one killer of burn victims is infection.

Infection kills.

And the most important person to eliminate the likelihood of infection was the janitor. A clean room is a safe room.

The doctor, knowing this and wanting to remind him just how important his work was, looked Lavelle in the eyes, and said to him encouragingly, “Take a good look at this little boy. You see him laying here? Lavelle, you are keeping him alive. You are doing this. Thank you.”

Frequently we forget how important our efforts are in the greater scope of what we are doing. [Tweet this.]

Every job undertaken, task assigned, responsibility assumed does matter. Our work and our lives are sacred. From the CEO to the custodian, our work is important. And while there are no small players or insignificant tasks, there can be individuals who diminish their roles and don’t play up to the fullness of their potential.

I shared this all with the student.

The young woman looked at me and asked again, “So, exactly how can I enter a career that matters, makes me happy and pays well?”

Okay. Simple.

Choose to care more about the people you serve, work you do, and impact of your efforts than what you’re paid, how fulfilling it seems to be, or what others think of your job.

Should you strive to best utilize your talents? Absolutely!

Should you climb the ladder of success? Certainly!

Should you work to be an example to others in regards to what’s possible? Yes!

But my friends, contrary to the belief of many, the purpose of life is not to be happy. The purpose of life is not for you to get yours. The purpose of life is not to “win.” The purpose is to faithfully strive to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.

Embrace this in your daily efforts, through your daily grind — and you’ll encounter the type of success that others aspire to within: work, relationships, tasks, family and life.

Stay on fire – the best is yet to come.

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