When you are dead and gone, what will your life have counted for? Will the world be a better place because you were here?
One of my biggest fears in life is mediocrity – just sort of drifting through life without ever really accomplishing anything worthwhile. I don’t want to come to the end of my life, look back over all those years, and wonder, “What was that all about?” I want to know that my life counted for something, that I somehow made other people’s lives better. I don’t want to just take up space.
Every one of us has the ability to make our lives count for something. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, how famous or unknown; it doesn’t matter what side of the tracks you live on, what color your skin is, or whether you are male or female. No one is destined for mediocrity. Your life matters, and you can make other people’s lives better. And the really cool thing is, you have the unique ability to do that in a way that no one else can!
So I challenge you to rise above mediocrity. Make your life count for something. Make the world a better place. Here are four ways you can do just that.
1. Be a person of honor
A person of honor tells the truth. You have heard the old adage, “Honesty is the best policy.” There is a lot of truth in that cliché. Mark Twain once said, “Always tell the truth. That way, you don’t have to remember what you said.” Telling the truth is the right thing to do, and people of honor do the right thing. When you tell the truth, people can trust you, and trust is an important ingredient in any good relationship.
A person of honor keeps his or her word. There is an unfortunate stereotype of politicians, that they will promise you anything to get your vote, then will not even try to keep those promises after they have been elected. In other words, “All politicians are liars.” This is obviously not true of all politicians, but it is unfortunately true of many. Keeping your word is another trust issue. When you consistently do what you say you will do, people learn to trust you.
A person of honor cares deeply about other people. Some people are just plain selfish. All they ever think about is themselves. If they have something to say, they never even consider how it might affect anyone else if they say it. They just say it. If they want something, it doesn’t matter what anyone else wants. It’s all about me.
People of honor think before they speak (“How will it make the other person feel if I say what’s on my mind?”). They like to see other people happy. They look for ways to make a difference in the lives of other people.
Be a person of honor.
2. Make a difference
Loren Eiseley was an American essayist, philosopher, and literary naturalist. His book, The Unexpected Universe, was published in 1969. Chapter Four is entitled “The Starfish Thrower”, in which Eiseley tells of an encounter he had early one morning while strolling along the beach in a place called Costabel. He saw a man picking up starfish that had washed up on the beach, and tossing them back into the ocean. Eiseley’s story has been adapted and retold through the years. Here is a common adaptation found on the web.
The Starfish Story
Original Story by: Loren Eiseley
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
You don’t have to change the whole world to make a difference. If you make a difference in the life of one person, you have made the world a better place!
What can you do to make a difference?
- Can you read? How about volunteering to read to young children at the library, or in a local kindergarten class?
- Can you sing or play an instrument? How about putting on a performance for older people in a nursing home or assisted living center?
- Are you really good at math, or English, or science? How about offering to tutor someone who is struggling in one of those subjects?
- Do you know how to listen? How about sitting down with an older person and asking them to tell you some of their favorite memories of growing up, and what it was like back in “the good old days”?
Small, simple acts of kindness can make a difference in another person’s life, and making a difference in another person’s life makes the world a better place.
3. Dream big
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
One of my favorite songs is sung by a group called “Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband”. The song is entitled “Dream Big”. The chorus goes like this:
When you dream, dream big,
As big as the ocean blue.
‘Cause when you dream, it might come true!
So when you dream, dream big!
If I had the power to promise you that you could set out to accomplish any one thing of your choosing, and you would be guaranteed success, what would you set out to accomplish?
- Make a million dollars in the stock market?
- Buy the nicest house and the coolest car in the world?
- Or would you opt for something more along the lines of finding the cure for cancer?
- Or ending world hunger?
You can make a difference in the world in small ways … BUT WHAT IF YOU COULD MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Go ahead and do the little things we discussed earlier. Those things are important, and sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference. But don’t stop there.
Every amazing thing that anyone has ever accomplished …
Every incredible invention that has ever been invented …
Every great success that has ever been achieved …
… all have one thing in common. They all started out as a simple thought in someone’s mind. The first step toward accomplishing anything is to think about it. The first step toward making a huge difference is to Dream Big.
William Arthur Ward said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”
4. Go HUGE!
The Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Coaches often tell their players, “Give 110%!”
Whatever you choose to do with your life – your education, your career, making a difference in the world – don’t do it half-way. Go all-out. Go HUGE! Give it everything you’ve got!
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Determine to be the best you can possibly be at whatever you do, and you will make a positive difference in this world.
Adapted from a speech I gave at the Waxahachie Junior High School National Junior Honor Society Induction Ceremony on May 20, 2008.
- cemetery in autumn 8, © Robert Elias (Fotolia), Used by permission.
- Twain 1909, by A.F. Bradley (Wikipedia), Public domain.
- Starfish, by Mike Murphy (Wikipedia), Public domain.
- girl’s dream, © Dmitri MIkitenko (Fotolia), Used by permission.
- black rhinoceros, © Vladimir Wrangel (Fotolia), Used by permission.