“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” — Peter Drucker
“You seem to spend a lot of time worrying if you will survive, and you will probably survive…. It’s the wrong question! The question is how to be useful.” — Peter Drucker to a young Jim Collins (via Nextbigideaclub.com)
In September, Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay is chock full of bait fish—millions of tiny fish trying to make a go of it in this world, as countless birds and bigger fish attempt to turn that bait fish’s purpose in life to be their breakfast. It’s a fish-eat-fish world on display, and offers lessons for those who witness it. Mostly, it’s a reminder to avoid being a bait fish. For us land-based creatures, the best way to avoid that is to live with purpose.
We all dabble in those questions of purpose, the “Why are we here? questions. But isn’t that too big a place to start? Purpose is an impossibly big scope to answer with such a broad question. We ought to break it down into bite-sized questions that determine our unique value: “What do I do well? “How can I translate that into serving those who need this value the most?” and “What do I need to learn to become even more valuable for those I wish to serve?” are good starting places for building purpose into our lives.
It’s fair to ask ourselves why we’re doing something. It’s appropriate to wonder where our work is leading us. And we ought to do something with the answers when we arrive at them, for our opportunity to do useful things resides in a very brief window of time. Feeling the urgency of the moment and doing something with it begins with knowing what both that something and that it really are for us.
When we leave our lives to chance, we sometimes stumble upon a meaningful life. But more often than not, we end up getting chewed up in the feeding frenzy of life. Purpose brings us higher up the food chain, where we might rise above mere existence to a more valuable destination.
Which leads back to that question of questions, posed so well by Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?