Clare Booth Luce told John F. Kennedy that “a great man is one sentence.” Abraham Lincoln: He preserved the union and freed the slaves. FDR: He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war. Luce cautioned Kennedy about keeping his focus and purpose easy to remember; otherwise his life would be summed up in a muddled paragraph.
Daniel Pink in his book, DRiVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, suggests that to help us find our purpose in life, we need to seriously consider what we want our sentence to be.
How do we want others to see us? To remember us?
Some examples: He was a loving father who raised happy, healthy children. She designed systems to make it easier for people to organize their lives. He helped people regain their health. She helped children see their potential and go for it.
Pink says that three qualities are necessary for us to tap into our potential as individuals.
We need to have autonomy. We need to have a sense of purpose. We need to have a level of mastery of essential skills related to our purpose.
Autonomy means we have choice of the activity in which we engage. The choice is based on internal motivation and not extrinsic rewards or punishments. When we can be curious and self-directed in the way we use our time, we create more powerful results than those obtained through stick and carrot methods.
A sense of purpose guides our actions and provides a backdrop where we can consider plans and decisions. Understanding our purpose gives us a value system. As we make our independent choices for purposeful activity, we start on a lifetime path of mastery.
Autonomy. Purpose. Mastery. Three conditions that allow for human potential to be released when we can focus our energies.
In order to find and focus our purpose in life, Pink urges us to ask ourselves the “big question”:
What’s your sentence?
To be sure that we are moving toward improvement and not stuck in a rut, everyday we need to ask the “little question”:
Was I better today than yesterday?
Two questions for those of us who want to be our best.
Two questions for those of us who try to help others be their best, step by step, day by day.
A big question. A little question. The answers may save us all.