Normally, I don’t share what I’ve written to students in my class with others, but in this particular case, I thought my response to this particular student could potentially help many others.

The scenario is this: I gave my students a semester-long project in which they had to 1.) identify their passion, and 2.) then interview three professionals who were working in that field. Then they were asked to type a two-page paper about what they learned as a result of the experience. The professionals selected could either be pursuing the field, currently working in the field, or retired from the field. The only stipulation would be that the person interviewed had to be passionate about his or her work.

Well, this particular student not only failed to complete the assignment, but he decided to turn in a three-page (typed) paper on why he thought the project was flawed. I gave him half-credit for at least turning in something, but I attached the following letter in response to his paper. By reading my response to him, I hope you’re able to garner some wisdom along your search for “purpose” and meaning in your own career pursuits. I left out his name to protect the guilty.

Dear Student:

Although I feel I’m justified in giving you the grade you got for the interview project, I thought that out of respect for you, I would at least offer you a more detailed explanation why?

First, you didn’t do the assignment that was given. You were asked to interview three people in a job/field that you were passionate about pursuing.

Second, if you had a change of heart or was having difficulties, you should’ve come to talk to me about it first before turning in what you did. You had nearly the entire semester to complete this project. If I recall, this is a “communication” class. You didn’t communicate with me at all.

Thirdly, offering an explanation in lieu of the assignment doesn’t qualify as “completing” the assignment. Therefore, in my academic opinion, you only did half of the assignment.

Now, with that being said, allow me to address the paper that you did turn in. First of all, I respect your opinion and your views, but let me offer my own personal response to your opinion. On one hand, you’re right; your lack of understanding of a clear direction for your life has left you a little frustrated – which is understandable (been there, done that). So I hope, as a “so-called” expert on this topic (at least that’s why people pay me), maybe I can shed some light on your dilemma.

You said that you think the idea is flawed of one making a profession of his or her dream – thinking it would eventually make the person dislike it. You’re only right depending on your perspective. Are YOU making a living doing what you LOVE to do most? If not, you have the wrong perspective from which to judge. People who are “qualified” to make the claim you made would be Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Colin Powell, Stevie Wonder, Bill Gates, etc. Even a nobody like me would be qualified to make that claim, because I’ve been making a living at what I love to do since I was 24 (using my God-given talents – communication — to help others achieve God-given goals).

However, my point is this, your purpose in life (or passion) is not a job or a position. Our purpose/passion in life is our desire to give our “gift” away – in whatever way that brings us the most joy (and hopefully at the same time, bring joy to others). Everyone has a gift(s), the question is what are we going to do with it? For me, I have a gift to communicate, and through speaking, teaching, and writing, I find joy in sharing it with others. My purpose is not to be a professor, my purpose is to inspire and motivate others with my gift. Therefore, I’ll never be tied down to one career – because there are numerous ways I can give my gift away – too many to even attempt. So, why is it so important to channel your gift into a career, you ask? Simple arithmetic. According to research, the average person will spend 66% of his or her waking hours working (working for others or for themselves in their own business). That’s more time than you’ll spend with your family, vacationing, or even by yourself. Now follow me on this. That means if I’m 20 years old, and I work 40 hours a week, for 50 weeks a year (2 weeks vacation), and I work until I’m 70, then that means I will have logged in 100,000+ hours in a career.

Now here’s the clincher: if you were me and you had to work 100,000 hours over the span of a career, what percentage of that time would you WANT to be happy? Most people would say 100% of the time (but I would even settle for 90% of the time). Then, why WOULDN’T someone pick something they love doing as opposed to just tolerating a job until the weekend comes. Does that make sense? Most people are trading in five days a week for only two days on the weekend. What a rip off!

As for you NOT wanting to work only for the gratification of others, you’re right again, to an extent – because you shouldn’t. But follow me on this…if I do what I LOVE to do, and you pay me because I’m REALLY good at it, and you like the benefits YOU receive from it, should I feel guilty because I’m having fun while I’m doing it? No way Jose’! That means I can have my cake and eat it too! I can do what I love and get paid to do it (because people pay for what they enjoy). Boy, I LOVE AMERICA! That’s my point. To find your path (i.e., purpose) in life, all you have to do is:

1.) Identify your gift (your unique talent or ability – trust me, you have at least one)

2.) Find out who you want to give your gift to the most (children, athletes, prisoners, couples, etc. – it doesn’t matter)

3.) Determine how you want to give your gift to them (via speaking, writing, performing, selling, creating, designing, planning, teaching, training, etc. – again, it doesn’t matter)

And if you discover that people will actually pay you for your gift – not only will you find success, but significance as well. You WON’T just be making a living, you’ll be making a difference. But describing this to you is somewhat useless if you haven’t experienced this firsthand for yourself. . It’s like describing to you how chocolate ice cream tastes. You won’t appreciate it until you take your first lick. And that’s why I gave you this assignment — to you get you to experience a taste of passion vicariously through others. Based on the responses I read from your classmates, it actually worked!

Now think about this for a second… Why am I writing you this long drawn out letter if you could probably care less about what I’m saying, in the process wasting my valuable time “giving” information that could potentially fall on deaf ears or a closed mind? Because this is what I LOVE to do – now do you get it? And you’re not even paying me for this information. But guess what? Every year, more than 50 colleges, organizations, and businesses DO pay me for it. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I’m not complaining. I just consider myself very blessed.

I wished you could have received a better grade, but I hope you received an even better lesson. If not, just pass this information onto someone you think could use it. Good luck with your journey. And as always, live purposefully!

Living Purposefully – Joe Martin

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