Marilyn Gambrell is a name that you might not have heard before, but the lives she touched and changed is uncountable. She came into the children’s lives in her community, whose parents were incarcerated, showed them love, and gave them hope. As a parole officer, Marilyn had witnessed many children torn away from their healthy lives when their parents went to prison. She realized that there was no way a circle of violence would end if parents were not in the lives of their children. With parents in prison, she saw the need to stand in the gap as a parent and a guardian to children of strangers. This led her to start a program she referred to as No More Victims at the M.B. Smiley High School in Houston, Texas, where forty percent of the students had an incarcerated parent. The program was designed for the main purpose of stopping the cycle of violence in her community by preventing the children from following the steps of their parents. This mission made her change hats from a parole officer to a teacher.
While Mother Teresa is a name that you might easily recognize, her life, before becoming a global icon and her name recognized by people from all walks of life, was fairly ordinary. She was an ordinary young girl from Vilayet of Kosovo present-day Macedonian, who, at a very young age, was fascinated by stories of missionaries and their service in India. By the age of twelve, Mother Teresa believed that she should commit herself to her catholic religious life. By the age of 19, she had left her home and family to live a life of missionary and service in India, where she spent the rest of her life. A life that she spent among the most impoverished population in India, serving them. The lives of Marilyn Gambrell and Mother Teresa can only lead us to this conclusion; a life of significance is possible with ordinary people like you and me and can only begin when we decide to do something significant for other people.
What is a life of significance?
With the backdrop of the lives of these two ladies, it’s easier to define what a life of significance is. Living significantly means doing something that makes a significant difference with your life. It is going above expectations, giving generously, and serving selflessly. Having a significant life is neither about being the wealthiest nor the most skilled person. It’s not about material possession but rather an attitude and posture of the heart. Neither Ms. Gambrell nor Mother Teresa could have been considered the most successful people in terms of material possession; what they did with their lives is remarkable and, without a doubt, significant. While success is you winning, significant living is focused on helping others succeed.
As it is true that we all can achieve a life of significance, we will spend the next few weeks examining aspects of a significant life. First, in this post we will dive in and look at three marks of a significant life. Second, I will walk you through on how to lead such a life (second post), and third, I will show you some hindrances to living significantly (third post). That is our roadmap on the topic of significant living. So, let’s get started with marks of a life of significance.
It’s impossible to find a person who lives a significant life and doesn’t have a purpose. Purpose, that is, living with a predetermined why for living, is the first mark of a life of significance. If you look back in history, to people who have significantly contributed to their communities, you will find that they all have a clear purpose. They seem to have fully embraced this W. Clement Stone quote, “Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.”
Lack of clarity of purpose is a major difference between people who live a significant life and those who don’t. Often, it’s not the lack of opportunities and resources that make people live an average life, but it’s the absence of clearly defined purpose. Without being intentional about living a life of significance, which we described as living in such a way that helps others win, , we end up misusing the opportunities and resources given, and thus showing our ugly side. But when we have a purpose in life clearly defined, we not only use opportunities and resources to make us successful, we also help us win.
How come many people go through life without finding their purpose while it seems those who live a significant life find theirs sooner in life and live it? How do they do it? The answer lies in an old approach to living; a life of service. People who move from ordinary to significance have understood one thing: True human purpose can only be revealed when one decides to serve others. This is why the only purpose that leads to a life of significance is that which is connected with helping others. And this explains why service is the second mark.
While purpose is the call to a significant life, service is the gateway. Those who ever achieve some level of significance are known for their service. Whether it’s a mother who tirelessly works to feed her family, a soldier who put his or her life on the line for our country, or a lady like Marilyn Gambrell, who starts a program that serves the unmet needs in the community.
The great thing about serving is that we all can serve. To this point, the late great civil rights movement torchbearer, Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted saying,” Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Serving people is the highway to a great life. It is the key to finding your true self, discovering your talents, honing your creativity, and maximizing your potential. Mahatma Gandhi said it well when he said that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. To serve others and to place yourself on the road to a significant life, find a need and meet it with excellence, be willing to be called upon for help, and always maintain a positive attitude when dealing with people. This way, the third mark of a life of significance will be evident; progress.
People who are living to help others win by serving are progress-oriented; they have a progress-oriented mindset. They are continually moving forward. Their lives seem to never stop due to challenges or setbacks; they are like a river; they always find ways to keep moving.
Progress marks their lives because of their purpose and service. Individuals who live a life of significance are under a constant pull to fulfill their purpose, which is always bigger than themselves. Their dedication to service has enabled them to possess a rubber-band ability in meeting the needs of others. Their commitment to personal growth is not only the key to their progress, but it is their primary vehicle to a life of significance.
In summary, a clearly defined purpose, a commitment to serving others in whatever capacity, and a drive to make progress are the marks of a life of significance. A life of significance is the highest way to live because it is a life beyond oneself: It is the only way to be truly great.
Before the three marks of a life of significance we have covered become evident in anyone, there is a process that must be in place first. Next week I will show you that process; the steps it takes to live a life of significance. Before then, here are three questions for you to ponder on. What’s one thing that you believe if you do it, will make a significant difference in someone else’s life? What’s preventing you from doing it? What’s the simplest thing you can do now to help you achieve that significant act?
A life of significance awaits you.