Purpose and Choice and Making a Difference

The race is on. The school year is off to a rousing start and suddenly the hands on the clock begin moving faster.  I don’t feel myself rushing just yet.  It’s too early, right?  On the other hand, if I’m not busy, then what am I? What could I possibly be? A slacker, a daydreamer, a lollygagger?  All of the above?  In the end, it’s a choice, isn’t it?

Which brings me to my real point: what’s my purpose?  What are the things that I would love to see happen to me, through me, with family, friends, colleagues, students, neighbors…?  Those are big questions and potentially a little heavy for after dinner fare.  Yet they are the ones that intrigue me the most, that sneak up on me when I least expect them, that scamper in and out of my dream life, the very questions that keep me honest as a person.  What is my purpose?

There’s a wonderful lecture by Atul Gawande, which serves as the Afterword of his remarkable book, Better (Picador 2007). The title is “Suggestions for Becoming a Positive Deviant.” In it he offers graduating medical students five avenues for making a meaningful difference in the world. I have read and re-read this piece quite often and have used it to remind me that doing, being and making difference all start with a choice.  Here are his five suggestions:

  • Ask an unscripted question.
  • Don’t complain.
  • Count something.
  • Write something.
  • Change.

While I could describe his meaning of each of these, I invite you to investigate this gem of authentically wise prose on your own, through your own special lenses.  What each of these points say to me is: you choose.  It’s your thang, do what you wanna do…And so while I could be tripping out on being crazy busy, I would rather write, or have a meaningful conversation, or share a meal, learn something new, or stare into space, or hug my loved ones, or just be. 

Difference is in the doing; making a difference is in the sharing.

If that’s not my purpose, it sure seems to come awfully close.

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