A Sense of Purpose

My inspirational reflection comes from an unlikely source: a billionaire who is still younger than my daughters!  Mark Zuckerberg is a college drop-out who wound up doing very well.  It could be argued that almost anyone who gets into Harvard has already been advantaged by life and likely will do very well.  I am sure this is the case with Zuckerberg.  Of course, he is better known as the founder of Facebook than he is as Harvard drop-out.  He made his first billion by the age of twenty-three.  I have not made my first billion yet!
   
I am not one who usually would have a great deal of information on someone like Zuckerberg.  But he recently found his way back to Harvard to deliver the commencement address.  And of course, he picked up an honorary doctorate in the process.  I know about it because I did my graduate studies at that same institution and the alum literature was full of stories about the 366th commencement.  I was intrigued what he told the graduates and was pleased with the content, which I share here.
   
His goal for our world was stated simply: “to make that world become a better place in which to live, work, laugh, love, and connect, and to encourage others to do the same.”  I cannot disagree with this take on life.  I suppose some might argue it doesn’t sound very spiritual, but I would argue it is deeply spiritual.  Essentially, Zuckerberg’s speech had three points, but I want to touch on only his initial point.  His first, and arguably most important point, has to do with purpose.
   
Zuckerberg has a nice take on purpose.  He says, “Purpose is that feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself, that you are needed, and that you have something better ahead. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”  This jives well with the ways I have often defined purpose, as I encourage folks that having a purpose is much better than not having one.  Zuckerberg is correct to say that purpose is being part of something bigger than you are.  Put a bit more spiritually, purpose is transcendent.  Purpose should take up beyond our own egos. 
   
This kind of definition means simply getting rich is not the kind of purpose about which Zuckerberg talks.  Of course, he is incredibly rich.  He can buy anything any human being could possibly think he or she needs---or even, wants.  But ultimately that won’t make a life of meaning.  Let’s look at the other two things he describes as he talks about purpose.  Purpose brings us a feeling of being needed.  To be needed is a powerful feeling.  It is the opposite of being disposable.
   
When I type that last word, disposable, I immediately think of the apparatus in my kitchen sink---the disposer.  That is where you put the stuff that is no good, the rotten or leftover.  You flip the switch and magically it grinds the stuff into oblivion.  With the swoosh of water, it is washed down the drain and disappears altogether from your life. 
   
I realize there are some people whose lives feel just like that.  Too often, people come to feel like a leftover.  They may feel rotten about themselves.  Perhaps the people around them have said or implied they were no good.  This might explain some of the opioid addiction, etc.  Too many have no idea they are created in the image of God.  They have no sense of the dignity that comes with this creative fact of their life.
   
The other thing Zuckerberg says about purpose is that it suggests there is something better ahead.  In other words, purpose gives you a future.  It reminds me how many times I have told folks to “get a purpose.”  A purpose can give you not only a future, but a reason for living.  I explain to students that purpose gives you the future in the present moment.  But the purpose is something like the “promise of tomorrow” for the work and effort today.  Purpose is not a guarantee.  But it is a hope.  Purpose is a gift, but it requires some effort in order to be received.
   
The last thing Zuckerberg links with purpose is happiness.  Simply he says, purpose creates true happiness.  I agree.  And I appreciate his adjective, true, modifying happiness.  It is easy to have false happiness; that is drug use.  A true happiness is immediate and long-lasting.  Although Zuckerberg is not yet using the language of meaning, in my understanding this is what he has described.  Purpose does not bring happiness in the sense of being giddy.  Purpose delivers deeper, longer-lasting and meaningful satisfaction.
   
Notably, Zuckerberg wants to “create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”  This sounds very much like the promise of inclusive spirituality.  Everyone belongs, to use the title of one of Richard Rohr’s books.  Life does not demand losers and some winners.  We hear of win-win strategies.  Spirituality is the ultimate win-win strategy.  I would argue that is what God had in mind all along.  All of us are created in the image of God.  We all have inherent dignity and worth.
   
To recognize our dignity and gain a sense of our own worthiness, we need a purpose.  A life of purpose is a worthy life full of dignity.  We’ll be happy.  And we will win.  That is what God had in mind.

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