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How to live a significant life

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With Talia and Joe getting married soon, there’s the prospect of grandchildren at some point. And, although Karen and I have raised our five children, in a way, having grandchildren will give us a kind of a “do over.”   What will we say to our grandchildren about how to live their lives? A…
By Seth Barnes
With Talia and Joe getting married soon, there’s the prospect of grandchildren at some point. And, although Karen and I have raised our five children, in a way, having grandchildren will give us a kind of a “do over.”
What will we say to our grandchildren about how to live their lives? And for that matter, if you had to boil down all your good advice to just a few points, what would they be?
Of course I’d want to help them understand their identity in Christ for starters. And then I’d explain to them about the kingdom of God and how they get to partner with God in bringing it to earth. I’d define success as “What God says about the way you loved people and were a steward of opportunities.” My advice would probably be along the lines of what Peter Drucker said about the 10 keys to living a significant life.

1. Find out who you are.

“Whenever people are on the road to success,” Drucker said, “they tend to think of repositioning as something they do if they’re a failure. But I would say that you ought to reposition when you’re a success, because that’s when you can afford it.” But no one can reposition for significance, Drucker claimed, without first knowing who they are and where they belong.

2. Reposition yourself for full effectiveness and fulfillment.

“Early in their careers,” Drucker said, “people tend to have a fairly limited timeframe, of four years or so. They can’t visualize what comes after that.” By the time they achieve some measure of success, however, the timeframe expands. “Suddenly they begin to think about options that are twenty, thirty, or more years ahead of them,” Drucker said. Such a long view often brings clarity where none existed before.

3. Find your existential core.

“There’s a strong correlation between high achievement and the ability to come to terms with life’s basic questions,” Drucker said. “I think the most successful people are those who have a strong faith . . . there is a very substantial correlation between religious faith, religious commitment, and success as doers in the community.”

4. Make your life your endgame.

The only worthy goal is to make a meaningful life out of an ordinary one, Drucker declared. He recommends setting one’s sights on achievements that really matter, that will make a difference in the world, and to set them far enough ahead of current achievements that the journey will be demanding but worth the effort. “Make your life your endgame,” Drucker said.

5. Planning doesn’t work.

“Opportunity comes in over the transom,” Drucker insisted, and that means one has to be flexible, ready to seize the right opportunities when they come. “Too much planning can make you deaf to opportunity,” Drucker said. “Opportunity knocks, but it knocks only once. You have to be ready for the accident.”

6. Know your values.

“If you don’t respect a job, not only will you do a poor job of it, but it will corrupt you, and eventually it may even kill you,” Drucker said. “For example, ninety-nine percent of all physicians should not become hospital administrators. Why? Because they have no respect for the job. They’re physicians and they feel that hospital administration is a job for clerks.” Knowing what you value and what you don’t can keep you from making some bad choices.

7. Define what finishing well means to you.

“My definition of success changed a long time ago,” Drucker said. “I love doing consulting work and writing-I regularly lose track of time when I’m doing those things. But finishing well, and how I want to be remembered, those are the things that matter now. Making a difference in a few lives is a worthy goal. Having enabled a few people to do the things they want to do that’s really what I want to be remembered for.”

8. Know the difference between harvesting and planting.

“For many years, I measured my work by my output-mainly in terms of books and other writing that I was doing,” Drucker said. “I was very productive for many years. I am not so productive today, because these are years of harvesting rather than years of planting.” One needs to know the difference between the two.

9. Good intentions aren’t enough; define the results you want.

The number of non-profits and charitable organizations in this country has exploded in the past several years, but many of them get poor results, Drucker said, because “they don’t ask about results, and they don’t know what results they want in the first place. They mean well and they have the best of intentions, but the only thing good intentions are for (as the maxim says) is to pave the road to hell.” To achieve the best results, Drucker said people must ask the right questions and then partner with others who have the expertise, knowledge, and discipline to get the right results.

10. Recognize the downside to “no longer learning, no longer growing.”
“I see more and more people who make it to their mid-forties or beyond, and they’ve been very successful,” Drucker said. “They’ve done very well in their work and career, but in my experience, they end up in one of three groups. One group will retire; they usually don’t live very long. The second group keeps on doing what they’ve been doing, but they’re losing their enthusiasm, feeling less alive. The third group keeps doing what they’ve been doing, but they’re looking for ways to make a contribution. They feel they’ve been given a lot and they’re looking for a chance to give back. They’re not satisfied with just writing checks; they want to be involved, to help other people in a more positive way.” And they’re the ones, Drucker said, who finish well.

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