Read by Matt Kugler
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A Life That Matters
I want to start this book by asking you a simple question. Why do you want to lead others? I hope it’s not for power or prestige or wealth. I hope you want to lead so that you can make a difference in the world with other people. I say that because the real power of leadership comes from what we can do with and for others. The value of leadership doesn’t come from recognition. It’s not about having a position. In fact, you don’t need a title or designated role to work with others and lead them. Whether you’re the official leader or you are just passionate about a cause, you can work with others to achieve a worthy goal.
If you want to make a difference, I hope you will find helpful guidance and inspiration in this book. The most influential leaders are powerful because of their unwavering belief in what they are trying to achieve. They have a drive to make a meaningful difference in the world; to improve the lives of countless people. They want their lives to matter, to be significant.
Is that what you want? Is there something you believe in deeply? Do you want to work with others to achieve something great? Do you want to lead a life that matters? You can. Everyone is capable of achieving great things. It doesn’t matter what your age, gender, nationality, or ethnicity is. It doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have. You can be a leader of change.
You don’t have to be a world-class leader to connect with like-minded people to make a difference. You don’t have to be a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Mother Teresa or a Nelson Mandela to be part of something significant. I hope you know that. In fact, you don’t have to be a “leader” at all. Most people who make a difference don’t have any kind of formal leadership position. They’re just intentional—whether they are leading the team, working as part of the team, or supporting the team. One dedicated person can make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Anyone Can Make a Difference
I want to tell you a story that illustrates this point. In 2013 at a speaking engagement I had in Bahrain, I sat across the table from Jaap Vaandrager at lunch. He is a highly successful businessman from the Netherlands who lives and works in Bahrain. During our conversation he asked me what I was writing. I briefly shared that I was writing this book about making a difference. He responded, “My daughter Celine is making a difference in the lives of people, and she is only a teenager.” He started to tell me her story, and I was blown away by it.
Growing up in the Netherlands, Celine knew how privileged she was. This became clear to her in India. Her father and grandfather had done many charity projects there, and she had gone there herself and witnessed the conditions. “I have seen how many people live in extreme poverty,” said Celine. “The children in the slums and other less fortunate areas lack basic education and the only language they learn is the local language, which limits their opportunities later in life. Their greatest wish is to break out of the slums and start a life in the city with a stable job, a stable income, and a loving family.”
The key, she realized, was education. “I believe that it is one of the most important things in life, and it enables people to do whatever they desire with their life,” said Celine. She thought that if children could be taught English, they would have a chance at a better life as they grew up.
Celine had a plan. She would provide underprivileged children at a school with an English teacher. That would help them later in life and provide greater opportunities for them. After doing a lot of research and with the help of her friends in India, she found a school. It needed an English teacher, but didn’t have enough money to pay for one. At this school and others like it, students received only the most basic supplies and a lunch, which for many is the only hot meal they get all day.
The school she found was called Mahadji Shinde Primary School. The children who attended, forty-four to a class, were some of the least fortunate children in all of India: 10 percent were orphans, 60 percent had only one parent, and 80 percent lived in sheds in the slums.
Finding an English teacher for the school was not easy, but Celine did it in a month. The teacher was a young single woman whose entire family depended on her salary, including her father who had cancer. She had been unemployed and was grateful for the job. Now all Celine had to do was figure out how to pay her.
She began raising money by holding bake sales at her school. She also sponsored swims. But the amount of money was nowhere near enough to fulfill her aims.
As Celine’s sixteenth birthday approached, she knew what she wanted to do. “For my sixteenth birthday I stepped it up a notch, inviting all my friends, family’s friends, and classmates to come to a birthday fund-raiser I was having, and I told them to bring a plus one.”
Instead of asking for gifts, she asked for donations for a charity she was creating called No Nation Without Education.
“Within hours the whole donation box was filled and I already knew I had achieved my target,” said Celine. “When I counted up the money I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had… more than double the money required. Success!”
She used the money to pay the teacher’s salary for a year. That meant the children would get English lessons, the teacher would have a stable job for a year, and her father’s cancer would be treated. With the extra money, Celine bought dozens of basic English books for the children and stuffed animals for the primary school. When Celine went there to deliver the books and toys, the children were overjoyed and welcomed her enthusiastically. On the same trip, she helped with other projects her grandfather had sponsored.
“I had such a fantastic time in India,” said Celine. “I couldn’t thank everyone enough for helping me. It was a life-changing experience and one I will never forget.”
But Celine’s story doesn’t end there. She says, “My new mission? To build a school in Mumbai, India, for my eighteenth birthday.”
I wish I had read a story like Celine’s when I was a teenager. Even with all of the advantages I had, no one ever pointed out that there were people doing significant things at that age. And it never occurred to me that I could make such a difference as a kid. Knowing this possibility then would have had a huge impact on me.
What’s Your Story?
Everyone’s life tells a story. When I meet people for the first time, as soon as the introductions are out of the way I ask them to share their stories—to tell me who they are and where they’re from, where they’ve been and where they’re going. I want to understand what matters to them. Maybe you do the same. The telling of our stories becomes an emotional connecting point for us. It bridges the gap between us.
Why is that?
Everyone loves a good story—we always have. Stories tell us who we are. They…
• Inspire us.
• Connect with us.
• Animate our reasoning process.
• Give us permission to act.
• Fire our emotions.
• Give us pictures of who we aspire to be.
Stories are us.
Every day millions of people watch movies, read novels, and search the Internet for stories that inspire them or make them laugh. Every day we listen to our friends tell us about the dramatic or funny things that happen to them. Every day people take out their smartphones to show pictures and share stories. Stories are how we relate to others, learn, and remember.
As a communicator, I spend a good portion of my days sharing stories. People don’t care a lot about cold facts. They don’t want to look at pie charts. They want excitement. They like drama. They care about pictures. They want to laugh. They want to see and feel what happened. Statistics don’t inspire people to do great things. Stories do!
Have you ever seen the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life? It’s the story of George Bailey, a man who dreams of traveling the world and building things, but who instead stays home in Bedford Falls, because he repeatedly chooses to do what he believes to be right for others. At one point in the movie George experiences a moment of crisis, and he comes to believe that everyone around him would be better off if he had never been born. What he’s really saying is that his life doesn’t matter.
The great twist in the story occurs when, with the help of an angel, George gets a chance to see what his town and others’ lives would look like if he had never existed. Without him, it’s a dark and negative place. George comes to recognize the positive impact he has made because, time after time, he took action to do what he knew was right and helped other people. As Clarence the angel tells him, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” George had touched many lives in small ways and made a difference.
Have you looked at your life from that angle? Have you thought about what you want your life story to be? How will your life connect with those around you? Will it make a difference?
We can’t know what the future holds, but there is something you can do to make the most of your opportunities to make a difference with others. Do you know what that is?
Living each day with intentionality.
When you live each day with intentionality, there’s almost no limit to what you can do. You can transform yourself, your family, your community, and your nation. When enough people do that, they can change the world. When you intentionally use your everyday life to bring about positive change in the lives of others, you begin to live a life that matters.
Get into the Story
Most people want to hear or tell a good story. But they don’t realize they can and should be the good story. That requires you to become the leader of your own life. And it means going first, even if there isn’t anyone else following you. When unintentional people see the wrongs of the world, they say, “Something should be done about that.” They see or hear a story, and they react to it emotionally and intellectually. But they go no further.
Leaders who live intentionally jump in and live the story themselves. The words of physicist Albert Einstein motivate them: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Why do so many people do nothing? I think it’s because most of us look at the evils and injustice around us, and we become overwhelmed. The problems look too big for us to tackle. We say to ourselves, “What can I do? I’m just one person.”
One person is a start. One person can act and make a change by helping another. One person can inspire a second person to be intentional, and another. This is where leadership begins. Helping people work together makes an impact. It can even become a movement. We should never let what we cannot do keep us from doing what we can do. A passive life does not become a meaningful life. You cannot make a difference if you stand on the sidelines.
I know that you may have a cause or a passion project you’re already actively involved in. Or perhaps you possess the desire to start doing something good in your community. While my daily mission is to make a difference by adding value to leaders, yours might be raising money for the local homeless shelter or animal rescue. Maybe your dream is to help families by organizing a local food bank. Maybe you want to provide resources for special-needs children, or organize an effort to help victims of a natural disaster.
To have a life that matters, you just have to start. Start with yourself. Your best story begins when you put yourself back into it. Be in the picture. Stop looking—start living! And offer to help others. Not only will that change your life and positively impact others, it will grow your credibility and moral authority to inspire and lead others to make a difference.
Bringing Others into Your Story
What you move toward moves toward you. For years I have taught that when a person moves toward his or her vision, resources begin to move toward that person. Those resources may be materials, money, or people. When a person stops moving, so do the resources. As you step into your story of significance and take action, you will find this to be true.
I have taken this principle one step further by intentionally connecting with people. I don’t just wait for people to move toward my vision; I invite them to join me. (I’ll explain this in detail in chapter 4.) There’s great power in asking others to share in your story and be part of achieving worthy goals. Don Miller illustrates this in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He writes,
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