In his book, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, John Ortberg tells a story about his son. Ortberg says,

One day when my son was three, he had been working with a tape player for an hour or so. After a while he looked up at his mom and said, ‘Mom, you know what’s the trouble with life?’ His mom replied, ‘No I don’t. What’s the trouble with life?’ The three-year-old sitting on the floor, who had thoroughly reflected on both toy technology and the conditions of human existence, made a profound observation. ‘The trouble with life is that it doesn’t have a rewind button!’ Every day and every minute carries its own finality. Time is a non-renewable resource.”  

It’s true. We can’t rewind the past.  Nor can we fast forward to the future.  But we do have the power to do something even more profound today – to hit the pause button.

Before you rush headlong into working on a list of things you resolve to improve this year, pause to take inventory of what really matters. More importantly, how much of what really matters to you is reflected in what you do with your precious time today?  Are you doing work that you are truly passionate about?  Or have you slid into a career that leaves you yearning for something more?

The fact is, the urgency of getting on with what we are meant to do in life increases with each passing year. Yet few of us have ever taken the time to actually sit down and write a list of what matters most to us in our work.  This idea is central to a book written by my colleague, Sheri Nasim, called Work On Purpose.  It’s an uplifting perspective on life and work.

In the book, Sheri describes a time when she paused in the middle of a successful 20-year career in corporate America.  When one of her firm’s clients announced a multi-billion dollar profit for the quarter, she suddenly felt empty. She lost her drive to be a star player.  She realized that she had gotten really good at something she didn’t love doing.

After reading Sheri’s book, I sat down and thought about my own situation.  What conditions did I need for work to have meaning in my life?  After careful consideration, I wrote the following list:

  1. People Centered – Are those people I serve healthier and wiser as a result of our relationship?
  2. Value Added – Does my work positively impact the community?
  3. Service Sensitive – Do I elevate the dignity of clients, customers, and employees I serve?
  4. Profit Based – Does my purpose in life provide a financial surplus in order to support causes I believe in?

I’m curious to know what your list would look like.  As leaders, if we are not clear about our purpose in life, we won’t be able to help others discover what they need to find meaning in their work.

Find a quiet space to pause and consider what really matters most to you in your work. Once you identify those needs, write them down, live by them, and this time next year, you will not look back and wish you had a rewind button.

Question: Are you caught in the cycle of making and breaking goals?  If so, could it be because you haven’t identified what’s most important to you?

Wm. Skip Catching

Wm. Skip Catching



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