Direction for Living

Fred Smith illustrates the impact of defining your life’s direction.

By Fred Smith

A life worth living requires defining the question: What direction do I want my life to take? I personally am much more concerned with the direction than the goals. I see people who set opposing goals and others who reach a goal and put a period after their productivity. Oftentimes reaching the goals is not nearly as satisfying as striving for them. So they come to what I and others have called "the yellow leaf of life"- the perpetual plateau. There is a sense of dissatisfaction but the inability to move on. We should set our direction and then have goals as intermediate points toward the ultimate direction. One of my friends who is a very wealthy young man read my book, You and Your Network, took a Saturday afternoon, sat down and wrote four pages outlining his life's direction and its implementation. He was 44 at the time and envisioned what would define the "second half" of his life. Mother Theresa understood her direction when she said she was not going to accept any more awards that took time away from what she was really trying to do. The apostle Paul said, "this one thing I do. . .and I determine not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Paul had the secret of the direction for his life. He did not say that we are going to win 2,000 this year nor organize 14 churches; he simply knew the direction.

A Quaker philosopher suggested that all of us as Christians should have "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" as the theme of our lives. I see this as setting the direction and I like to interpret that word "righteous" as "rightness" --- the rightness of God. By this I mean that we accept God's definition of right and wrong. In the scripture we are told not to "conform to this world" but actually I see an awful lot of Christians who think that they are not conforming if they sin slower than the society in which they live. Whenever they appear to be conforming by engaging in sin they deny it because they are doing less of it and sinning at a slower pace than the world. So long as they remain on the conservative side of the "consensus" they feel Christian. This is fuzzy thinking and it is not scriptural. We are told to be "transformed" from the inside by the spirit of God so that we can carry his redemption into whatever we do and wherever we go. We do not come to church to evidence transformation; we evidence transformation as we live every day outside the church. Our life direction must be large enough to have a transforming influence.

In selecting a direction for life, I think we need to consider "what do I want to leave when I go?" I decided this sitting on a tombstone, for I simply asked myself, what do I want written on mine? My answer was "He stretched others." Bob Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral asked me about my future activities. I told him that the rest of my life I wanted invested not in institutions but in individuals. I am simply saying, this is the direction of my life. . .this is the what I want to leave...

Once I was introducing Ray Bolger at the convention center in Las Vegas. On the night before I went to "catch his act." It was one of the most touching, philosophical dance programs I have ever seen. He came on stage with an orchestra out of sight and simply gave the signature dances of the great dancers of all time. The knowledgeable audience immediately recognized Bill Robinson's dancing up the steps or Fred Astaire's jumping from one surface to another. Then he, in a dim light, very poignantly said, "Each of the greats left a little something on the floor." They were unique. Their art contributed a piece of themselves. All the lights went out and a pencil-point spot picked up a stool. On top of the stool were Ray Bolger's shoes. He was saying, "When I go, I would like to leave a little something on the floor." The crowd broke up. He said what we all hope secretly. .. to leave footprints in life for others to follow. A philosopher once said, "man doesn't fear extinction, but extinction without making a difference."

People who contribute have clearly set their direction. Even if most of us are not going to leave much, we need to know what we want to leave and plan our life in that direction. If we fail to decide our direction, we cannot simplify our life. Until we know what kind of building we are building, there is no way to order the right materials or construct it correctly.