One of the greatest criminal lawyers in American history, Clarence Darrow, was hugely successful. He earned wealth, prestige, power. But in his last years, unhappiness cut a hole in Darrow’s heart. One day he heard a minister speak at the University of Chicago and asked for a personal meeting. Darrow told him, “I’m an old man, and I haven’t found the way. Oh, in the eyes of the world, I’m a success. I chose criminal defense because I could make the most money and realize my potential. I had a way with men. I was so clever at it; I could get a fee of six figures for letting some rascal who was guilty go free. Now I’m old and wise enough to know that isn’t life.
“I’ve been reading the New Testament, and I came across a passage which is a fitting epitaph for my life. Jesus was preaching in the little boat by the seaside, and after his sermon, he told them to launch out and let down their nets for a great catch. The answer of one of those disciples is my life. ‘Good teacher,’ he said, ‘we have toiled all night . . . and taken nothing.’ That is Clarence Darrow, and if you have anything to tell an old man who has failed, say on, Sir, because I haven’t found the meaning of life.”
Clarence Darrow revealed that one of man’s greatest needs is the need to be significant. It is often masked in such phrases as: “I want to make a difference.” “I want my life to count.” “I want to have an impact.” “I want to do something important with my life.”
If I had the opportunity to respond to Darrow request, I would have said the following:
- Find something that you can give yourself to that is bigger than yourself.
Our focus must be turned outward instead of inward. Our ultimate goal is to give instead of to get, to serve rather than to be served. Too many people like Clarence Darrow spend an entire lifetime focusing only on themselves. They think that significance comes from success, by having people serve them rather than they serving others. They confuse income with influence.
When we find that “big” something we give ourselves to it not out of duty, but out of desire. We won’t be in it for the money, but for making an impact. We will know that the measure of our influence is not in how many people are under us in an organizational chart, but how many people are following our example.
2. Develop the habit of life long learning.
Those people who make a significant impact on their world never stop learning. They are teachable. Those who are submissive and humble know there is always something to learn. They keep their attitudes right, their minds open, and their ears attuned to what others can teach them. They are constantly learning new things and expanding their minds. They are forever students. They listen. They question. They observe. They ponder.
One of the great tragedies of our society is that many people stop studying when they finish school. They become like a book that is unopened and unread. One who will not read is not much better off than one who cannot read.
3. Throw your worries away.
Worriers don’t make much of an impact on this world. Why? Because they are so busy fighting imaginary dragons they don’t have time to fight the real ones. And, worry tends to make one focus on oneself. As long as we are focused on ourselves we can’t make much of differenced to others. Oftentimes these people have more worries and concerns than the person doing little with their life, but they have learned to throw the weight of their worries away.
4. Take a stand for something honorable.
People who make a significant difference have a deep-settled belief that they are standing for something honorable. The fact is, unless we stand we cannot withstand. Unless we stand for something we will fall for anything. Archimedes, the famous Greek mathematician and physicist, said that if he were given three things he could move the earth off its axis. “Give me a standing place out yonder in space, a fulcrum, and a lever long enough and strong enough, and I will move the world!”
Perhaps if Clarence Darrow had sought significance over success his final epitaph would not be “I have toiled all night . . . and taken nothing,” but, rather, “I have served all day . . . and found everything.”
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