I remember a time in college when I returned home to visit my mom, and she told me about a troubling sight she had just seen. A school bus had stopped at a light beside her, and the faces of sullen and despondent teenagers filled every visible window.
Her voice was soaked in sadness as she explained, “They’re kids, on a Friday afternoon, going home for a long weekend. This is supposed to be an exciting and optimistic time in their lives. They shouldn’t look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.”
We lived in an affluent town, and although teen angst can run deep and shouldn’t be trivialized, I doubt few on that bus had many unmet wants.
My mom recalled the joy she had felt as a young woman, enthusiastic to learn what each tomorrow held in store for her. She hinted that bringing a surplus of exuberance into adulthood is helpful because it gets harder and harder to retain or recapture that joy after prolonged exposure to the random blows life inevitably sends your way.
When you see the sad, slack, bovine expressions of listless figures through a window, or perhaps in your bathroom mirror, you’re not looking at purposeful people motivated by an exciting and worthwhile goal. You see disillusionment, worry, and fear which are horrible expressions to have painted across anyone’s face. Discouragement and demoralization do not suddenly appear. They are signs of erosion, put there by constant exposure to negative elements which rob people of their faith and ingenuity, and insidiously stifles early talent with ridicule, disdain, or worse, indifference.
Some of the teens who carried those gloomy expressions my mom saw, may have recaptured the joy and enthusiasm she spoke of, but many, dare I guess most, have not. Today, they are your doctors, bankers, teachers, professors, police officers, city planners, elected officials, cubicle dwellers and leaders influencing others, for better or worse.
People who are disillusioned, discouraged and chronically disappointed with where they are in life make lousy leaders. They can systematically erode the optimistic possibilities held by others. Sadly, with their influence they are, through ignorance more than intent, creating a new generation of lousy leaders. That cycle must stop.
I believe happiness and purposefulness come about by the active pursuit of a worthy goal, therefore if you want to be happy you should never be without a great goal.
I believe most people know what they want to contribute to society, but lack the confidence and support to pursue their dreams.
I believe great listeners create great leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs; and when you learn to listen, particularly to yourself, epiphanies become common.
I believe accountability raises both your game and your aim. You achieve more when you are held accountable for your decisions and your actions.
I believe good leadership can eradicate despondency from the faces and hearts of the disillusioned and dissipate its corrosive effect on the world at large.
Imagine if every woman, man, and child you know had at least one great goal that they were actively working toward every day? The buzz of energy produced from such productivity, collaboration, and purposefulness would do more than illuminate cities; it would illuminate minds long shrouded in a fog of doubt. It would raise hope, lift spirits, and propel those with a success mindset ever forward. To solve what others thought unsolvable. To achieve what all but a few thought unattainable. To refuse the deferment of dreams long-held, or thoughts long held silent. To try, to fail, to try again, without stigma or scorn.
It is possible.
We may not ever live in a world without conflict, but we cannot call it living if it’s in a world without goals. The best we could do then is exist, and merely existing is not good enough for me, and I doubt it is for you.
What’s your next great goal? Will you pursue it with joy?
Also published on Medium.