People who serve in leadership positions are often the ones in the spotlight. They also usually receive accolades for changing people’s lives. When it comes to finding your significance though, Dr. Kathleen Patterson contends that it isn’t all about the spotlight.
“During my childhood, I lived in an orphanage,” says Patterson, who directs Regent University’s Doctor of Strategic Leadership Program. “When I was in the second grade, I did not know how to read. I remember my teacher taking me home and patiently working with me to help me learn how to read. She had no idea I would go on to get a college degree and a doctoral degree. She wasn’t in the spotlight, but she made a difference in my life.”
When people were asked, “If you could ask God or your supreme being any question and get an answer, what would you ask?” They most frequently asked, “What is my purpose?” Or, “Why am I here?”
“In many instances, people struggle to find their purpose and they believe if they aren’t doing something significant in the world’s eyes, they can’t really make a difference,” Patterson says. “The reality is, that’s just faulty thinking. Just like my teacher, there are many men and women who aren’t in the spotlight, yet they are leading from the seat they are in and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Patterson contends that the world’s definition of significance may not necessarily be where people truly experience it. In fact, many believe that being the ‘top dog’ will create significance.
“The world tells us you have to take charge in order to be significant,” Patterson shares.
“However, many have found significance in quietly serving others. According to the world, money, fame, beauty, intellect, power and accolades make people significant. If that is true, why do so many people at the time they are preparing to leave this world lament the time they spent pursuing these things at the expense of the relationships that mattered most to them?
“A friend of mine who served as dean of a college was giving a ride home to one of the housekeepers for the men’s dorm,” Patterson says. “He asked her how her job was going. She said, ‘I never graduated high school. I don’t have a degree, but I love my job. I won’t be the one to find a cure for cancer, but I might be cleaning the room of someone who will. My goal is to do my job to the best of my ability every day.’ This reminded me once again that you clearly do not have to be leading the pack to make a difference.”
Finally, Patterson says that although the world tells people to seek comfort, we often find our significance in the midst of difficult things.
Fifty years ago, while in high school, a diving accident left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic. At first she spent a lot of time asking, “Why me?” She eventually asked, “Why not me?” She went on to create camps to help quadriplegic adults and children adjust and deal with their unique challenges. Through the biggest challenge she had ever faced, she ultimately found her purpose and significance.
“The truth is, we don’t have to wait until we accomplish great things. And the spotlight is shining on us to impact the lives of people around us,” Patterson says.
Most of us can probably look back and remember those who shaped, supported or challenged us in some way. They may never have known it, but their actions somehow affected us. Perhaps the key to finding significance is to live in the moment and do the next right thing, one step at a time.