Author Daniel Pink speaks of an incident that may or may not have occurred in the 1960s in President John F. Kennedy’s office. Playwright, Congresswoman and Ambassador Clare Booth Luce was concerned that Kennedy was attempting to accomplish too many things so she said, “A great man is a sentence.” The president asked what that meant.
She explained that great leaders did not attempt to do a big number of things. They tried to do one or two big transcendent things. Any great leader that accomplished a worthwhile cause could be described in one sentence. Lincoln: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” FDR: “He lifted us out of a depression and helped us win a war.”
As I thought about my sentence, I realized a few things.
First, when we are very young, our sentence can only describe a dream or an aspiration, a vision. It can’t really describe who we are yet because we are not who we will become. It is said that a vision without a task is a daydream. Therefore, to accomplish our vision, we need to have a plan, a course of action and implement it towards that vision. We are now in the process of building our Sentence.
In the middle stages of our life, our Sentence is being modified and sculpted by external and internal forces. If we can maintain our vision and the attendant task we are on track with our Sentence. During this critical phase of our development, we are finely tuning our Sentence. We are working under the constraints and objectives of our employment and other circumstances.
In the later years of our life, our Sentence should be pretty well defined. We may have been able to greatly influence our Sentence. We may have developed the ability to make choices that lead to our desired Sentence. In this case we would feel that we had a rich and rewarding life. Maybe other forces had the greater impact and our Sentence is nothing like we wanted or expected. Our life may prove a disappointment and be a cause of bitterness and anger. A third, and more likely option, is that a combination of the two is true in which case we may have some regrets and some joy.
All this assumes that we had a vision to begin with and we attempted to implement actions to arrive at that vision. I suspect that, when young, most of us did not have a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve in life. I don’t mean the vision of becoming “rich and famous.” I am talking about something that includes real achievement; a guiding light for your life. Does anyone really want their defining Sentence to be, “He made a billion dollars?”
As for me, I never had a true vision of what I wanted to achieve or be. Through a series of fortunate events, I am relatively comfortable with what I have become. I believe that I have brought value to the lives of others and have left many better for having known me. Maybe that is my Sentence.
An interesting thing about the Sentence is that although the achievement is mostly in your control, the actual Sentence can only be deduced and spoken by others. Sometimes the sentence is not clear until you have passed on. I find it interesting that once someone is gone, how others view them softens.
I suggest that no matter what age you are, you take a few minutes to describe your present Sentence and determine if you are headed in the desired direction toward your end Sentence.
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