Nothing Will Haunt You Like The Difference You Never Made

Make a difference, somehow, somewhere, with someone.

Eugene Kennedy said, “There may be nothing sadder than people who spend their lives talking about what might have been.” He’s right. His observation correlates perfectly with the research.

As I reported in the last two issues of the “Tuesday Tip,” Dr. Richard Leider interviewed scores of people over the age of 65 to discover the key lessons they had learned. There were three lessons. I’ve already written about the first two, PLAN YOUR LIFE and TAKE A RISK.

But the third lesson was the most important one. These older folks said you’ve got to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. In other words, you must live a life that matters, that makes a contribution. It’s vital for you as well as for others.

Of course, many people don’t think too much about that anymore. Back in 1952, Stanford University found that 80% of the students knew why they were there. They knew what they wanted out of life, and they had a clear purpose for their lives. However, by 1982, fewer than 20% of the students knew why they were in college and no idea what difference they wanted to make in the world.

Is that a big deal? You bet! Stanford concluded that the loss of purpose in students contributed to a huge rise in the student suicide rate. Without a clear purpose in mind, life lost a lot of its meaning.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where we’re told to “Go for the gusto” and “Get all you can.” But is that the real “bottom line” in life? Is that what really counts?

Dr. Raymond Moody, a physician who wrote the best-selling book, Life After Life, says no, absolutely no. He discovered the overwhelming necessity of making a difference when he interviewed lots of people who died or who had near-death experiences. When they were brought back to life, he asked them what it was like, and what they experienced.

Even though they were supposedly dead, every one of them said their minds or spirits were very much alive. They kept thinking about the same issue over and over and over. They kept thinking about the difference they had made. And they wondered whether they had made any difference at all.

When they were brought back to life by some medical miracle, they all had the same but new “bottom line.” Their bottom line was making a difference, making a contribution, or serving others.

The good news is you don’t have to wait until you die before you learn how to live. You don’t have to wait for a crisis to happen before you wake-up. You don’t have to wait until you’re old to learn the wisdom of the ages.

Shannon Gordon learned that at age 13. Even though she was a long-term patient at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital, she was also a self-appointed good will ambassador on the children’s unit.

Bonnie Ambler first met Shannon when her five-year old daughter, Heather, was in Intensive Care and having difficulty with all the procedures. Shannon spoke to Heather and said, “Gee, I’m just a kid too, and I get needles all the time.” She showed how she was actually attached to an IV unit that she was wheeling along. Shannon continued, “They really are rotten, but if they make you feel better, I guess they’re OK.”

Bonnie learned that Shannon made regular rounds to all the children’s rooms, relieving their fears and bringing them bits of joy. And Bonnie was so impressed with Shannon that the two of them talked often. If Bonnie was worried about whether her daughter Heather would live, Shannon shared her grief. And when Heather responded to therapy, Shannon led the celebration. In a sense, Shannon was bringing healing to both Bonnie and her daughter.

In one of their discussions, Shannon shared her greatest fear. She feared that her own disease would end her life before she had a chance to make a difference in her world. She made her rounds in the children’s unit. She wrote in the hospital newsletter, but she wanted to do something more permanent.

Six months later, when Bonnie brought her daughter back to the hospital for further treatment, she learned that Shannon was still there. Her condition had worsened, and her “rounds” had become less frequent. Even when they discovered a massive growth in Shannon’s chest, she never lost her smile, her happy outlook, and her concern for others. She still managed to bring her special magic to the other children.

Not too much later, Shannon Gordon died in her mother’s arms. Her life had lasted 13 years — long enough to make a difference in the lives of Bonnie and Heather forever.

What about you? If you don’t focus your life on making a difference, you may have a good life, but you will never have a great life.

Action:  What difference do you want to make? Think about it. It’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Then write out the words you would like written on your tombstone. Let those words capture the difference you want to make.

Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be on the best course you could be on. You’ll be on track for a life of success as well as significance.