Working on Purpose

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

Dream big. Live out your dreams. Pursue your dream relentlessly. You are not whole until your dreams are made real.

We hear that a lot, and I’ve said some of it myself.  It’s actually a whole cottage industry in the self-help field, and I am thrilled with the life-changing impact those people have had on others who thought dreams were just something tucked in a box labeled “maybe, someday…”

Yet, I wonder if in exalting dreams to such a higher order we might diminish something else that is core to our being – the honor, nobility and value of work itself.

Just work.

I dumped my motorcycle a few weeks ago while on a twilight run to take some sunset pictures at a remote park overlooking the Ohio River. No big deal, just made a rookie error taking a U-turn too slowly on a hill. Except my clutch handle broke off, rendering the bike inoperable. I sat on the curb and glumly inventoried my condition: Daylight was fading fast, my cell phone battery fading even faster, and my wife was out-of-town. Oh, and a call to my normally trusty auto insurance company revealed that they did not cover motorcyles.

With the battery warning light blinking hysterically, I finally Googled-up a tow truck driver who promised to be there soon. Cash has its own voice, I suppose.

When the tow truck – festooned with whirling red and yellow warning lights – trundled up right on time, I felt that lift in your spirit that says Fate is no longer snapping you with a wet towel. The driver, who I’ll call Dean, was a cheerful chap, with just the right equanimity of empathy and competence. He let me “help” him get the wounded bike onto the flatbed and tie it down, then we piled into the cab and we were on our way back to town.

Along the way, I struck up a conversation – is this your company, is this your truck, how long have you been doing this work, what is the weirdest tow you’ve ever done…you know, tow truck talk.

It was a long drive, so the conversation meandered into other meadows. Dean said in his early 20s he had been called up from a minor league baseball club to join the Cincinnati Reds. The Show. Nice contract. Had an impressive run of hits and field play for his first few weeks until a leg tendon snapped on a slide into third. Retreated to his dad’s tow truck business only to find his wife had signed on to be married to a million-dollar baseball player, not a tow jockey, so she split with what was left of his first-year salary and signing bonus. His Dad’s business went greasy side up two years later, so he scraped together some loans and bought his own rig.

“You know,” Dean said, perhaps sensing my unease with all that tale of lost dreams, “I love what I do. When I pull up to a customer, they’re usually all upset, worried, thinking about being late somewhere or how to get home. I just tell them ‘Don’t worry, everything’s fine now. We’ll get you on your way in a jiffy.’ That’s what I do.”

I looked around that cab – it was pristine clean, even detailed. A bottle of water right there in the center console for the customer. I’m pretty sure Dean has two less zeroes on the end of his net worth right now, but you’d never know it by the comfortable grin on his face.

The world needs dreamers. Some of the most transformational advances in our society have come from dreamers, big and small. Dreams can propel lives to a whole new level. Still, sometimes dreams don’t come true, sometimes we simply cannot find a way for them to become that, or we cannot afford it. Or other voices in our lives call us. It does not make us less.

That night I needed a tow truck driver. We need people who simply take what they find themselves doing and do it exceptionally well. There is a craftsmanship, a pride, an expertise, even an ethereal sense of how to do things that would leave many of us bewildered and lost. Work provides, it protects, it serves. We contribute. Work is what makes us fuller.

You do matter, Dean. You have a purpose. It was not the one you dreamed about, but it is the one you have decided to own, to live out knowing it matters to us.

And that matters to you.

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