July 7, 2016
For Immediate Release
Today the Felding Foundation announced the recipient of the annual Person With Purpose award. This year’s winner asked to have his name kept anonymous and to be just known as PWP. PWP is currently employed as a street sweeper on a downtown mall.
“My purpose is to keep the mall clean so that the citizens and visitors can enjoy this fine outdoor resource,” PWP stated. “I’m able to enjoy fresh air, meet many interesting people and have developed a world class collection of odds-and-ends that people have discarded.”
When asked why he is sweeping the outdoor mall rather than being mayor, a brain surgeon or leading the fight to save the spotted chameleon, PWP simply said, “Those jobs are already filled. The mall needed a sweeper. I can make a contribution and I enjoy the job.”
One of the selecting panel judges asked PWP if he got bored. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “Every day is a new adventure. I may need to deal with snow, rain, wind or sunshine. There are new people to meet. I have a clear goal and I pursue it every day.”
The Felding Award Committee has developed a question and answer document based upon an interview with PWP that is being distributed with this press release.
Questions and Answers
Question: What comes to mind when you hear the word “purpose?”
Answer from PWP: When thinking about terms such as “purpose” I find it easy to lose track of what the word is. I know the general intent, but can’t remember the specific word. So I used a memory device and imagined a porpoise. Since then whenever I’ve been thinking about this subject, I start by picturing a porpoise and the word “purpose” snaps into place. What better memory device than a beautiful mammal that moves gracefully though the seas with determination and intent.
Question: What does purpose mean?
Answer from PWP: Let’s dissect purpose. First, there must be a goal, a vision, a target, a principle destination, a Mecca. We seek an outcome or result. We have an idea and a point where we’re headed. “I have a dream,” resonates and produces a mental image of what can be. My goal today, once this interview is completed, is to sweep the whole mall.
To reach that end, there must be a plan. We must design a blueprint, draw up a map or formulate the direction to take. We must take aim. This requires calculation, reason and thought to figure out how to accomplish our objective. My plan is to start at one end of the mall and sweep to the other end.
With a plan in place, we must then decide to go on the journey. It doesn’t just happen, but requires the human will to pursue, take the necessary action to work toward the goal. I could have the greatest plan, but if I never pick up my broom, nothing happens.
Once we are on the journey, it will not be easy. There will be obstacles along the way. We must maintain our energy, focus and resolve to continue. We must have the determination, ambition and desire to take the next step. We make a commitment and then follow through. We must maintain faith with the single-mindedness to succeed. We are tested during our trip. Shall I give up? Shall I just sit down beside the road and forget about it? We must be tenacious, stalwart, staunch, undeviating, unfaltering, unwavering. This requires a confidence that we are on an important mission. We must not get distracted but maintain our focus on the scope of what we have set out to accomplish. I once had a prankster steel my broom. I could have given up, but instead I went to a store and bought a new broom.
Question: What if you don’t achieve your goal?
Answer from PWP: Pardon me for being blunt, but it’s the journey, stupid. We must set goals and work toward them, but whether we reach them or not isn’t as important as what we do along the way. I set out each morning with the goal of sweeping the whole mall. Most days I make it, but one time I got sidetracked helping a lost child.
Question: Compare purpose to lack of purpose.
Answer from PWP: Purpose involves energy, direction and focus. When I am purposeful the broom just flies in my hands and the day zips by. The next morning, I can’t wait to pick up the broom again, to see what adventures await me.
Lack of purpose--I sit staring at the ground. I don’t pick up my broom and I don’t go anywhere. My eyes close. I think of taking a nap.
Whatever occupation or hobby we’re involved in, we can find ourselves bouncing between these two extremes. Some is directed from the outside.
“Take that hill, soldier.”
But the ultimate meaning and drive comes from within each of us. Rather than take the hill, I could go off to the pub or I could take the anthill with the same verve as Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill.
So even if the impetus is external, the deciding factor is still my own attitude and how I interact with the external calling.
Question: You can’t be up all the time. Who or what inspires you?
Answer from PWP: Like everyone else, I seek someone to inspire, motivate and lead me, but still there is an internal switch that is flipped to indicate I am ready to be inspired, motivated or led.
Why not just flip the switch and provide my own inspiration, motivation and leadership?
Question: Just a minute. I’m asking the questions here. Why not just flip the switch and provide your own inspiration, motivation and leadership?
Answer from PWP: Exactly. I couldn’t have posed the question better myself. When I take control of my own attitude I can flip the switch. If I wallow in feeling sorry for myself or am holding a grudge, then I need someone to shake me. That’s why it’s always good to have some external feedback along the journey.
Question: What purposes do you pursue and which do you abandon?
Answer from PWP: We all have many choices. Talent dictates some. My five-foot-six inch body wouldn’t help becoming a basketball star. Yet, I’ve developed the endurance to sweep from dawn to dusk.
Question: Do we choose a purpose or does it choose us?
Answer from PWP: Every person can have a purpose. Each purpose is unique. A child who has a beautiful voice can become a singer and give enjoyment to millions of listeners while feeling the fulfillment of music, whereas I’m tone deaf and can’t carry a tune. So my purpose is not to sing. We may have an innate talent that we can develop. We may be born with this talent (it chooses us), but it is still up to us to develop and nurture this talent. Not all children with beautiful voices become singers. Fulfilling this purpose requires commitment, action and follow through.
Question: Where does purpose apply in life?
Answer from PWP: Purpose can be found in many different spheres. There are examples in work, family, volunteer activities and even sports.
When I was in high school, I wanted to win the state mile run. I carried a picture of the track in my wallet as I practiced every day. Did I achieve my goal? I beat two runners and came in sixth. But I enjoyed the journey, and it contributed to my still being in good physical shape.
Question: You’ve been compared to Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Winston Churchill, yet you’re only a sweeper. What gives?
Answer from PWP: I’m just a common person with purpose. Clearly, there are world famous PWPs, but every person in the world has the potential to be a PWP in whatever sphere of influence he or she has. I can choose to be a grouchy curmudgeon or a cheerful participant in life. Look around you. There are people who seem to have everything, but are miserable. There are others who have survived the most tragic events, yet are full of joy and enthusiasm. I’ve found what I’m good at, I enjoy it, I support myself and I give back to the community.
Question: What does purpose have to do with meaning?
Answer from PWP: Purpose involves meaning. We don’t invent meaning. We discover it. It is there to be found, but we must proactively go after it. We have to seek it out. The universe is benign, and it is up to us to interact with it, set a direction and be agents of positive change.
We must question. What goal shall I set? What path shall I follow? What steps will I take on the journey? How will I overcome obstacles? What do I do when I feel discouraged?
The hero’s journey is the journey of purpose. There is a challenge and the hero leaves the comfort of home to achieve a goal. Obstacles are encountered. The hero grows, learns and eventually succeeds. With the quest accomplished, the hero returns as a complete person.
Question: How does religion relate to purpose?
Answer from PWP: As I sweep along the mall, I meet many people of different faiths. My pocket has been picked by people professing to be religious, and I’ve seen some of the most incredible acts of human kindness from people who claim they’re not religious.
I believe that all religions at the core are addressing the same basic topic: There is a power greater than ourselves, call it God if you like, but it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our actions and our lives.
I’ve boiled my spiritual beliefs down to three basic principles. First, treat others as they need to be treated in their circumstances. Second, do what you can to make the world a better place. Third, smile.
Question: Where do you draw the line between turning something over to God or taking responsibility?
Answer from PWP: That is the most intriguing paradox in life. If I think it is all up to me, I get arrogant and lose sight of my purpose. If I think it is all up to God, then I don’t do anything. The paradox is that I must act in order to have the higher power act through me. I can’t do it on my own, yet I am the instrument and nothing happens if I don’t take responsibility. It’s like with prayer. I don’t pray for results. I pray for the strength to do my part to help produce the results.
Question: Where does love fit into all of this?
Answer from PWP: Love is the way we interact with other people and the world. We can define this interaction purely from our own self-centered viewpoint or we can define it from the larger perspective of what is right for life. Let me give you an example. My goal is to sweep the mall each day I’m here. What happens when I encounter a lost child sitting in the play area, crying? I could just move on thinking that I don’t have time to let this child interfere with my goal or I could stop, comfort the child and help find the parent. This later action would delay achieving my goal of sweeping the mall, but it is what is being asked of me at that time.
Question: Doesn’t that mean that you didn’t define a lofty enough goal to begin with?
Answer from PWP: (smiles) No. It means that the higher purpose is wrapped around the specific goal I’ve set. As we discussed earlier, the important part is the journey. We can be so preoccupied with achieving the goal that we lose sight of why we’re pursing it. Then when we get there we feel empty and disappointed. Or we pursue the specific goal as a commitment to a life of love, and any deviation along the way is to serve the higher purpose. To achieve any lofty goal we must take a first step. We can’t solve world hunger without feeding a mouth at a time. I can’t clean the mall without first moving my broom. When I’ve emptied the last dustpan at the end of the day, I reflect back on where I started in the morning, the people I’ve met along the way and know that I’ve achieved something worthwhile.
Question: Any final comments?
Answer from PWP: It’s good to be here, living this life at this time. Now if you’ll lift your foot up, I’ll be happy to sweep away the toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.