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In the fall of 1981, I was sitting on a bench on campus in deep conversation with a gentleman who had been my mentor for several years. I was a college junior, trying to decide between several different career paths.

"I like several of my options, but I don't have the foggiest idea which is best," I said.

My mentor smiled and said, "The problem is you're trying to figure out the what before you discover the why. Why are you here?”

"Life is tough. It can beat you down,” he continued. “Many people end up going mindlessly through life. They take some hits and go through the motions. Their influence shrinks instead of expanding - all because they never discovered their why."

"Gary, make sure your why is big enough. Everything else will flow from that," he concluded.

Only as the years went by did I discover how true his words were.

Life has taken a bite out of most of us. Many have endured multiple, serious losses: family deaths, health issues, financial disasters, and relational estrangements. Others seem to have had a smoother road, but we can't see the heart and the deep struggles that happen there.

We’ve all been wounded. We all have baggage to deal with. We each travel our own road and make decisions about what we're going to believe, how we're going to live, and who we're going to do life with.

The paths we've chosen often have to do with the voices in our past - some negative, and others positive. I remember hearing statements like: "You can do it. I believe in you." "You are so smart." "That's great! Way to go!"

I can also recall the following: "You'll never be good enough." “You’re nobody.” "No one will ever love you."

Who knows why the human heart chooses to believe one statement over the other? Part of it has to do with the person behind the words. If they were close to us, such as a parent, sibling, or close friend, their words might carry more weight. Yet, it's amazing what power words from a stranger can have on our souls.

Our hearts hear it all. We sift through it, and decide what we're going to believe about ourselves. Then we begin to unconsciously live that out.

Sadly, the negative seems to pack more punch than the positive. Words have power, and can wound us deeply.

On top of this is the pressure of our culture to be more, do more, and have more. We begin comparing ourselves with others at an early age, unaware that when we do so nobody wins.

Deep within most of us is a nagging feeling we’re not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, or athletic enough. Not manly enough, pretty enough, or successful enough. Add to this some guilt, shame, and regret, and we begin to walk through life gazing down at the sidewalk.

As we get older, our challenges seem to grow. Health becomes more of an issue. Our limitations naturally increase. It can feel like our lives are shrinking. Since we can do less, we begin to feel we are less. If we don't counteract this trend, we can find ourselves simply going through the motions, living on auto-pilot, and passing time.

The words of my college mentor come drifting back across the years. Is our why big enough? In most cases, I don't believe it is.

In my years as a hospice chaplain I've heard hundreds of life stories. Though all different, one common theme emerges. Our greatest wounds, regrets, delights, and joys are all connected to other people. My hospice patients have told me, one way or another, that life is about relationships.

If this is the case, our why, whatever it is, must be about people. It has to do with things like love, understanding, forgiveness, commitment, kindness, and service. Our hearts soften in the presence of these virtues. Healing and growth take place. When our relationships are right, we become more of who we really are.

Love coaxes us out of hiding. It energizes our will. We live on a higher plane, and engage more naturally with the important stuff. Minus love from the equation and we wilt. Add some harsh judgment and criticism and life can quickly become dark.

How do we live with meaning and purpose, even in the face of aging and growing limitations? It has to do with our why.

Why are we here?

Here are some answers I've heard recently: “To love other people with all I am and have.” “To serve, protect, and love my family.” “To help hurting people heal and grow.” “To love deeply, encourage often, and forgive quickly.” “To live generously.”

When giving these answers, the speakers never indicated they had it together or had accomplished these things. Their why was their goal, their mission - something they were learning about and growing toward.

Once we know and articulate our purpose, we can begin to make decisions that help us live it out. It’s a simple, three-step process.

1. Articulate your purpose.

Take some time. Think deeply. Why are you here? Write it down. Let it sink in. Tweak it. Keep it simple, and short.

2. Post your purpose.

Post your why someplace prominent - maybe several places. Put it where you will see it several times a day. We need these reminders, or else the mediocre and mundane can drift in and seize us.

3. Determine your next action step.

Once you've identified and posted why you're here, think about what your first action step will be. What’s one thing you can do to begin living this out?

Do you need to tweak something to be more intentional? Do you need to get out of your comfort zone and engage in new ways? Be specific and practical.

Living with great meaning rarely happens naturally. It happens on purpose. We must be intentional.

Why are you here? It’s time find the answer, and to become even more of who you are.

Gary Roe is an author, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. Gary’s most recent book, Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss of a Spouse, is an Amazon Bestseller, available from Hospice Brazos Valley (821-2266), Amazon, or www.garyroe.com .