A Commentary on Purpose: Are You a Pipe or a Fountain?

Finding purpose by being a means to an end

Pipes are quite ordinary, typically unattractive and pretty much invisible– until there’s a problem.  In contrast, fountains are quite lovely, typically beautiful and admired.  If given the choice, which would you rather be–the pipe or the fountain? The obvious choice for most would be the fountain.

The conundrum is, there has to be a pipe if there’s going to be a fountain. In organizations, someone has to be the “pipe” – and a darn good one, otherwise the “fountain” will fail. Organizations need both “pipes” and “fountains.”

The Best Leaders are a Means to an End

PurposeThe best leaders are great leaders because they empower others to shine. They know their purpose, but that purpose isn’t always in the spotlight.  They are often the means to the end…not the end itself.

Andy Stanley challenged the attendees of Leadercast 2017 to be willing to be a means to an end.  He shared that most of us want to be the ‘end.’ We want to be the climax, the grand finale. However, it is in the ‘means’ where you find purpose, your reason for existence.

We all want to know what our purpose is.  At some point we all ask ourselves “What am I here for?”  Stanley suggests replacing the What with a Who.  Instead of asking yourselves “What am I here for?” start asking yourself, “Who am I here for?” When you identify who you are serving, you’ve found your purpose.

The Cost of Being a Means to an End

Taking an others-focused approach will be costly.  We may have to give up what will profit us the most personally when we choose to serve as a means rather than the end.

You may hear stories of professional athletes, first responders, business men or women, military heroes, etc. that took on great sacrifices to do what they knew was right.  Those stories are inspiring.  They fill us with a desire to chase big dreams and aspire to greatness.

Too often, we want the end result but we’re not willing to accept the price that comes with it.  The stories that inspire us the most are stories of people sacrificing for something larger than themselves.  Taking on costs for a team, a family, a country.  It’s there where our purpose is found – when we are a means to an end. The stories that inspire us the most are stories of people sacrificing for something larger than themselves.

Andy Stanley said it well, “Those who devote themselves to themselves will ultimately have nothing but themselves to show for themselves, regardless of what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve owned.” Quite simply, you were designed for more than yourself.

How to See Your Life with Purpose

Take a look at everything you are doing and see it as a means, not an end.  Your job is a means to giving you (and possibly your family) shelter, providing food, and keeping you dressed. It may not be your dream job, but it’s doing a lot of good for a lot of people. If you are working hard, you are providing a great benefit to others.  Just as a pipe, if it is a good pipe, provides a great benefit to all the people/plants/animals, that enjoy the fountain.

Secondly, pay attention to what stirs your heart. What are you willing to sacrifice for?  That is where you will find meaning and purpose.

Stanley also shared, “Your purpose is often found at the intersection of a broken heart, opportunity, and skill.”  Sometimes the introspection provided by career or relationship disappointment leads to a new insight that develops into a new–or renewed–purpose.

Surround yourself with on-purpose people.  More than germs are contagious.  Greed, selfishness, compassion and generosity are all contagious.  Be sure you surround yourself with people that possess the latter 2 characteristics.  Our friends determine the direction and quality of our lives.

If you are a leader who wants purpose ask yourself if you are willing to be a means to and end. Am I willing to be a pipe so that something or someone else can be impressive? It’s a humbling thought.  If we’re truly honest we may not like what we find.  It certainly gave me some food for thought when Andy Stanley shared it.

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