A Life That Counts

by John C. Maxwell

Ben Franklin once wrote, “I would rather have it said ‘He lived usefully’ than ‘He died rich.'” More than just words, it was the way Franklin lived his life. One example of his useful nature was the invention of the Franklin stove. Instead of patenting it and keeping it to himself, Ben Franklin decided to share his invention with the world.
Instead of seeing the world in terms of how much money he could make, Franklin saw the world in terms of how many people he could help. To Benjamin Franklin, being useful was its own reward.
As I age, I gain perspective on the illusion of wealth and status as forms of fulfillment. I don’t want my life to be measured by dollars and cents, or the number of books I’ve authored. Rather, I want to be remembered by the lives that I’ve touched. I want live a life that counts. With each day that passes, I feel a greater sense of urgency to make sure my time and energy are invested in developing leaders.
A life that counts is determined by:

1. The relationships that I form: Relationships help us to define who we are and what we can become. I consider relationships to be my greatest treasures in life and an immense source of joy.

Most people can trace their failures or successes to pivotal relationships. That’s because all relationships involve transference. When we interact with others we exchange energy, emotions, ideas and values. Some relationships reinforce our values and uplift us, while others undercut our convictions and drain us. While we cannot choose every relationship in our lives, we get to select those who are closest to us.

Relationship Rules

Get along with yourself: The one relationship you will have until you die is yourself.
Value people: You cannot make another person feel important if you secretly feel that he or she is a nobody.

Make the effort to form relationships: The result of a person who has never served others? Loneliness.

Understand the Reciprocity Rule: Over time, people come to share reciprocal, similar attitudes toward each other.

Follow the Golden Rule: The timeless principle: treat others the way you want to be treated.

2. The decisions that I make: Good decisions sometimes reap dividends years into the future, while bad decisions have a way of haunting us.

My friend, legendary basketball coach John Wooden, encourages leaders to, “Make every day your masterpiece.” Two ingredients are necessary for each day to be a masterpiece: decisions and discipline. I like to think of decisions as goal-setting and discipline as goal-getting. Decisions and discipline cannot be separated because one is worthless without the other.

Good Decisions – Daily Discipline = A Plan without Payoff

Daily Discipline – Good Decisions = Regimentation without Reward

Good Decisions + Daily Discipline = A Masterpiece of Success

3. The experiences that I encounter: Our lives are also shaped by pivotal experiences. Whether triumphs or tragedies, our lives are molded by them. Perhaps we receive a long-awaited promotion or we’re suddenly let go from a job. Perhaps a loved one passes away, or a newborn baby enters our lives. These experiences immerse us in emotions and challenge our convictions. They may even reveal our purpose in life.

Oftentimes, we’re defined not so much in the moment of experience itself as in our response to the experience. Do we quit or rebound? Do we harbor bitterness or choose to forgive? Do we blame or improve? Whatever the case, the experiences in our lives profoundly touch us. The life experiences we encounter are broad and varied, but here are a few brief pointers on gaining the most from them.

Evaluate experience: Experience isn’t the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. Learn from mistakes and victories alike. Draw upon experiences to grow and gain wisdom.

Manage the emotional aspects of experience: Pivotal moments come with a flood of emotions—at times positive, and at times negative. Teach yourself to counteract negative feelings and learn to harness the momentum of positive emotions.

Share them through storytelling: Experiences are my richest repositories of teaching material. Make a habit of sharing the lessons learned from the experiences that have shaped your life and your leadership.

“Read something positive every night and listen to something helpful every morning.”
— Tom Hopkins

“A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas—a place where history comes to life.”
— Norman Cousins

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have gone ourselves.”
— E. M. Forster

“The book you don’t read won’t help.”
— Jim Rohn