Context and Purpose


On Friday I had two MSU freshmen on my radio show.  They were graduates of a marvelous middle and high school program called the Art of Leadership.*  One facet of that program is that the young people write a personal life vision statement.  The first young lady told me that her vision was to bring joy into the lives of all of the people that she met. She said that even when people were negative, she would make every effort to listen to them, to help them to see the positive, and to maintain her own sense of joyfulness.  It was very cool to see this young woman approaching life with a sense of purpose that was both broad yet deeply personal.  I was uplifted by the vision and the light in her eyes.

I asked the other young woman what her vision was.  She said that a lot of times life is not really that great but that if you communicate and work with other people you can actually make good things happen for them and for you.  I will admit it.  I felt underwhelmed.  A vision statement should greatly inspire; it should offer hope in some lofty purpose. Our interview went on.

Later we were discussing how they became like a family in the Art of Leadership program.  And the second girl quite matter-of-factly said: “Well I lost both of my parents…”  She said that Denise, the program leader, had helped her face that loss and move on.  These thoughts screamed in my head:  “Mulhern, now are you still underwhelmed by this young lady’s vision?  Because when she says life isn’t always that great she knows whereof she speaks! When will you realize how misleading appearances really are?

I took two very lessons from this experience.  First, context really matters.  People’s words truly make sense only to the degree you understand the context in their thought and their life.

I was also struck by the power of two eighteen year old women moving through life with a vision and a sense that they belong and have a unique purpose.  With vision and purpose of their own, they don’t have to wait for others, blame others, or even follow others.  They have a direction of their own and can lead.  As we raise up our fellow employees, and as we raise adults at home, we should never lose track of the power that comes when they choose a purpose. As we help them find purpose, we and they can

Lead with our best self.


You can read about the great work of the Art of Leadership programs at