How to Live a Useful Life

When you are 80 years old, sitting in your porch rocking chair and reflecting on life, questions such as Did I live a useful life? will cross your mind.  There’s no doubt this question will be important to you at 80, so it really should be important to you now.

Unfortunately, a lot of people make a habit of postponing life.  They think that somehow, some way, somewhere at some time, life will get better.  Here is a well-known saying helps illustrate my point:

First I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to marry and have children. Then I was dying for my children to grow old enough so I could return to work. Then I was dying to retire. And now I am dying and suddenly realize I forgot to live.

Isabel Moore said, “Life is a one-way street. No matter how many detours you take, none of them leads back.  And once you know and accept that, life becomes much simpler.”

We must understand that the only day we have is today.  Life is a one-way street.  This isn’t a dress rehearsal—it’s a live performance.

We need to take special care to live a useful life, starting now.

So what does it mean to live a useful life?  For me, the usefulness of my life is determined by:

•    The relationships I form
•    The decisions I make
•    The experiences I encounter

The Relationships I Form
Relationships help us define who we are and what we can become.  More than almost anything else, relationships determine the kind of life you lead.  In fact, most people can trace their failures or successes back to pivotal relationships they have had in their lives.

Our relationships with others fall into one of four categories:

1. Addition—Some relationships add to who we are.
2. Subtraction—Some relationships take a little bit out of us.
3. Multiplication—Some relationships can multiply our strengths, results and contacts.
4. Division—Some relationships can divide us.

Think about the people in your life.  Where do they fit into these categories?  I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to put names beside each category, right?  Many of the sorrows we experience spring out of relationships with the wrong people.  But it is also true that some of the greatest joys we experience in life develop as the result of our relationships with the right people.  With that in mind, work to increase the time and energy you invest in the relationships that improve your life.

And, above all, work on becoming a person who improves others’ lives.

The Decisions I Make
Our decisions also determine the usefulness of our lives.  One of my favorite quotes on making decisions comes from the great John Wooden, who said, “Make each day your masterpiece.”

There are two ingredients necessary to make every day a masterpiece: decisions and discipline.  Decision-making takes care of goal setting, but discipline also takes care of goal-getting.  Decisions and discipline can’t be separated; one is worthless without the other.

Since we are talking about living a useful life, let me share what I consider to be a few of my own life-changing decisions.

I am committed to continual personal growth.  I believe growth is happiness it is essential.  Out of my growth I live, and out of my growth, I give.
I will give and serve to my friends and my enemies.  Many of the blessings I enjoy today are the result of the decision I made to try to live a life of giving with no strings attached.
I will exhibit a great attitude, regardless of the situation.  We can’t control the things that happen to us in our lives, but we can control the attitude you have towards the things that happen to you in your life.

I will live my life serving my Lord and doing His will.  The day I finally decided to give control of my life over to God, my life has been so much better than it was before that day. 

Virginia Satir said, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” It’s not the circumstances life deals us that determine our success or failure. It’s our response to it.

The Experiences I Encounter
Finally, the experiences we encounter on a daily basis impact our ability to live a useful life. Joseph Campbell put it best, “People say that what we’re all seeking is meaning for life…. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

Our experiences determine how fulfilling our life is, and there are four realms to every experience:

1. Entertainment—Absorbing experience through the senses
2. Educational—Participation of a person’s mind or body, sometimes both
3. Escapist—Completely involves the person, like going to a theme park
4. Esthetic—Immersion in an environment but not affecting it

Jim Gilmore was spot-on when he said, “The richest and most compelling human experiences draw from all four realms.” If you are a leader or a communicator, ask yourself: When I am communicating with or leading people, do I involve all four experiences?


If you’re not doing something with your life, it doesn’t matter how long it is. If you’re doing something with your life, it doesn’t matter how long it is. Life does not consist of years lived, but of its usefulness.  If you are giving, loving, serving, helping, encouraging and adding value to others, you have a useful life!

Adapted from article written by John C. Maxwell in Success magazine (Aug. 2010)

About wmarsau

Most of the people who visit this blog already know me so it is kind of pointless to try to describe my life in this short little blurb. What is the purpose of this blog is the question. Over the course of this last year I have been exposed to some amazing people and have made personal development an important focus of my life. Being successful, not by the world's standards, but by God's has become my main focus. Mainly, I want to work to develop myself as a person who is kinder, reaches out to help those in need, and truly makes a difference in this world. To this end I am constantly reading and am exposed to so many differnet things along the way. These have been amazing and it is helping me grow so much. Then I started to think, "Why am I being so selfish?" You need to share with others these amazing things you are learning and being exposed to. That is where this blog comes into play. As I am reading and experiencing things that are truly amazing and life changing, I will be posting them on this blog. Obviously, I will not be able to post everything in it's entirity, but I will be summarizing them and letting you know the source of the article or book they come from so you can check them out later if you wish. I want this blog to be a place where you can go to often and be inspired and leave here with a smile on your face. I will be covering all kinds of different topics dealing with success and personal development. Topics like taking action, relationships, living to your potential, reinventing yourself, finances, leadership, presenting, goal setting, time management, etc. I will also be occasionally including topics on cooking, music, and gardening because they are special interests of mine. As a little disclaimer, I have given my life to the Lord and he is #1 in my life. I am his servant and everything I do in life is for his glory. With that being said, religion influences all areas of my life. There will be references to God in this blog because I can't seperate God from this or any other area of my life. I want you to know that if you do not believe in God, that is fine. That is your choice. This blog is open to anyone who wants to better their life. I will not be trying to influence or pressure anyone into having a relationship with the Lord from this site. Please don't feel uncomfortable. You can just read the portions of the blog that you wish to. I am inviting you to go on a journey with me. We will learn together to be the kind of people we were designed to be. Anyone can make a difference in this world, but it starts%
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