A story is told about a little boy who tried out for the school play. He was excited about his chance to be in the spotlight. His mother took him to the door of the school and then waited outside while he auditioned for a group of teachers. It seemed only a few minutes had passed when the boy ran out the door and into his mother’s arms, whooping with excitement about the part he had won. The mother was pleased that the teachers apparently had recognized her son’s potential. What was the part he would play? “I get to sit in the front row and clap and cheer for the kids on the stage!”
Although the performance is in vain without the audience, far too many people are satisfied to sit in the front row of life’s theater, clapping and cheering for those who play the major roles on the world’s stage. We are not here just to clap and cheer though. We are here to have starring roles – not bit parts. None of us was sent here to be an extra. James Russell Lowell said: “No man is ever born into the world whose work is not born with him. Everyone has a job to be done which he is supposed to do and which he can do better than anyone else in the world.”
Occasionally “help wanted” signs hang in the windows of businesses. Imagine for a moment that you see another kind of “help wanted” sign. This sign is unique because it has your name on it. This job is for only you because you possess the special talents, gifts, and strengths needed. The sign advertises an opening for you to accept your life mission. The dictionary defines mission as “sent out to perform a special duty.” What does your help wanted sign say? Only you can discover the answer to that question, and you must look closely or you will miss the sign.
Many people have seen their unique “help wanted” signs throughout history and have taken the jobs. Some see them early on and some see them later in life. It is not so much a matter of age when you discover the sign, as long as you recognize your name on it and take it down from the window to signify that the position has been filled.
Thomas Jefferson saw a sign that said, “Someone needed to write the Declaration of Independence.” He saw that his name on it so he took it down. George Washington saw one that said, “Someone needed to be the father of a remarkable experiment in democracy.” He stepped up and took down the sign with his name on it. Abraham Lincoln’s help wanted sign said, “Someone needed to save the nation from being torn in two.” He stepped forward and took it down.
The young man born February 11, 1847, in Milam, Ohio, was not expendable in the grand scheme of things. Thomas Alva Edison moved to New York City at age twenty two. About this time, he saw a help wanted sign that read: “Someone needed to be the greatest inventor in history.” He soon invented an electric vote recorder. At age thirty, he invented the phonograph. At age thirty one he invented the electric light bulb and formed a little company called General Electric, which is now one of the largest corporations in the world. He went on to invent the motion picture camera and held a total of 1,093 patents. Edison’s help wanted sign is summed up in his philosophy of life: “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others. I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.”
What does the world need that you could help with? The name Derek Redmond may not be as recognizable as the names of our founding fathers or great inventors but he has a mission to fill that is surely needed in our day. Derek is a former British 400 meter record holder who had dreams of winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. He trained extremely hard, but when his chance finally arrived he was forced to pull out of his race minutes before it was to start because of an Achilles injury. Although plagued by injuries in 1991, Derek was part of the gold medal 4x400 team at the world championships in Tokyo. By the time of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the star sprinter had undergone eight operations.
With his injuries behind him and in the best condition of his life it appeared that Derek’s dream of an individual gold medal was a distinct possibility. His father told him things would be different this time around. He had the fastest time in the first round and won his quarter-final heat. In the semi-final round he came out of the blocks perfectly and things couldn’t have looked better until his hamstring snapped about 250 meters from the finish line. His face showed the agony of the physical and emotional pain as he first started to limp badly and then fell to the track. Concerned Olympic officials quickly rushed a stretcher to his side but he refused their help. He wanted to finish the race so he got up and began to hobble toward the finish line. His father, Jim Redmond, fought his way past security and joined his crying son on the track and they finished the lap together. Derek described it this way: “Everything I had worked for was finished. I hated everybody. I hated the world. I hated hamstrings. I hated it all. I felt so bitter that I was injured again. I told myself I had to finish. I kept hopping round. Then, with 100 meters to go, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my old man.” (The Observer, Saturday 6 January 2007.)
His dad said, “You don’t have to do this” to his weeping son. “Yes, I do,” his son replied. “Well then, we’re going to finish this together,” came the reply. His dad wrapped his arms around his distraught son and they continued forward. Shortly before they reached the finish line, he let go of his son so he could finish the race alone. Because Derek leaned on his father’s shoulder for support, he was disqualified from the race and the official Olympic records state that he “did not finish” the race. The crowd of 65,000 plus spectators thought differently that day and gave him a rousing standing ovation as he crossed the finish line. Many cried with Derek that day. Some familiar with the race may not realize that Derek set an Olympic record that still stands. His “unofficial” time stands as the slowest 400 meter run in Olympic history. Few people remember who actually won the 400 meter gold medal in the 1992 Olympics, but many recognize Derek’s finish as one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history.
Although Derek Redmond failed to win his much longed for Olympic gold medal, he taught us all many valuable lessons. He proved that you don’t have to come in first place to make a difference in the world. He also showed that both the positive and negative experiences we have in life help prepare us for our missions.
So, what ever happened to Derek? He is now a motivational speaker who travels the world speaking to enthralled audiences. It is interesting that the man who had the slowest 400 meter time in Olympic history was one of the most inspiring athletes to ever compete in the games. He proved that through courage and determination we can accomplish the missions we were sent to do even when faced with great disappointment.
Many people are under the false assumption that this life has no meaning or purpose. They believe, as random bits of consciousness, there is nothing they can do that really matters. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You have a special mission. But you don’t have to be world famous to make a difference in the world.
• You don’t have to finish first in the race of life to make a huge difference in the world.
• Failing at one thing may be the very thing needed to prepare you for something greater.
• Both positive and negative experiences in life help prepare you for your mission.
• Things don’t always work out the way we expect them to.
• Failure and disappointment in life may be the things needed to help you succeed.
Think of your life experiences thus far and ask yourself what mission they have prepared you to accomplish.