Should living purpose be easy or hard?
By the time Michelangelo was fourteen years old, it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted.
His father sent him to Florence to mentor under the great sculptor, Bertoldo de Giovanni.
Realizing that naturally-gifted people are tempted to coast, Bertoldo kept pressuring his young prodigy to work seriously at his art.
One day he came into the studio to find the young Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities.
Bertoldo grabbed a hammer, smashed the work into tiny pieces, and shouted, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!”
In that story we discover a profound truth: Living purpose should be both easy and hard.
Easy, because of what Julia Cameron says in her book, Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart:
“A person can have many talents and gifts and do many things exceptionally well, but your vein of gold, ah…that is the thing you do superbly.”
But once your vein of gold has been located, that raw ore of natural talent must be mined, the gold extracted and purified.
And that’s the hard part — devoting your natural abilities to the never-ending quest for excellence.
Living one’s highest and truest purpose consists of three distinct phases:
Each phase is a test of commitment, thus effectively weeding out progressively more travelers along the journey.
Most people never strive to discover the purpose for which they were born; it’s far easier to live on default mode, acting according to pre-determined social scripts.
But those who do find a bliss and fulfillment that can be found in no other way.
If you’re in the discovery phase — and you’re committed to living purpose — read these books:
- The Conscious Creator: Six Laws for Manifesting Your Masterpiece Life by Kris Krohn
- Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
- Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Discovery is the easy and fun part. It’s thrilling to discover that you’re good at something.
But once that initial thrill is spent, reality sets in: long, hard hours of discipline, or practice, are required to extract truly valuable gold from the ore of natural talent.
If you’ve discovered your vein of gold and are ready to enter the discipline phase, read these books:
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
- Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Steven Pressfield
According to Malcolm Gladwell’s research, after roughly 10,000 hours of disciplined practice — which few people ever complete — you will become world-class at your chosen vocation. That’s eight hours a day, five days a week for five years — not including break time or time spent getting ready to do the work. That’s 10,000 hours of actually doing the work.
After years of discipline comes another fun and easy stage: The work has become relatively effortless and now you’re earning a living, gaining recognition, garnering praise.
At this point, you have a choice: You can bask on the plateau of satisfied competence, or you can commit yourself to truly mastering your craft and climb the mountain of devotion.
Graduating from discipline to devotion requires two things: submission to God and an acute awareness of your responsibility to humanity.
The devotion stage is not about the wealth and comfort you can create and enjoy for yourself, but rather about the value you can create for the world.
It’s about placing your talents, skills, knowledge, and experience upon Father’s altar, bowing your head in humility, and saying, “Use me as it pleases You.”
Very few people enter the devotion phase; it’s far too easy to coast in the discipline phase after the work becomes easy and the money is flowing.
If you’ve completed your 10,000 hours in the discipline phase and are willing to move to the devotion phase, read these books:
- Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas
- A Call to Excellence by Gary Inrig
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness by Stephen R. Covey
In his book, Excellence, John W. Gardner warns about the plateau between post-discipline and pre-devotion:
“We fall into the error of thinking that happiness necessarily involves ease, diversion, tranquility — a state in which all of one’s wishes are satisfied…Happiness is not to be found in this vegetative state but in striving toward meaningful goals. The dedicated person has not achieved all of his goals. His life is the endless pursuit of goals, some of them unattainable.
“We want meaning in our lives. When we raise our sights, strive for excellence, dedicate ourselves to the highest goals…we are enrolling in an ancient and meaningful cause — the age-long struggle for man to realize the best that is in him. Man reaching toward the most exalted goals he can conceive, man striving impatiently and restlessly for excellence has achieved great religious insights, created great works of art, penetrated secrets of the universe, and set standards of conduct which give meaning to the phrase ‘the dignity of man.'”
We can only rise to our greatest heights by bowing in submission to God and devoting ourselves to service.
Michelangelo, after learning that priceless lesson from his mentor, Bertoldo, went on to become the greatest living artist of his time and one of the greatest artists in history.
He spent countless back-breaking hours painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, standing on a scaffolding, tilting his head upwards, lifting his arms heavenward to meticulously perfect the details of each figure and give us a glimpse of heaven.
A friend questioned his obsession over every little detail, pointing out that “at that height, who will know whether it is perfect or not?”
The dedicated Michelangelo responded, “I will.”
After completing what some consider his greatest sculpture, Moses, the master stood back and gazed at his work. Suddenly, in anger, he struck the knee of his creation with his chisel and shouted, “Why don’t you speak?”
Gary Inrig, in his book, A Call to Excellence, explains,
“The chisel scar that remains on the statue’s knee is the mark of a man who always reached out for more. His ambition was to be the best he could be.
“The Christian adds a deeper dimension. His ambition is not simply to be good or to be good for something. He longs to be good for Someone, striving for excellence out of love for his Saviour.”
As He paid an awful price so we could live, we are called to pay a dear price to live with greatness. Because as Bertoldo de Giovanni said, “Talent is cheap; dedication is costly!”