I Wish to Be Useful

American Revolutionary patriot, Nathan Hale, stands tall in the annals of history and in the hearts of his countrymen. Nearly every American knows of his martyrdom to the cause of freedom.

After British General Howe captured Hale, the general sentenced him to die by hanging the next morning. Hale’s last words have afforded him historical immortality, “I only regret,” he said, “that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

But Hale uttered another memorable quote. In volunteering for the spy mission that ended in his execution, Nathan Hale said, “I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary award; I wish to be useful.”

Young diarist, Anne Frank said,

I shall not remain insignificant, I shall work in the world for mankind….I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living, even after my death!

I believe we all wish to be useful. We feel much happier when we make useful contributions to our employers, to our customers, to our team members, to our families, and to our communities.

When we fix our sights on our daily tasks and lose sight of our overriding mission, we suffer and so does the quality and passion of our work.

A firefighter can see beyond the mundane tasks of maintaining equipment and find greater usefulness in remembering that with that well-maintained equipment he will save precious lives and valuable property.

A teacher enjoys feelings of greater usefulness when he sees himself preparing his students for success. A writer changes hearts; and musicians and artists lift them. A financial advisor helps her customers prepare for a secure future.

Do you feel useful in your family, in your work, in your community?

We have seasons in our lives. Those of you with small children at home may feel limited in your community usefulness. But your contributions as a parent eclipse the usefulness of any community activist. Until your season for heavier community involvement comes, you can find ways to increase your usefulness. Schools need your help. Youth athletics, scouting, and other organizations can benefit from your efforts. However, you may find wonderful satisfaction in serving with other adults in non-child-related community service.

Your retirement years will bring greater reward and satisfaction if you find a way to stay useful. Though I cannot cite a specific research study, I know that generally, those who retire to a life of usefulness and service will enjoy longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Many lacks need filling—the youth, the homeless, the ill, the distressed, the arts, and the outdoors.

Raise your sights higher than your everyday living. Find your higher purpose. Find your best way to feel useful.

Nathan Hale left a lasting legacy of courage, dedication, and usefulness.

You can do the same.

Related Quotes

Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but for greatness, because greatness is determined by service. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it. Margaret Thatcher

When we don’t round out our life, our lives don’t roll along very well. Michael Angier

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people convinced that they are about to change the world, I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another. Ellen Goodman

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. Jackie Robinson


Excerpt from David DeFord’s book, I Wish to Be Useful.

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