Usefulness will arrive in many unexpected forms

Here’s the text of an actual email that showed up in my inbox once.

Scott, our chamber of commerce recently ordered new name tags with the new logo for all the directors and staff. Some of the directors are very pleased with their nametags, while others are not so impressed. We have written an article for our newsletter on the benefits of wearing of nametags, as per the article on your website. Would you have a photo of yourself wearing a name tag to accompany my article? Your assistance would be appreciated. Thank you.

Everyone has their legacy, and apparently this is mine.

What’s even more hilarious is, these kinds of emails are sent to me all the time. Hundreds over the last twenty plus years. Everyone from churches to nonprofits to companies to schools.

Typically, the request comes from the energetic and gregarious leader of that organization who is spearheading the new nametag initiative with their members, volunteers, employees or students. And sadly, most of them are less than thrilled about that person’s idea.

Who you gonna call? That guy who wears a nametag every day.

Surely he can help that company convince reluctant people that there is a personal and organizational benefit to labeling themselves.

It’s just hilarious to me that this is my life. This is one of the ways my existence has become necessary to the world. If there was a god, he would have a sense of humor.

But absurd as this who thing sounds, there’s something about those emails that remind me of what a gift is to feel useful. Even if it’s only to one other person. That still counts. It’s not an insignificant thing. The human existential longing for purpose is precisely what drives us. Few things are more meaningful in life than the fulfillment of human purpose.

Meanwhile, consider how many people out there feel adrift in this meaningless and uncaring universe, numb and mechanically lurching through miserable day after miserable day. Purpose isn’t exactly coursing through their veins. It’s horrible if you’ve ever been there before. But it also helps you appreciate it when you’re fortunate enough to have it.

Point being, if there’s one thing in this life be thankful for, it’s usefulness. Emerson famously wrote, make yourself necessary to the world, and mankind will give you bread.

The good news is, there are as many ways to feel useful as there are people in the world. Our job is to stay open to all those opportunities, even if they don’t come in the package we expected them to arrive in.

Purpose may not be as dramatic or grandiose as our culture makes it out to be, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. 

What makes you necessary to the world?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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