About 20 years ago, I read one of my all-time favorite books, The Children, by David Halberstam, about a group of young people, including the late Congressman John Lewis, who put themselves in harm’s way to advance the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. In that book, I read the phrase, “a purpose bigger than herself (or himself)” over and over, as Halberstam described what led these courageous young adults to do what they chose to do.
The book is incredibly well-written and extremely compelling. I liked everything about it.
Of the many things I enjoyed about the book was reading about the way Agassi found a purpose bigger than himself.
The first sign of Agassi’s awakening came at age 26. As he reflects on helping someone less fortunate than himself, he writes, “Helping Frankie provides more satisfaction and makes me feel more connected and alive and myself than anything else that happens in 1996. I tell myself: Remember this. Hold onto this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here.”
About 18 months later, after he helps his dear friend’s daughter, who is suffering as she recuperates from surgery, he writes, “A look of pure relief, and gratitude, and joy, washes over her face, and in this look, in this courageous little girl, I find the thing I’ve been seeking…her resilient smile in the face of that suffering, my part in easing her suffering—this, this is the reason for everything…This is why we’re here. To fight through the pain and, when possible, to relieve the pain of others. So simple. So hard to see.”
Later that year, he started his charitable foundation, designed to educate children from underserved communities and, a few months later, as he continued one of his many tennis comebacks, he writes, “I want to win. I’m crazy to win. It’s not like me to want to win this badly…and I realize precisely why. It’s not about my comeback…I’m playing to raise money and visibility for my school. After all these years, I’ve got what I’ve always wanted, something to play for that’s larger than myself…”
What’s your purpose?