On the Threshold of Purpose | Theodore Thornton Munger

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Now, on to today’s reading, which was edited and adapted from “On the Threshold” by Theodore Thornton Munger, published in 1908.

My talk today is not born out of a critical mood, so much as from a desire to bring you face to face with the inspiring influences which, in a peculiar degree, surround you. Despite the way it may feel and look at times, our country has never been so prosperous, the future never so full of happy assurances, as it is today.

To point out the way of reaping the double harvest of this prosperity, along with a noble character, is the motive that underlies my talk. I begin with the subject of Purpose, because it naturally underlies all the themes of a worthwhile, successful life, and also because it is a matter of special importance. I say special, because I think that just now many people are entering life without any very definite purpose. As someone has put it, “the world is full of purposeless people.”

Young people do not so much choose to go to college as suffer themselves to be sent. They do not push their way into callings, but allow themselves to be led into them. Indeed, the sacred word “calling” seems to have lost its meaning — for they hear no voice summoning them to an appointed field, but drift into this or that as it happens. They appear to be waiting, to be floating with the current, instead of rowing up the stream toward the hills where lie the treasures of life.

My objective is to interrupt this tendency to drift — to induce you to aim at a far end rather than a near one; to live under a purpose rather than under an impulse; to set aside the thought of enjoyment, and get to thinking of attainment; to conceive of life as a race instead of a drifting.

Individuals may be divided in many ways, but there is no clearer cut division than between those who have a purpose and those who are without one. It is the character of the purpose that at last determines the character of the person — for a purpose may be good or bad, high or low. It is the strength and definiteness of the purpose that determines the measure of success.

I do not mean to say that a purpose, cherished with sufficient energy, will always carry a person to its goal — for everyone has their limitations — but rather that it is sure to carry you on toward some kind of success; and often it proves greater than that which was aimed at.

Shakespeare went down to London to find his fortune; but the intensity with which he sought it unwittingly ended in the greatest literary achievement of the human intellect. The biblical Saul was determined to crush out Christianity; but the energy of his purpose was diverted to the opposite and immeasurably nobler end.

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