Ep 87: 895 ways to find impact and purpose

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We want to have a great impact in our lives. But sometimes it’s not as hard as we think. It’s less about grand actions and more about just being consistent and steady in the small things.

I found some great lessons on impact and purpose in a documentary about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. 🚋

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Full transcript 👇

Ep 87: 895 ways to find impact and purpose

Photo: David Pinkerton

Hi. I’m Lori Miller and this is your Mental Health Moment.

When you’re in the thick of your life, it’s kind of hard to see the impact you’re making.

  • If you’re a stay at home parent, you don’t always connect the one million dots in each day with some greater purpose.
  • At work, life can take you down some pretty jagged paths and it’s hard to see exactly how your good work is really moving any bars at all.

It’s easy to think it’s just not leading anywhere. Maybe you feel like you’re in the world’s biggest roundabout and you keep seeing the same signs over and over again.

How can you change the world if you just keep going in circles and doing the same things?

Last week I watched a documentary about Fred Rogers called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

If you’re old enough you will remember Fred Rogers as Mister Rogers. For more than three decades he hosted a children’s show called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The show featured Mister Rogers and his friends — humans and puppets alike — as they lived and supported each other as part of a close-knit community.

The show was in its prime during a time of constant cultural change in the world.

Fred used his show as a platform to help kids walk through some difficult concepts, like:

  • war,
  • racial segregation,
  • divorce and even
  • death.

What struck me about the documentary film was that it wasn’t a typical documentary about his early life and his motivation for creating the show.

It focused mostly on his impact: to his audience, to his show crew and ultimately, to the nation.

Mister Rogers wasn’t flashy or larger than life; he was that kind neighbor who likes to wear a sweater.

He modeled what it looks like to be engaged in the lives of others around you. And his message was kind, simple and clear.

He demonstrated these concepts over an astounding 895 episodes through stories, music and illustrations.

I’m sure at times he felt like he’d been on that same roundabout with you.

Telling the same stories, repeating the same messages. Did it really help? Should he be more like everyone else?

Should he still be doing this at all?

I’m sure it was tempting to think beyond the neighborhood or expand into something more attention-getting.

But the basic format of the show didn’t change too much. Fred didn’t try to compete with the more complex animation that eventually came on the scene in children’s entertainment.

He didn’t resort to the game of capturing eyeballs for eyeballs’ sake.

His impact came from his steady pursuit of his principles and convictions in the same way, day after day after day.

What can we learn from Mister Rogers about impact and purpose?

You don’t need to be someone else to be effective.

Fred’s show started at a time when other TV shows were using clowns and comedy gags to spread their message. Mister Rogers was never anyone other than Fred.

He didn’t create a persona that others thought would be more interesting or that would appeal to his audience’s insecurities.

He was authentic and purely himself.

How else do you explain a guy in a sweater and sneakers talking about being worthy of love and being capable of loving becoming a national icon?

Mister Rogers also taught us that you can show others what a life of healthy pursuits and meaningful purpose looks like with everything you do, even the small stuff.

Much of his show centered around the tiniest tasks like feeding the fish, taking care of plants, and talking to neighbors.

He knew the children in his audience were watching him consider life’s larger issues while at the same time taking care of everyday stuff.

He showed them that even though there are challenges in our world, the basics of life do go on.

We’re so focused on having a powerful impact on the world. But It’s just as much our responsibility to change our neighborhood and take care of our homes even if no one sees it.

He showed us what that looks like 895 times.

He also knew that complexity doesn’t give birth to purpose.

The most powerful things in life are usually the most simple ones.

Mister Rogers had a clear, concise message that never wavered over all those years.

You are worthy of being loved and capable of showing love to others.

He knew exactly what he wanted his audience to know, and he used that as his GPS for 33 years.

Anything more than that would have just muddied the waters.

I think that’s an important distinction because we find so many ways to complicate our lives, don’t we?

We always think more education is the key or taking on more responsibility or crafting some image that we think others want to see.

In the end, our simple, consistent approach is usually what gets us through.

The biggest takeaway from the film for me was this: even when you have great impact, you still aren’t going to have all the answers.

Fred’s last show aired just a couple of weeks before 9/11. In the days that followed he was asked to record a public service announcement to speak to parents about the importance of talking to their kids and showing them safety and trust.

A member of his crew talked about how overwhelmed Fred was during that shoot. He wondered what he could possibly say that would help in the wake of such an evil event.

Despite all the years of guiding kids through some pretty scary and tragic days, even Mister Rogers didn’t have the answer for THIS one.

You aren’t always going to get the answers, and the dots may not seem to ever really connect despite all that you accomplish.

That is one of the bigger mysteries in life and it’s not easy to accept.

But it doesn’t lessen the impact of staying in that circle a bit longer, taking care of those who need you and modeling kindness where you can.

Mister Rogers may have taught us about kindness and love, but his life showed us that impact comes from consistency and faith that what we do really matters.

How will you impact your neighborhood?

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