How do you use purpose to create an extraordinary life? Ebenezer Scrooge shows us how.
The redemptive tale of Scrooge’s transformation from stingily, callous, and unloved to considerate, caring and beloved is one of the best examples of how our destinies are determined by our decisions, our lives shaped by our choices.
One Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the deceased spirit of Jacob Marley, his former business partner. We do not know if this a dream or if it’s real. Marley wails, “I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. You will be haunted by three spirits” – from the past, present, and future, as it turns out. “Remember what has passed between us!”
Now, let’s stop for a second and bear in mind who Scrooge is. Dickines describes him as a man whose old features are frozen by the cold within him. No one cares, for he cares for no one. He is bitter, mean, old sinner – cold to the sight, cold to the touch, and cold of heart, with no thaw in sight. His life is lonely existence, and the world is worse off for it.
Over the course of the evening, the tree spirits visit Scrooge to show him his past, present, and future. Through these visits he sees how he became the man he is, how his life is currently going, and what will ultimately happen to him and those around him. It’s a terrifying experience that leaves him visible shaken when he wakes the next morning. Not knowing whether it was real or a dream, but giddy upon discovering no time has passed, Scrooge realizes there is still time to alter his fate. In a joyous blur, he rushes into the street and instructs the first boy he sees to go buy the biggest turkey at the market and send it anonymously to the home of his sole employee, Bob Cratchit. Upon seeing a gentleman he’s once rebuffed for pleasing charity for the needy, he pays for forgiveness and promised to donate huge sums of money to the poor.
Ebenezer eventually ends up at the one of his nephew, where he begs forgiveness for being such a fool for far too long and accepts an invitation to stay for holiday dinner. His nephew’s wife and guests, shocked at his heartfelt bliss, can barely believe this is Scrooge.
The next morning, Bob Cratchit, upon arriving noticeably late to work, is confronted by Scrooge: “What do you mean coming here at this time of day? I am not going to stand for this sort of thing any longer!” Before this news can sin it, the incredulous Cratchit hears him say, “And therefore I am about to raise your salary!”
Scrooge lives out the rest of his days spending him time and money doing everything he can for others.
Through this simple story, Charles Dickens shows us a simple formula for creating an extraordinary life: Live with purpose. Live by priority. Live by productivity.
As I reflect on this story, I believe Dickens reveals purpose as a combination of where we’re going and what’s important to us. He implies that our priority is what we place the greatest importance on and our productivity comes from the actions we take. He lays out life as a series of connected choices, where our purpose sets our priory and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce. To Dickens, our purpose determines who we are.
Scrooge is transparent and easy to understand, so let’s revisit A Christmas Carol through the lens of Dicken’s formula. At the place we enter his life, Scrooge’s purpose is clearly about money. He pursues a life either working for it or being alone with it. He cares for money more than for people and believes that money is the end by which any means are justifies. Based on his purpose, his priority is straightforward: making as much money for himself as he can. Collecting coin is what matters to Scrooge. As a result, his productivity is always seemed at making money. When he takes a break from making it, for fun, he counts it. Earning, netting, leading, receiving, tallying – these are the actions that fill his days, for he is greedy, selfish, and unmoved by the human condition of those around him.
By Scrooge’s own standards, he’s highly productive in accomplishing his purpose. By anyone else’s it’s simply a miserable life.
This would be the end of the story, were it not for the perspective provided to Ebenezer by his former partner. Jacob Marley didn’t want Scrooge to reach the same dead end he had. So, after the haunting, what happened to Scrooge? By Dicken’s account, his purpose changed, which changed his most important priority, which changed where he focused his productivity. After Marley’s intervention, Scrooge experienced the transformation power of a new purpose.
So, who did he become? Well, let’s look.
As the narrative ends, Scrooge’s purpose is no longer money, but people. He now cares about people. He cares about their financial circumstances and their physical condition. He sees himself happily in relationships with others, lending a hand any way he can. He values helping people more than hoarding money and believes money is good for the good it can do.
What is his priority? Where he once saved money and used people, he now uses money to save people. His overriding priority is to make as much money as he can so he can help as many as he can. His actions? He is productive throughout his days putting every penny he can toward others.
The transformation is remarkable, the message unmistakable. Who we are and where we want to go determine what we do and what we accomplish.
A life lived on purpose is the most powerful of all – and the happiest.
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life” – Amy Poehler.
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