What Is The Moral of Your Story?
Bill Cottringer

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The answer to this intriguing title question involves an assumed answer to three underlying possibilities:

• Do we all have a common purpose in this life with set success rules to carry it out ?

• Do we each have to stumble and fumble with the clues to discover and live out our own unique purpose in this life, along with the success rules that work best to do this?

• Are purpose, meaning and rules just things we invent in our minds to avoid the boredom or anxiety of being part of a random, meaningless universe that is made up by chance?

Of course there is a fourth option—that we choose which of these three perspectives to believe from the beginning, and then the rest is what comes in our lives. Personally I prefer a combination of the first two possible perspectives. This because of the more positive influence these two can have on the quality of our own and others’ lives and open more doors to win-win outcomes for more people (hope). Besides, the random perspective, which usually doesn’t involve any higher power, dismisses all responsibility and accountability to self and others and that would be the level of mayhem that no sane person would welcome.

Behind all of our choices in life, there is a fundamental a priori belief that provides the direction we take and the results we get. This fundamental belief has to do with what purpose we think we have for being here as individuals and collectively as humanity, or whether we choose to belief in the random perspective. Either way though, there are consequences in the results we get.


Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us of one alternative common purpose in the quote above to offset the most popular one—not to be happy, but rather to be useful, honorable, compassionate, and make some difference that you have lived and lived well. Others include:

Learning, growing and improving into our best selves.

• Becoming happy and successful in enjoying work, relationships, and play so we can help others do that too.

• Loving and serving others unselfishly.

• Being a good parent, partner, player, friend or whatever we are doing at the time.

• Playing out a certain role in the play of life that was pre-assigned or chosen.

• Experiencing life without judgment.

• Being a role model in work, play or relationships for others to emulate.


We can each find a unique purpose for our life with our own personal signature that also serves a common purpose we all may have from the above list. This combination perspective would seem to be the best and most complete framework from which to operate. This is also a workable reconciliation of the perplexing paradox between the subtle sense of destiny we all have inside, and the hope of having free will to live our lives the way we choose. We have a common purpose to find and join in on, but how we do that is left up to us. And this doesn’t necessarily require judgment on the rules because following some rules brings success while following other ones brings everything else. It is not a matter or good or bad or right or wrong, just a certain destined outcome from the free choices we make.

There have been many books written to help you find your unique purpose, but here are a few questions to consider asking yourself if you are still on this journey.

• Where are my feet headed right now from all the footprints it took to get here? (We are often three-fourths the way to our destination before we realize it).

• What have others told me I am good at doing?

• What special gifts was I born with that I have spent the most time developing?

• What am I best at doing that I enjoy most?

• What is most difficult for me to do that I can’t seem to avoid?

Creating and living “the moral of your story” with an assumed common purpose and a choice for your own personal purpose , is a worthwhile lifelong project to pursue, And, it certainly fits both the opening and closing quotes at the opposite ends of the spectrum of possibilities. If you are just starting, give this much thought and if you are already on your way, make sure you take the time to help others catch up.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net