Living a Life of Purpose: 5 Lessons from a Holiday Classic

Note from the Editor: This week we welcome back guest blogger Kevin Monroe, who has a special holiday message to share with our Ziglar Family community.  

When was the last time you saw something familiar in a new light? It’s like suddenly seeing in three dimensions that which you had previously only seen in two.

For me, it happened this week as I was thinking about my favorite Christmas movie. Actually, it’s my all-time favorite movie — period.

I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve lost count. It’s the only movie script I’ve ever read; I even wrote a paper about it for a class in graduate school!

What caused me to see the movie in a new light? I read the book on which it was based. And get this: the book wasn’t published until 50 years after the movie premiered!

The Greatest Gift was the name of both the original story upon which the movie was based and the book that was published some 50 years later.

It’s a Christmas story about a man who thought he was a failure, and who was given the opportunity to come back and see the world as it would have been had he not been born.

While you may not recognize the story or the book by its original title, more than likely you know the movie: It’s A Wonderful Life.

The movie premiered to mediocre receptivity and success in 1946. However, television gave the movie the exposure it needed to seal its place in history as an all-time holiday classic.

If you’ve seen the movie, perhaps you remember the opening scene:

The stars are twinkling and you hear faint voices — suddenly you realize prayers are being offered up for one George Bailey, who we soon discover is the central character of the movie.

As the prayers are being lifted for George, we hear a conversation, presumably between God and a bumbling angel named Clarence. This dialogue is classic; it is incredibly insightful into the human condition.

A man down on earth needs our help.

Splendid! Is he sick?

No. Worse. He’s discouraged. At exactly ten forty-five P.M., earth-time, that man will be thinking seriously of throwing away God’s greatest gift.

Friends, from that moment on, I’m hooked.

If you’ve ever been discouraged — and who hasn’t been? — you know it can certainly be more serious than sickness.

Discouragement is often rooted in some kind of disappointment — something did not turn out as we had hoped or planned. It’s okay to experience disappointment, but once it’s progressed to discouragement, it’s like heart disease — it can kill you.

And just like with heart disease, it’s important to be proactive in order to prevent the onset of the “illness.”

I believe that one of the best preventions — and cures — for discouragement is to live every day with purpose. When we are able to find and fulfill our God-given higher purpose, we tend to have more fun, experience greater fulfillment, and make the world better and brighter for everyone else.

With that in mind, here are 5 lessons on living a life of purpose, inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life and The Greatest Gift.

1. Don’t let dreams get in the way of your destiny.

That might sound contradictory. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Won’t dreams lead to my destiny?”

Of course they can.

But there are times when dreams get in the way of your destiny, or you can’t see your destiny because you’re so focused on dreams.

Let me illustrate from the movie:

For years, George Bailey dreamed of escaping the confining life of his hometown, Bedford Falls. It was a small town, nothing like the exotic destinations he imagined awaited him as the world explorer he wanted to be.

After school, George had decided to travel and see the world, but a health crisis in his family intervened and “duty called,” so George gave up his dream to take over the family business for a season.

The problem was the “season” kept getting extended, and George started adjusting to life in his small town.

His destiny was being sealed; he was making a positive impact in the lives of both his family and friends…but he was too busy to notice.

2. Embrace the ordinary instead of escaping it

George felt stuck in the quaint, small town and what he saw as his lowly existence of running the bank. It was nothing like the adventures of his dreams. It was…well, it was painstakingly ordinary.

When George’s wish was granted — that he had never lived at all — he was provided a vision of what the world would have been like without him. Seeing all of the dreadful changes resulting from his absence, George began to grasp the actual positive impact of his life.

That’s where I found the second lesson of living a life on purpose:

The ordinary you seek to escape may actually be your pathway to purpose if you will embrace it, and by embracing it, transform it.

You see, in many ways, the life George Bailey lived was pretty ordinary. But how he carried out his ordinary, day-to-day tasks was definitely extraordinary, which led to monumental impact — and he was blind to all of it.

As a matter of fact, when he looked in the mirror, what he saw was disappointment and failure.

What he thought had derailed him and waylaid him with a ticket to nowhere was actually his Fast Track to purpose.

3. A life of significance is a life of service.

We live in a success-saturated and obsessed world. Everywhere you turn success is lauded and applauded as the ultimate goal you should be pursuing.

Success can be the loneliest and most selfish quest.

Success can be all about you and your climb to the top of whatever summit you are climbing, be it a company, a career, a business, a department, a team, a goal, or even a cause. What are you achieving?

By contrast, significance always, and I mean ALWAYS — involves others.

You may obtain success in isolation. Not so with significance; it always includes others and focuses on service to others.

A life of service is a life of significance, even if it is lived in complete obscurity — in the shadows rather than the spotlight.

While never amassing fame or fortune as the explorer he dreamed of becoming, George Bailey was creating a legacy one relationship and one transformational encounter at a time.

4. None of us is immune to discouragement.

Sooner or later in life something happens that takes the wind out of your sails and leaves you spiraling. You know that to be true. Perhaps, at this very moment, you find yourself like George did — lodged between a rock and a hard place and thinking what George thought.

When that moment comes, you need someone or a group of someones (family or friends) who will sit with you or walk with you, and maybe even talk with you — although words aren’t always needed.

Left unguarded, discouragement will rob you of hope and tell you there is nothing left to live for.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

You have already received the greatest gift — the gift of life, the gift of TODAY, the gift of NOW — don’t lose it, don’t squander it, and don’t ever buy the lie that the world is better off without you!

As long as you have a pulse, you have a purpose. 

5. A life of purpose is a relationally rich life.

If you’re familiar with the closing scene from the movie, you know that George was surrounded by the people who were impacted by his life, especially his precious family. They surrounded him in what he thought was his darkest hour and buoyed his spirits, rescuing him from what he thought was a hopeless situation.

Amidst the celebration and singing, he discovered a note from his angelic benefactor, Clarence. Here’s what it read: “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

Living a life of purpose allows you to invest richly in relationships.

Relationships are their own reward. As George discovered, if you nurture your relationships with family and friends, you are rich in ways that money cannot buy.

My wish for you this Christmas is that you will discover the ordinary life you’ve been given is a great gift. And that as you live your ordinary life, you do live it in such extraordinary ways that you create greater impact than you ever imagined possible. 

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to learn more about how to live, work, and serve on purpose, then I invite you to download The Purpose Manifesto – you can learn more and request your free copy here.


Have you learned any valuable lessons from a Holiday classic? Share them below! 




  1. Howard Partridge December 23, 2017 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    *LOVE this! (And live it) ?

  2. Suzanne Woodrow December 24, 2017 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Very timely article as our family once again watched the movie last night. It always moves me to tears, especially the final scene when he realizes how rich and truly blessed he is. I think we often need reminding that in the midst of our ordinary, often mundane lives, when we feel dissatisfied and like we’re not accomplishing anything, we need to refocus and change our perspective, as you said. When we get like that, we become introspective and all about us and if we would just turn it around and have a thankful heart, and focus on all the good gifts in our lives and the special people and relationships, and how we can sow more into their lives, in prayer, encouragement, kindness, we will reap these things in our own lives and live a life of purpose, and ultimately fulfill our destinies. Bless you and thank you! MERRY Christmas!

    • Kevin Monroe December 26, 2017 at 10:30 am - Reply

      Hey Suzanne,

      Like you, we watched the movie yesterday and just like you, I cry at the final scenes — no matter how many times I watch it. The message is both timely and timeless.

  3. Kevin Monroe December 26, 2017 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Here’s wishing my Ziglar Family friends a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Before this was a blog post, it was recorded as a podcast. That episode aired today on the Higher Purpose Podcast. You can hear it at On the podcast, I share two more lessons on living a life of purpose.

    I hope you enjoy.

  4. Saatchirad December 26, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

    I was in the middle of obtaining a nutrition degree. I had a baby instead. That’s a daily challenge most of you know about. I was working on a book (still am) to share what I’ve learned from having an eating disorder and recovering from it. Then my dad went into a nursing home and I see to his needs every week, traveling an hour to and from, visiting, doing his laundry, etc. I’ve maintained a small group of clients I train regularly. Then I take on a 105 year old client whose demands are greater than a 1/2 hour session. In addition to her fitness sessions, I run to the store for her, take her places, give her massages with stinky salve to ease her pain, change her light bulbs, fix her blinds, assemble her walker–and the list goes on. My husband’s work is demanding, so I do most the house maintenance, pay bills, and manage investments, and I feel our marriage suffers from lack of attention.

    I feel like my life is not my own and I’m discouraged. There’s no fun in anything. Everything I want to do is interrupted by something–according to this article– perhaps more significant than my individual goals.

    I’m okay with all that, but I’d just like to have some joy in believing I’m having an impact. How I do feel is tired and worn out from the day to day demands of things and people I never thought would take over my life.

    • Kevin Monroe December 26, 2017 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Hey Saatchirad,

      Sounds like you can relate to George Bailey’s journey. As I shared in the post, I do believe a life of significance always involved service to others. And your selfless serving is making an impact. May you find joy in your journey and service. And maybe, this is just a season of life.

    • Chanelle January 6, 2018 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      When I read your comment I thought of this little video. You never know the good you are doing for others 🙂

  5. Kevin Monroe December 26, 2017 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Hey Suzanne,

    Like you, we watched the movie yesterday and just like you, I cry at the final scenes — no matter how many times I watch it. The message is both timely and timeless.

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