Don’t Forget the Errand


“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” – Woodrow Wilson

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes.

I distinctly remember where I was when I first heard it. It was November 2010, and I was at my first SHRM Leadership Conference in Washington DC; the keynote speaker spoke about having a higher purpose in the work that we do, overcoming adversity and the importance that leaders play in the lives of the people they serve.

The speaker, Ray Jefferson, shared his personal story with us; one that is far too big to be confined in a casual blog like this. I remember that the room sat in silence as he spoke of his experiences, that there probably wasn’t a dry eye at my table, and that the standing ovation that followed his story was one for the ages.

He closed his keynote with Woodrow Wilson’s quote.

I did my best to jot it down so I could google the full text later.

I wrote, “You are not here merely to make a living. Enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget the errand”. I underlined “impoverish”.

I remember looking at my beat up yellow notepad after I wrote those notes. The words (and the moment) were burned in my memory.

And all these years later, I find myself looking back at that afternoon in Washington DC. I keep thinking about how lucky I was to be in the room that day, how my presence at that conference was the result of mentors who took a chance on me, and how everything leading up to that moment was a product of someone else making me a part of their higher purpose.

It makes me think about the work that I’ve done in the ensuing years, and that the moments when I am living the values extolled in this quote are the moments when I am at my best. It’s taken a long time to fully realize that.

Mostly however, it’s a reminder that there are always good works to be done. It’s a call to action, just like Ray Jefferson’s keynote; it’s a reminder of that incredible moment in time, and that none of us should “forget the errand”.


Image credit: “Presidentwoodrowwilson” by Frank Graham Cootes. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s