Making your Purpose Personal

Published on
February 2, 2023
Tony D. Thelen
Strategic Advisor, John Deere Financial
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When I was 7 years old I watched a movie called “Jeremiah Johnson” about a mountain man who took on the wild west of the Rocky Mountains. I decided to become a mountain man that day as my life’s purpose. I fashioned a homemade hatchet and started to mark trees in my neighborhood, because, you know, some Crow or Pawnee Indians might be coming through my part of the woods and want to know that I’m around. I used a BB gun to clean out the neighborhood of songbirds, earning me a sentence from the local police department to write a 1000 word essay on the value of birds in society. There was nothing better in life than being a mountain man on side of town growing up.

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A little while later I saw the movie “Rocky” and was so inspired by his personal commitment to becoming an athlete that I dove myself into sports and competition in high school. Baseball, Basketball, Football, and Cross Country. I loved sports and the challenge of competition and carried this through my early adulthood. In some respects, I really identified with Rocky at an early age on how he decided on his own to change his stars when it came to his future. He worked hard, harder than anyone else, and when he got his break, he made the most of it. My father always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be in life, all I had to do is want it bad enough and work hard enough for it. To me that was the life Rocky lived and I ate it up as a kid. My purpose was to be a great athlete.

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Not long after that I joined college and had every intention to be a business major when I received a letter from the college of engineering at the University of Iowa. The letter was from the dean of engineering informing me they had reviewed my ACT scores and based on my math and science scores thought I might want to take a look at engineering. My life’s purpose for the next 4 years was to be a great student and get a good job and be the best employee I could be.

Just after graduating college I met my future wife on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. We got married shortly afterward and soon after a family of 3 daughters followed. My life’s purpose was to be a good husband and eventually a father. These have lasted with me for over the last 30 years and counting, each year becoming more important than the previous year.  I’ve also learned to value my faith during these years and today call myself a follower of Christ and a man of God.  My purpose is also to serve my God and do His will as best as I can, as a father to my kids and a husband to my wife.

Now that I am nearing the latter stages of my career going on 35 years with John Deere, I look back and my purpose in life has changed and evolved many times over the years. From the spirited mountain man of my youth to the father, husband and believer I am today.

More specifically I have developed a “Purpose Statement” that I’ve honed over the last few years. It is: “To Guide and Nourish Others to Help them Find their Way”. Each word is specific :

•      To Guide:                    Use my experience/advice for the benefit of others

•      Nourish:                     Inspire & motivate, be positive and constructive

•      Others:                      Individuals, Teams, Organizations, Family, Community

•      Help:                          Assist directly where possible and when helpful

•      Find their Way:          Realize others are on a trip of their own to fulfillment

I’ve had many roles in my life from Son, Brother, Father, Husband, Manager, Mentor, Coach,  Friend, Neighbor, Author, Speaker, Citizen, Believer, to Employee.

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The picture in the title of this article is from a painting my sister Shirley gave me in college to inspire me as a student. It is from the cover of an Ayn Rand book called "Anthem". To me, it has always stood for the individual's role in society, specifically to break away from the wandering gray of mediocrity and live a life on purpose. I've kept this painting for over 35 years throughout all the roles I've played in my life, and it still inspires me today.

I am sure my life experiences will continue to evolve, maybe even becoming a Grandfather some day. But whatever life has in store, I will always seek to live a life of Passion & Purpose, filled with Success and Fulfillment.

And this is what I hope for you as well.

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