When trying to come up with a list of goals for yourself, why not start by answering the question: “What kind of difference do I want to make with my life?”

“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” Christine Todd Whitman

With most of the great men and woman of history, making money or finding fame was not their primary goal. They wanted their life to have real meaning.

Experts say the desire to make a difference seems to have affected how successful they really were to accomplish their mission. Albert Schweitzer, one of the greatest humanitarians in history, is but one example. At 30, Schweitzer was a world-famous organist, specializing in compositions by Bach. It was during this time that he began thinking about making a greater difference with his life. He read a report on dismal conditions facing Africans in the Congo (now the Republic of Zaire) and decided to become a missionary surgeon.

“When it’s obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, but the action steps. Confucius

Schweitzer returned to school and spent eight years earning a degree in tropical medicine and he played concerts on the side to help raise money. At 38, he loaded his medical supplies on a ship and sailed for Africa. He transferred his supplies to a small boat and traveled up the Ogooue River to a thatched village called Lambarene. There, Schweitzer established a hospital in the only building available: an old chicken coop.

“Bee to the flower, moth to the flame; Each to his passion; what’s in a name?” Helen Hunt Jackson

Within nine months of arriving in Lambarene, he treated more than 2,000 people who had never before had any access to modern health care. Albert Schweitzer continued his work there for some 50 years, fighting everything from leprosy to sleeping sickness. His compassion, dedication, commitment and vision earned him the Nobel peace Prize in 1952. He used the $33,000.00 to expand his hospital and build a leper colony. When he died at the age of 92, his village had grown to 1,500 patients and 40 doctors and specialists.

Andrew Carnegie was also a man on a mission that was much greater and larger than him. The steel magnate started out as a penniless day-laborer in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania steel plant (my home town and home to the six-time Super Bowl Champions Steelers), but he eventually became the richest man in the world – he sold his steel interests at the turn of the century for 480 million dollars.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Joseph Campbell

To become rich was only half of his goal. Throughout his life, Carnegie’s main goal was to spend the first part of his life making a lot of money and the second part spent giving it all away. As early as 1868, he wrote himself a letter spelling out his goals, including a plan to resign from business by age 35 and live on an income of $50,000.00 a year.

Carnegie planned to devote the reminder of his money to various philanthropic causes and most of his time to education. He lasted in business almost 30 years longer than he planned, but as he saw it, the staggering wealth he was acquiring for his philanthropic purposes was well worth it.

“Never respect men for their riches, but rather than for their philanthropy; we do not value the sun for its height, but for its use.” Gamaliel Bailey

After the sale of his business interests, he built thousands of libraries and set up foundations to help people learn what they needed to be successful and fulfilled.

By the time of his passing in 1919 at the age of 84, Andrew Carnegie had given away nearly all his fortune.

Making a difference in other people’s lives and hence, your own, will help you find the “Meaning of Life.” The “Meaning of life” is a seven letter acronym. Those of you who had me as an instructor, or have heard me at one of my speaking engagements, probably remember the acronym. The acronym contains several principles that everybody can achieve; to be meaningful and relevant, each person must seek it and accomplish it on their own. Want to know more? You will have to contact me to find out – but I will not just “give” you the answer, because the acronym means different things to different people. Like many people in my life did for me, I’ll share how they taught me to fish for a lifetime; they didn’t give me a fish for a day.

“Each man must look at himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered, it is something molded.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

How many people have made a difference in your life? Do you know who they are? Have you ever taken the time to thank them? More importantly, have you been and are you now taking the legacy they gave you and making a difference in other people lives?

There are hundreds of people who helped me before my plane crash and injuries in 1970 and the hundreds since then who helped me to get back on my feet, continue on my journey and helped me find Meaning in Life. I acknowledged as many as possible in two of my books, “The Bridge Never Crossed – A Survivor’s Search for Meaning” and “Laugh You Live Cry You Die – A Burn Survivor’s Triumph Over Tragedy.” Each person in my life played a major factor in who I am today. Whatever success I’ve achieved, I owe to each one of them. I hope they know how much they meant and mean to me and how much I love(ed) and honor(ed) them. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to show them and tell them.

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dreams of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” e.e. cummings

I read somewhere that our memory is an indication of the kind of life we’ve lived. If this is true, and I think it is, then I’ve been Blessed to have lived a good life.

Throughout my life’s journey, I’ve ‘’gazed’ at the Headstones of the many who’ve passed and who played a major role in my life from birth to now and I think of the friends and hosts who’ve enriched me…. and who remain vertical…. the quote at the end of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” rings in my head: “I hope I’m a good man. I hope I’ve lived a good life. I hope I’ve earned it!” Me, too!

“A whole stack of memories is never equal to one little hope. Charles M. Schulz

This article was reprinted with permission from the author, Captain George Burk, USAF (Ret), Plane crash, burn survivor, motivational speaker, author, writer. Visit his website at www.georgeburk.com  or contact Captain Burk at gburk@georgeburk.com.