This inspiring story is one that we can each use in our work and our own lives about the famous violinist, Itzhak Perlman, as reported by Jack Reimer of the Houston Chronicle.

One evening, Itzhak Perlman performed at Lincoln Center in New York City. Because he had polio as a child, he walks with leg braces and crutches. This is how he arrives onstage for each performance. Devotees are used to seeing him walk with difficulty, yet with great dignity, to his chair. On this night, almost immediately, as he began to play, a string broke. The audience jumped at the loud SNAP! that reverberated around the hall. What would he do? Did he have a backup violin? Would he have to hobble painfully offstage to get it? It was an uncomfortable moment for everyone, musicians and audience alike. What happened, though, turned out to be a lesson in how to improvise gracefully in a difficult situation. After a silent moment, Perlman signaled the conductor to continue, and made do with his three remaining strings, playing with just as much passion and power as before.

Reimer writes, “You could see him undulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head….it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that he had never made before. When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.

“Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow. raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, ‘You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left…..” Reimer noted that “perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music (that is, seek our purpose. live our lives) with all that we have”, and then when we encounter age-related diminishments, continue to be who we already are in ways that make the world better or more beautiful. Perhaps, too, Perlman was indirectly referring to the fact that his own disability never held him back.

The message is universal. It leads us to think about our own PURPOSE and those words President Teddy Roosevelt gifted us with: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” When we hear a new calling and we wake up with vague thoughts about what really matters to us, rid ourselves of the illusion that we can be held back. We can make a difference, if we learn to play on three rather than four strings. Here’s a treat: watch this brief youtube clip of Perlman with a child musician.

Think about how this story might resonate for you, personally, and your unique ideas about a purposeful path that matters most to you.