A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in essays describing their purpose in life and how they found it. A few thousand submitted contributions, and many essays are online. I’ll write more about the lessons they shared in the weeks ahead, but one common theme surprised me.
I expected most contributors would follow the commencement-speech clichés of our high-achieving culture: dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world. In fact, a surprising number of people found their purpose by going the other way, by pursuing the small, happy life.
Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”
Young continues, “I have always wanted to be effortlessly kind. I wanted to raise children who were kind.” She notes that among those who survived the Nazi death camps, a predominant quality she noticed was generosity.
“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. ... Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.
Kim Spencer writes, “I used to be one of the solid ones — one of the people whose purpose was clearly defined and understood. My purpose was seeing patients and ‘saving lives.’ I have melted into the in-between spaces, though. Now my purpose is simply to be the person ... who can pick up the phone and give you 30 minutes in your time of crisis. I can give it to you today and again in a few days. ... I can edit your letter. ... I can listen to you complain about your co-worker. ... I can look you in the eye and give you a few dollars in the parking lot. I am not upset if you cry. I am no longer drowning, so I can help keep you afloat with a little boost. Not all of the time, but every once in a while, until you find other people to help or a different way to swim. It is no skin off my back; it is easy for me.”
Terence J. Tollaksen wrote that his purpose became clearer once he began to recognize the “decision trap”: “This trap is an amazingly consistent phenomena whereby ‘big’ decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.”
Tollaksen continues, “I have always admired those goal-oriented, stubborn, successful, determined individuals; they make things happen, and the world would be lost without them.” But, he explains, he has always had a “small font purpose.”
“I can say it worked for me. I know it sounds so Midwest, but it’s been wonderful. I have a terrific wife, 5 kids, friends from grade school and high school, college, army, friends locally, and sometimes, best of all, horses, dogs, and cats. Finally, I have a small industrial business that I started and have run for 40 years based on what I now identify as principles of ‘Pope Francis capitalism.’ ”
Hans Pitsch wrote: “At age 85, the question of meaning in my life is urgent. The question of the purpose of my life is another matter. World War II and life in general have taught me that outcomes from our actions or inactions are often totally unpredictable and random.”
He adds, “I am thankful to be alive. I have a responsibility to myself and those around me to give meaning to my life from day to day. I enjoy my family (not all of them) and the shrinking number of old friends. You use the term ‘organizing frame’ in one’s life. I am not sure if I want to be framed by an organizing principle, but if there is one thing that keeps me focused, it’s the garden. Lots of plants died during the harsh winter, but, amazingly, the clematises and the roses are back, and lettuce, spinach and tomatoes are thriving in the new greenhouse. The weeping cherry tree in front of the house succumbed to old age. I still have to plant a new tree this year.”
This scale of purpose is not for everyone, but there is something beautiful and concrete and well-proportioned about tending that size of a garden.
We are running a two day training for professionals in the following industries:
As a one-off (since this is our first training) there is no formal charge for the training and it will be held on June 19-20 in Lakewood, Colorado.
The training will offer you all the tools you will need to become, on completion of an exam, a certified Next Stage Purpose coach.
If you are interested in joining the training, pleases contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-232-0645.
Tuesday June 17 at 6:30pm
At the Seniors' Resource Center 5120 County Road 73, Evergreen, CO 80439.
Do you want to reinvent yourself?
Or are you looking forward to retirement and want to find a post-retirement purpose in life?
Or have you already retired and want to find what your next act will be?
This hour long, free workshop, led by Levi Brackman and Doug Bell will give you a proven practical step-by-step guide to finding your passionate purpose in the next stage of your life. The workshop will also include tips for using online and off line tools to help you rebrand yourself as you peruse your newfound purpose in life.
Please RSVP Melanie 720-236-1172
Wednesday June 25 at 6pm
At 1400 Simms St, Ste 210, Lakewood CO 80401
Do you want a career that fits who you are better?
Do you want to lead a life that contains more meaning?
Are you considering your next act?
Are you trying to pan for a purposeful and meaningful retirement?
If you answered yes to these questions this seminar if for you.
This is an hour long seminar for people in transition or those seeking a purpose in the next stage of their life. It will offer practical tools and guidance for how to find your passions and how to identify a purpose for the next stage of your life.
Seminar will be presented by Levi Brackman.
To RSVP call 303-232-0645 or email email@example.com
Levi Brackman is the founder and creator of Youth Direction and Next Stage Purpose which are both purpose finding programs for youth and adult respectively. Brackman is currently doing a PhD on purpose finding and has written extensively about purpose. Next Stage Purpose has been scientifically proven to increase purpose, happiness and sense of identity.
Doug Bell is editor of the Canyon Courier and is an expert on personal branding. He will give practical tips on how to recreate ones image using social media and other online and in person tools.
There is an ancient wisdom teaching that states: don’t push away anything and don’t write off any person. For there is no thing that doesn’t have its place and no person who doesn’t have his time (Ethics of the Fathers 4:3).
This is teaching us a fundamental truth about existence: everything seves a particular purpose. For many years, doctors thought that the tonsils had no purpose. When people got tonsillitis, especially children, they would remove the tonsils. We now know that the tonsils are the first line of defense against germs that enter the respiratory system. They get infected when they are doing their job. The lesson: if we think something doesn’t have a purpose, we are likely to discard them or write them off.
This is why research shows that people who lack purpose are more likely to be obese, to abuse drug and alcohol and to display destructive anti-social behavior. Simply put, if you have no purpose, you are more likely to throw away your life than if you feel that you have something to contribute.
This wisdom teaching has its roots in religion, but the idea that everything has a purpose rings true on a philosophical and scientific level as well.
Philosophically, it makes no sense to assume that our ignorance of something implies that there is no knowledge to be gained. Thus, not knowing the purpose of something in no way indicates that it has no purpose. On the contrary, all it implies is that we lack knowledge. We can assume however, that were we to gain the knowledge, we would be able to figure out what the purpose of every single object in the universe is, down to their sub atomic particles.
On a scientific level, if we were to use a Darwinian approach of natural selection, we would find over time if something had no purpose it would cease to exist. By virtue of the fact that something exists, from a scientific perspective, it must serve some type of purpose.
From a religious perspective, this truth can be demonstrated with relative ease. It would be absurd to say that God created something that had no purpose. From a Devine perspective, everything in the universe and every person who lives in it has a specific mission and purpose in their existence.
In conclusion then, no matter which way we approach the subject of purpose, and irrespective of the perspective that we come from, we have no choice but to conclude that everything in the universe and every person has a purpose.
As the sages said, don’t push away anything and don’t write off any person. So there is no thing that doesn’t have its place and no person who doesn’t have his time.
This is timeless wisdom indeed.
Beginning in 1994, more than 6,000 people, ages 20-70, were given a survey to asses whether or not they had a sense of purpose in their lives.
They were followed over the next 14 years. Nearly 670 of them died during this period. Those who died had been among those scoring lower on the survey for having purpose in life compared with the rest of the 6,000-plus people in the study. While other studies have already shown that purpose in life is a predictor of longevity, this study, led by Professor Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada, indicates that even young people with purpose in life are less likely to die than their purposeless peers.
Ever since Viktor Frankl wrote his mega-bestseller Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946 psychologists have been aware that meaning and purpose in life are vital aspects of human well-being and flourishing. Humans have known this intuitively since time immemorial. In the past few years social scientists have begun to build an impressive body of empirical evidence proving the critical role meaning and purpose plays in the ability to live a long and healthy life both psychologically and physically
We now know that purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks, obesity, depression and a host of other physical and psychological pathologies. We don’t, however, yet have clarity in how propose protects us against these diseases or how it contributes to longevity. There are numerous theories, including many that have physiological components to them but no definitive reasons yet.
Researchers are also working on understanding how people become purposeful and why is it that some people find a life purpose while others go through life unmoored. This is a problem that I have beenworking on for the last six years. Having worked with over 1,000 people, many of them one on one to help them discover their life’s purpose and having studied the field, I offer you some some tips to help you find your purpose.
First, change your mindset. Instead of thinking about how much money you can make or the level of prestige you want from a job, start to look at your job as an outgrowth of your calling or purpose in life. Money and respectability will all ring hollow if you don’t gain personal satisfaction from your career. With 80 percent of Americans finding their career unsatisfying this turns out to be very important.
It is also important to make goals and plans to reach those goals. We become purposeful when we have a goal to reach and we have plans to reach those goals. Even if those goals do not represent our “real” passion in life, just by having them and making gains towards them regularly you will add a sense of purpose to your life.
A final tip is to think about purpose. Spend time regularly thinking about whether you are purposeful or whether you are living your purpose. Just by doing this you will find yourself becoming more purposeful. Given that purpose will add years on to your life and make you happier and healthier. This is important stuff.
People often tell us that they have been too busy to complete things that they had committed to. Many of us feel that we have a huge amount on our plate and so much to get through. But how often is “I am so busy” nothing more than an excuse not to do the hard stuff? It seems to me, based on research I have conducted, that completing tasks has much more to do with levels of motivation than levels of busyness.
An interesting outcome of a study I am conducting in the field of meaning and purpose in life is that people who feel more purposeful are more likely to complete tasks that they committed to, as opposed to people who are less purposeful. Yet when people were questioned about why they did not complete their task they gave many different reasons. Some had family issues that they were dealing with. Others were moving home; some had other “important” things they were called to deal with. The reasons for not completing tasks they themselves had committed to were varied.
Yet, the data told a different picture. The common denominator between all those who did not complete the tasks was that they had lower levels of meaning and purpose in their lives than the rest of the group who did complete their tasks.
The conclusions of this are twofold. First, people with higher levels of purpose in life are more likely to be motivated to complete tasks that they set for themselves. Second, we deceive ourselves about why we don’t complete things we start. We tell ourselves that life got in the way, or we say we are simply too busy. We use family events and the demands of others in our lives as excuses for why we don’t get things done. We even convince ourselves of the veracity of these excuses.
Ultimately, however, the real reason people don’t get things done often has nothing to with the fact that they are truly busy, it is because they lack the internal motivation and thus procrastinate. This lack of motivation is correlated directly with a lack of purpose.
I originally became interested in helping people find their purpose in life after I realized that all the people I knew who had become successful shared one major thing in common—they were all knew their purpose in life and were passionate about what they did. Now I can see why this is true and how it helps. Woody Allen is reported to have said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” But to show up each day requires motivation and without a sense of purpose motivation saps and success remains elusive.
So next time you say you are too busy to complete a task that set for yourself, ask yourself the following question: am I really too busy or am I just not motivated enough. If the answer is the later you should be honest about it and then start to figure out how to add purpose to your life.
Levi Brackman is a rabbi and founder of Purposes Inc and creator of Next Stage Purpose. Take the Purpose Protector Quiz here.