Open any magazine aimed at women over 30 and you are sure to see advertisements promoting the latest in anti-aging. Then as the years go by, it is nearly impossible to avoid the constant barrage of commercials claiming to have the secret to avoid ever getting old. Yet, if we pause for a moment before spending our hard-earned money, we know that the only real way to prevent aging is for our lives to end. Face it. Eventually, the longer we live, the older we will get. Perhaps instead of fussing about how we look, or thinking we can live forever, what we truly want and crave is something that makes each day of that journey rich and meaningful. Fortunately, such an elixir is available to us all and doesn’t cost a dime. That magic potion is to find and live a purposeful life.
Last month my husband Thom and I heard author and purpose-cheer-leader Richard J. Leider speak at a conference. As the founder of Inventure—The Purpose Company, Leider shares a convincing story of how and why purpose is so essential to all people, everywhere, regardless of their age. Leider believes that isolation and loneliness are rampant in our society and that, “If we aren’t careful, we can begin to mistake our busyness for meaning—turning our lives into a checklist of to-dos that can occupy all the walking hours of our days…” His work also shows him that many people today are feeling unfulfilled and living in an “existential vacuum.” The solution to all three issues—living a purposeful life.
Back in 2009, Leider participated in an extensive study done by the Met Life Market Research Institute (MMI). The primary conclusion of the research revealed that people 25-74 feel that “meaning” was the most important factor to “living a good life.” Of course, what defines a good life and what defines meaning varies from person to person. Still, at its core, the MMI Study showed that “regardless of age, gender, financial status or life phase, the majority of people assign the most importance to meaning-related activities and, above all else, spending time with friends and family.” The conclusion: Meaning is age-proof, recession proof, and necessary to achieve the good life.
However, although purpose and meaning are important at all ages, it becomes even more so as people age. In addition, Leider is convinced that when people face a life-threatening illness or challenge, a clear purpose makes all the difference as to how satisfied and happy they believe themselves to be. Unfortunately, four myths exist that often stand in the way of people thinking that purpose is necessary. Those myths are:
Myth #1: My purpose must be completely original. Many of us harbor the belief that a purpose must be grand and unique to be worthwhile. Instead, Leider assures us that most of the time we borrow, combine or modify our ideas to move forward with anything—purpose included. Our purpose is far more about deciding and then taking action, rather than coming up with something different or grand.
Myth #2: Only special, rich, educated or healthy people have a true purpose. Wrong! As Leider says, “one of the great truths about purpose is that it is not limited by circumstances. In fact, major challenges may offer the choice of new directions and purpose that can add years to a healthy life.” Every single one of us has a purpose; we just have to do what we feel called to do.
Myth #3: Purpose must arrive by inspiration or revelation. Wrong again. Purpose can be anything that we feel gives our life meaning, no matter how trivial or uninteresting to others. Leider defines living on purpose as, “whenever we use our gifts and talents to respond to something we believe in, something larger than ourselves.”
Myth #4: Purpose is a luxury and making a living takes priority. False! As author and philosopher, Viktor Frankl said, “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” Sure, an opulent lifestyle might look good from the outside, but any life focused on just making money or getting by is wasting the precious resources we all hold inside.
According to Leider, the good news is that we all have a purpose within us. He believes that “unlocking your life purpose” is actually a process of self-awareness and choice and says, “purpose is played out every day in our choice points.” Leider found his purpose by following his own “fortuitous encounters.” Eventually, he used his background in counseling and psychology training to begin writing, coaching and to start what he calls, “inventure” expeditions. By helping others unlock their purpose, he found his own.
But what about the rest of us? How do we discover and unlock our purpose? Leider offers three simple, but not necessarily easy, solutions:
Get clear on your life story. Or as a recent blog post asked, “What is the point of your story?” The clearer we are on our life story, the more we recognize what is important to us and where our focus lies. Don’t like your current focus? Change it. Then look around to see what life is asking of you.
Recognize your gifts. We all have gifts and natural talents, but we must first acknowledge that they are ours and that we can use them. Leider suggests that we take the time to recognize our “most-enjoyed gifts” and then decide how to best give them away to something we genuinely believe in.
Unleash your curiosity. Leider claims that “research points to curiosity as one of the key ingredients in longevity.” He also believes that curiosity is an inner fire that leads to passion, and our passions are a clear path to our purpose.
Many other ideas and techniques exist on both Richard Leider’s website or within his books. As I mentioned in an article I wrote earlier this year, if you still aren’t clear about your purpose, you can always use Leider’s default purpose. That “default” purpose is—to GROW and GIVE! If you wake up each day vowing to grow in some way and commit to giving it to others, your own individual purpose is sure to develop and deepen over time.
Other suggestions include filling in the blank to the question, “The reason I get up in the morning is to ________________________”. How we answer leads to a purposeful mindset. Unfortunately, Leider says that one-third of us aren’t clear about that question. Leider also recommends practicing mindfulness and spending time in self- reflection and meditation. After all, if we don’t take the time to pause throughout our days and life, we will merely get caught up in a rat-race type existence.
During the last 30 years, Richard Leider asked thousands of people the question, “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?” It boiled down to three things:
- I would be more reflective. Again, people would do well to take the time to look carefully at their lives before they are in the midst of a crisis. When people know what is most important to them they can then take action to include more in their lives.
- I would live with more courage. While many said they would take more risks, what most meant is that they would risk being their true self and living more authentically. They also felt they would risk more in relationships, in work and in life itself, and stop worrying so much about “security.”
- I wish I had found, or lived, my purpose.
Obviously, Leider is a passionate believer in the power of a purposeful life. Bottom line? He is convinced that the key to living longer, healthier and happier is for us to find our purpose and then share it with the world. Maybe instead of focusing on anti-aging or trying to look younger than we are, it would be very SMART to drink the magic elixir that living a life of purpose offers us all.