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.
Dave T says
In the end, we all want to know that our lives had meaning, that we made a difference.
My journey of quiet reflection …
It was 6AM, a brisk and dark morning. I headed east on I68 for a two and a half hour drive through the Appalachian Corridor. I drove in quiet solitude on a nearly deserted highway. In this darkness was an empty sadness. The road winding with ups and downs through the hillsides and valleys, mirroring the journey in my mind. As the dawn silently broke over the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, I followed the sun eastward – continuing onward. My thoughts reflecting back from the darkness and emptiness, to the warmth of the light leading forth. The quiet majesty of the mountains was drawing me to my destination. By the time I reached the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, the city was awakening with people going about their lives. On my left and below through the tree lined parkway was the Potomac River. To my distant right was the Washington Monument. As I crossed the Potomac River on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, I spotted the Lincoln Memorial just as I remembered it five short years ago. My smart phone GPS guided me to 54-4446 Leahy Drive, Arlington National Cemetery. My GPS was a stark contrast to the paper maps, dividers, compass, radio beacons, and pencil my father used as a 20 year old to navigate a B29 bomber on 10-hour missions over the Pacific Ocean more than seven decades ago. Many things have changed in the last seven decades. Many things are still the same. In the morning sunlight and warming air, I silently stood by my father’s gravestone, reaching out and touching the cold smooth marble. I remembered and thanked my father for all that he taught me through how he lived his life and for making the many sacrifices so that I would have opportunities to make my own way in life. I left knowing his life had meaning and had made a difference.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Dave! This is lovely. I obviously agree that we all want to know our lives have meaning and we made a difference….and YES, your father certainly made one with you and for many of the rest of us as well. Thank you for that very important reminder. ~Kathy
Rena McDaniel says
This really hit home for me Kathy and I appreciate it. This is something I definitely want to think more about. I hadn’t heard of him before, but he sounds fascinating. We could all use more purpose in our lives.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Rena! I’m glad you found this helpful. I actually believe it is something that we all need to think about over and over again. That’s because as our circumstances change, it often opens up new opportunities for us that we never even thought of before. Being clear about our purpose today fulfills today, but that can certainly change in the future. May we all find a good reason to jump out of bed in the morning! ~Kathy
T.O. Weller says
Hi Kathy, thank you for such a great reminder. I’m about to head into a week of introspection & reflection, and I couldn’t have asked for a better read to kick it off.
Getting busy. Hmm, yes. It’s what I’ve been doing since Vegas! One thing after another; it hasn’t stopped. And somewhere along the way, I lost track of my purpose. My reason to smile when my eyes open with the sun. In fact, lately I’ve been dragging my sorry ass (pun intended) out of bed in the morning without any spark at all.
You’ve also got me thinking about my mother’s situation. Yesterday, when I called and asked her how she was doing, she said, “I’m okay, aside from feeling desperately lonely.” I did my best to encourage her to change the story she’s telling herself, but I felt there was only so much I could say or do. It needs to come from within. What she is missing is a feeling of purpose! I’ll think on that too.
Thank you my dear friend.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tracey! I’m glad I gave you some food for thought because as you know that’s one of my primary intentions! And yes, sorry about your mom. I know it is hard when we witness pain and loneliness in another, but purpose is definitely one of those things we need to find for ourselves. Didn’t Emerson something like, “most people lead lives of quiet desperation”? I that a lack of purpose and meaning does that to one, don’t you? Of course, with that said it is SMART to remember that I purpose can change and evolve as we do…maybe that is a requirement? So whenever we are feeling a bit off-purpose maybe our next big one is just waiting around the corner? You’re last 18 months have been hugely transformative so it’s no surprise that your purpose must be readjusted (reinvented) anew as well. I don’t doubt for a moment that you’re close to finding it. Maybe now you just “enjoy the journey???? ~Kathy
Susan Mary Malone says
I love how you always take what seems the ineffable and distill it down to its essence, Kathy! This, especially: “Don’t like your current focus? Change it. ”
And it really is that simple 🙂
Of course, purpose is a huge focus of mine, and I write about Frankl often. One of my favorite quotes of his is: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” –Man’s Search for Meaning.
Really great post!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Susan! Thanks! And I know you like Frankl too…isn’t he amazing? So many wonderful ideas from a very wise man. The challenge of course is to live it! ~Kathy
Roxanne Jones says
Kathy, what a wonderful post for a contemplative Sunday morning! I love your comment, “let’s not just be busy, let’s be on purpose.” It’s so easy to lose sight of that when we get caught up in the day to day. I’ve got some reflecting to do…
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Roxanne! Isn’t that the truth. I wonder how many have just gotten used to thinking of our packed and busy days as proof that we have a purpose? Instead of pausing long enough to really look at what is happening it’s easy to just rush to the next project or “obligation.” I completely agree with the author that we all would benefit by spending more time in “reflection” so good for you for recognizing that! ~Kathy
Beth Havey says
I feel good about the choices that I am currently making. Your piece is provocative and I read every word. I believe my calling has always been writing, and so pursuing that provides fulfillment and happiness. I also love gardening and reading, so I find there are sustaining things in my life that I should always be able to do. Love the quote from an incredible human: Viktor Frankl said, “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Beth! From what I read on your blog and FB I agree that you are living a purposeful life. Good for you! And one thing that Richard Leider is clear about is that our purpose evolves as we do. What may have satisfied us and made us happy 25 years ago might be different today. I think that’s one reason why he puts so much focus on curiousity. If we stay curious and self-aware we can always find something to make our hearts happy. Thanks for sharing your path! ~Kathy
I was born with a gift of ART. I denied it for half my life. When I finally let it out and could graciously accept compliments on some of the work I created I became more ‘myself’. I made hand painted cards for family and friends and when someone loved them or wanted to frame them I always said, “Oh, it’s nothing special.” Once I let the creativity flow it expanded into writing. My high school English teacher loved my writing but I didn’t feel it was worth much. There is a multitude of reasons I buried it for so long but when I dug it out and let it flow my life changed forever.
I believe ART and Writing are my dual purposes in life and what make me happiest.
Great post, Kathy. Thanks for sharing.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Barbara! Isn’t it amazing when we finally find and then ALLOW our purpose to flow through us? I agree that many of us push it down for all sorts of reasons but hopefully we all find the courage we need to let it out. It sounds like you are happily where you need to be! Thanks for sharing that with us all. ~Kathy
I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments in this post Kathy! Life needs purpose for your life. An acquaintance’s husband suddenly died and she is struggling with her life because she always did what he did or for the kids. I hope she blossoms to find her true self and her own purpose.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! I know you spend a lot of time on Social Media like me and you probably see (like me) so many other people who seem to struggle with life too. I can’t help but believe that so many of the issues in our world today are connected to this. And I’m not coming from a strictly spiritual perspective (and I hope the article avoided that too) but I think people are a bit adrift with all the busy-ness AND distractions in the world today. What I think it does is keep us from taking the time to really consider that without a purpose most people just wander through life, not wanting to die, but not having much to do except entertain themselves. And while I’m all for us staying happy and cheerful, I think that needs to be balanced with something more. I too hope your friend finds what will make her heart sing. ~Kathy
What a great post! It caused me to think about how my recent health concerns have reformed my purpose. It’s true, when life is threatened, our focus often changes. I have entered a different season of my life. Presently, I’m a chemo patient and the positive side effect of that is having more time to rest and reflect upon what really matters the most. I will be the first to admit I am no saint, every day I mess up, but at this time in my life, my goal is to allow the love of my Creator to flow through me so I can love others. Even tho I’m home 95% of the time, there are people who need encouragement. Some examples would include, my doctors and nurses, our plumber, the UPS driver, the mail carrier, etc. Then there are those friends who call, text or e-mail us. People are really hungry for love and genuine care. I can honestly say that I needed a wake-up call in order to get my priorities straight. Of course, I pray that I’ll be given many more years to try to live out my purpose, but that being said, quality of life is more important than quantity, so I want to make every day count.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pam! Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. I completely agree that a health challenge can help us get MUCH more focused on our purpose and give us encouragement to stay there. There is a great quote Richard Leider wrote in his book about purpose from a Cancer Doctor and it was very clear that those who took the time to be very clear about who they were and why they felt they were here did the best. It sounds to me like you have found a way to do exactly that. And in the meantime you are helping others at the same time. As you say, “people are really hungry for love and care” and cant’ we all do that no matter what? Thank you again for joining the conversation. ~Kathy
Linda Myers says
Kathy, I love this post. Curiosity and purpose are so important! I notice that this week my schedule is quite light, my to-do list completed. l am tempted to add something to the list, but suspect I’m supposed to be quiet and reflect. What’s up for me next?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Linda! I LOVE that question….”What’s up for me next?” That reminds me of the post I did about “nexting”. Such an important perspective because it keeps us looking forward with anticipation. And when you think about it, the focus we decide on is very closely related to our purpose. Let’s not just be busy, let’s be on purpose. Thanks so much for your comment. ~Kathy
Terri Webster Schrandt says
We all think our careers is what drives our purpose, and for most of us, this is true, if we’re lucky. But what happens when we retire? For many, the purpose is gone and we hear how people, especially men, die within a few years of retirement. I think now, as Boomers retire, this doesn’t happen as often and more of us are doing the re-invention thing. That is one way to “re” purpose our lives I suppose. I like that “fill in the blank” question…“The reason I get up in the morning is to ________________________”. I’m going to have to think on that a bit. I have several reasons (some fueled by coffee), but I am always excited to wake up to comments on my blog, or read someone’s positive post or cool photograph. I often find myself thinking about what my college students would like to know even when not teaching. I guess my educator mind is always working, and that would have to be one very good reason to wake up and realize this purpose 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Terri! From what I’ve read on your blog there is surely lots of purpose there. And yes to comments and the chance to stay connected with everyone. Richard Leider is also VERY big on how important it is for us to stay curious. As an educator I’m sure that has been one of your guiding lights. The key of course, is to keep that curiosity alive and well no matter what our age. Thanks for your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Try New Things says
Hi Kathy: Nice subject to wake up to today! I think that a lot of the midlife confusion surrounds this exact idea. We recognize a need to live in a more meaningful way with the remaining years we have. But finding that is the challenge.
I found that I wandered around (seemingly) trying things on, but not finding what fit for me. Until I did! But it certainly took some empty aimless searching to get to this new place where there is inspiration in my days and purpose on the road ahead.
Thanks for giving me my morning introspection. And reminding me how satisfied I am now after a period of wandering.:)
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kelly! I’ve been following you for several years (on your blog and FB) and been slightly jealous of all your adventures for sure! I am so happy to hear that you’ve found that “space” that you were seeking (at least for now) and are joyfully waking up each morning. Good for you for seeking what your soul was surely calling for. I’m looking forward to more details when the time is right. ~Kathy
my husband (the family counsellor) commented the other day that you can’t find happiness without living a purposeful life. I thought that was really interesting. Basically he said you should be pursuing purpose and worth – not happiness because happiness is a byproduct not the “thing itself” Interesting you should be talking about the importance of purpose in life too (but not surprising really!) 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leanne! I do believe there are several “camps” on the “do I pursue happiness first and then flow into my purpose or do I find my purpose and that will make me happy. As usual, I think it is a both/and answer. Anytime we try to make it only one way or another I want to pull away and say “but what about????” I do agree if your pursuit of happiness is completely egotistical and hedonistic you will likely end up with momentary pleasure but not what I call real happiness. So I agree with your husband on that regard, but I also believe in the Abraham-Hicks approach that says that happy people have the most to offer others because they aren’t in “survival” or beaten down. Maybe the best answer is a variation on both where they are locked together like a puzzle? I personally need them both! What do you think? ~Kathy