Tis the season when commencement speakers urge graduates to live their lives with purpose. Purpose will be a lodestone that points them toward their True North. Such advice applies to more than matriculating students, and it applies to all of us at any age.
There is something else to add to reasons to live more purposefully: personal health. According to a research article published in Health Psychology, and summarized in an Institute of Coaching newsletter, “research showing that a strong sense of purpose in life is associated with reduced risk of stroke, cardiovascular events, cognitive impairment, and overall mortality risk … and the ability of the body to withstand wear and tear caused by stress.”
In other words, a stronger purpose can lead to healthier individuals.
So just what is purpose? According to the authors of this study, “having a set of goals based on one’s core values.” Having such goals aligned with values provides direction that is inherent to us. Purpose is not imposed; it is, like motivation, intrinsic. BEing armed with purpose, according to the authors, makes us better able to make decisions related to choices ranging from self-improvement to healthier living.
Individuals leverage purpose, and so, too, can executive coaches. The IOC newsletter article posits that coaches can focus on purpose as a means of helping individuals feel better, make better decisions and clarify purpose means and how it can help them.
Finding one’s purpose can be an evolutionary process. For example, purpose for a graduating senior may be as distinct as pursuing a professional graduate degree as a means of enabling them to do what they want to do, e.g., cure the sick, design computer systems or teach. For other students, purpose may be amorphous, something that will be figured out not in school but throughout life.
Living without purpose can be akin to being in a dinghy in open water without an oar or sail. You drift where the current or the wind takes you. For a time, this might be peaceful, but eventually, most people want to steer their dinghy to shore. How you steer comes from, as the authors indicate, your values.
Sometimes what you think of first is recreation -- that is, you want to travel, exercise, indulge in a sport or play a musical instrument. Unless you can turn those into a career -- and some people can -- it may not be the best purpose for you. To be more specific, then, ask yourself three questions related to the kind of work you would like to do.
- What do I most like to do? Begin with “what gets you up in the morning?” What do you look forward to doing? What does work mean to you?" Answers to these questions will help point you to what interests you and therefore serves as a foundation for what you might want to do for a career.
- Why do I want to do it? Purpose always begins with why. It is your catalyst. It is rooted in your desire to make something of yourself, and maybe do something better for others, too.
- What is keeping me from doing it? Knowing your what and why leads to why not now? The answer could be as simple as needing more schooling or education. For example, if you want to be a nurse, you need training and certification. On the other hand, if you are a finance person and want to be a senior executive, you need to learn to manage and lead.
These questions apply to mid- to late-career individuals, too. For example, you may not be satisfied with your current job and want to try something new. Ask yourself why? What will you need to do differently? Is it feasible?
Knowing your purpose, as the research study showed, helps you feel better physically and by inference psychologically, too. Purpose matters. Find it and put it to work to create a better and healthier version of yourself.
Note: The article referenced above is “Purpose in life and conflict-related neural responses during health decision-making” by Yoona Kang, Victor Strecher, Eric Kim and Emily B. Falk. It appeared in Health Psychology 38(6), 545-552
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including“MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, "GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us." Learn more about why he wrote "GRACE" in this short video.