Many studies indicate that having a strong sense of purpose benefits good health and longevity. Individuals with a high sense of purpose had a lower risk of developing a stroke, heart attack, or coronary artery disease. Randy Cohen, MD, medical director of University Medical Practice Associates at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City says “We found a 23 percent reduction in mortality and a 19 percent reduction in cardiovascular events among those people”. That puts living purposefully on a par with other protective things people do, like engaging in exercise.
A 2014 study published in The Lancet found that people over age 65 who had a higher personal sense of purpose and well-being were more likely to live longer. Purpose also impacts brain health. Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, a neuropsychologist with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center says, “Purpose somehow gives your brain resilience. It makes your brain stronger and more resistant to the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
In the Thrive Global workshops we conduct for corporations, we lead a process for participants to find their sense of purpose. For many, this a big realization as they begin to explore what this is. We help them see that it is connected to one of the four pillars of Thriving; Giving and as Picasso states above, your purpose is then shared with others. It is given away.
The question becomes, “how do I know my purpose and what do I do when I find it?” Before I share a way to help answer this, I wanted to share how I found my purpose, or should I say how it found me.
For many years as a child and then as a young man, I was very shy and terribly self conscious about how I spoke. A speech impediment from a young age added to the struggle, along with being teased and bullied at school. Those years were challenging for me and it wasn’t until one terrifying day when I was unable to say my name into a microphone in front of a small group of people, that I began to realize that this was holding me back.
Someone suggested that I should immerse myself into acting and comedy improve. I decided I had to embrace the fear, while working on changing my beliefs about myself. As I gained confidence my speech impediment began to diminish and a few years later I was asked to be the MC at an event with 200 people. On that day a part of my life changed forever. A very well admired speaker was in the audience and told me “you are a great speaker and that was a wonderful introduction you gave”.
My purpose in life is as a speaker and facilitator, inspiring many through wisdom, humor and joy. I have been doing this for 20 years now and if I knew earlier on in my life, that the very thing that was my biggest fear would become my gift to share with the world, I would have said, that is absolutely crazy.
I love speaking and I am very grateful to be leading Thrive Global and Hero Acts programs and even though my speech impediment still rears its head up occasionally, I observe it, relax and love it, because it helped me find my purpose.
There are many stories of people that have had that same experience, where their purpose found them. My wife Maria, became an acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine after nearly dying in a car accident. Those same methods that helped her heal herself back to full health, became the very same practices she uses today to help many others find health and vitality. There are obviously others that come to mind, including Keller, Gandhi and Mandela.
I am not saying that everyone finds their purpose this way, however if our purpose is to be given away to help others, having first gone through the ‘refiners fire’ and the trials and tribulations ourselves, may make sharing more real and inspiring for others. Living our purpose keeps us healthier and living longer as well.
Some people know what their purpose is and are living it, while others just need to take some action to manifest it. Then there are those who are not clear, but really want to be. Here are 4 questions (that I have found useful in this process) that you can ask yourself to begin to find out your purpose. Maybe it has already found you?.
- What is unique about me, the one thing that no one else can do exactly like me? (Someone may do something similar but not with the same uniqueness. e.g. There are many speakers but no one speaks like me.)
- Looking back at your life so far, what is a common theme, pattern, fear or experience, that you have found challenging?
- If you were to overcome and then leverage your answer to #2 and use it to help others, what would that look like?
- What is your purpose? (or if you are still not clear, keep asking these questions and be patient and open). It is a process.
Life’s great adventure continues…