Maybe it’s my impending 50th birthday or perhaps it’s the fact that my oldest child is graduating with his master’s degree this weekend and about to face the world outside of academics. Either way the idea of purpose has been on my mind a lot recently. There are many people I know who have taken the approach “I’ll just take one day at a time and see what happens”. I think ultimately, they wake up one day disappointed because the “magic” never occurred and they find themselves sitting at the same place in time as they have been for years. They also never seem content and their mood is often based upon the particular day and its weather.

A fulfilling life must include a search to answer the questions for ourselves around our reason for living or our life’s purpose. Quality of life does not happen by chance. James Allen said, “They who have no central purpose in life fall easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pity, all of which lead to failure, unhappiness, and loss.” I do not think that it is a coincidence that research shows people who live purposefully live longer lives, have a lower risk of disease, sleep better and maintain healthier behaviors.

I find it interesting that Vikter Frankl in describing how he survived the Holocaust in his book Man’s Search for Meaning never discusses the topic of happiness but rather focused on choice and purpose. Unfortunately, today we focus on feelings to drive behaviors rather than on choice. When we have purpose, we do not rely on feelings but an internal set of directions to get us to our end regardless of how it feels. But how do people find their purpose?

Some studies have said that people can increase their sense of purpose in life by practicing mindfulness, helping others, cultivating hobbies and relationships. Important for me was an exercise I did years ago in my 20’s when I was asked to imagine myself at 80 years old and observing my own funeral from the balcony. What did I want people to say? What would have I accomplished? Would anyone want to attend? It set me on a course of examining my mission in life. My purpose.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, this year colleges and universities are expected to award 1 million associate degrees, 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees, 790,000 master’s degrees and 183,000 doctorate degrees. Imagine if all those 3,873,000 people now were driven by an overwhelming purpose to make a lasting impact on world in their area of influence! Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier made his purpose very clear when asked by a reporter, “Why do you box?” Seeming a bit irritated by the question, Frazer responded, “Because I’m a boxer.” I hope you can answer the question of why you do what it is you do!

Tim Geels – SVP Corporate Instruction & Implementation