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Purpose: Why Does it Matter So Much – And What Happens Without It?

I try to explain in every single way I know how, that we all need purpose to have a better quality of life. Even if we are not aware of it. It is an intrinsic yearning in us all. If we find purpose at work (work in the general sense as I explain below), there are even more rewards for us. As Koestenbaum says in his book Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness:

Work for the average person is external to life and is therefore experienced as a constraint on life itself. Time pressure is actually the pressure of existential guilt: people feel stress because they are not living up to their meanings.

Every time I read it, it strikes a chord in me! What an important insight.

I find that to be very true. People around me who have a purpose in life are not as stressed out. Even if they dedicated their lives to some dream that may not even get completed in their lifetime, they do it with love and passion. This is the lifeblood of their soul.

I usually work with professionals who want to have meaning (Purpose) at work but it is never about only about “career” actually. You could be someone who does not need to work and want to volunteer; a stay-at-home mom; a retired grandma; someone at midlife asking important questions to yourself; somebody that just graduated from college; or someone about to start your business; we all want to have a reason to get up the next day.

I felt this yearning for purpose all my adult life.

As I studied human behavior, took psychology classes, and read science, I realized how much this also relates to happiness and fulfillment. Thanks to new science fields as neuroscience, positive psychology, we know happiness is not sustainable if it is dependent on external factors. We achieve one goal and before we even have time to celebrate it, we move on to the other and it is like a never-ending chasing game. We never “arrive”. It makes us discontent.

The only way to fulfillment, which is the sustainable version of happiness, comes from finding meaning in our lives; having a Purpose.

Our Purpose does not need to make the headlines. You do not need to change the world. It could be giving a helping end to your grandchild for your daughter. It could be volunteering at a food bank for an hour a week because you care about the hungry. You could be a janitor at school trying to make the school as clean as possible for the students. It could be starting a business to serve a certain population. It could be anything that makes it worthwhile to live that excites you and is bigger than you. Purpose also releases oxytocin which increases our trust and belonging in this world.

What is the alternative?

Think about this for a second: 99% of people who are not fulfilled at work are not fulfilled in life. (Imperative Purpose Index 2019) Work, however you name it, is that important. Fulfillment at work comes from finding meaning in what you do.

Again thanks to science, we also know we have negativity bias. If we heard 10 good comments and one bad one, we will focus more on that single negative. With no fault of our own. That is our human nature.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also tells us another wiring of our brain in his book Flow:

Unless a person know how to give order to his/her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment; it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations. Entropy is the normal state of consciousness- a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.

So true! Look around you. Look at people who do not work (no job/no hobby etc.), who do not seem to have any purpose, who are retired and do nothing, who never looked inside to figure out what makes them happy and in the flow. Aren’t they also the ones who do not look so happy? Those who complain more? They seem to have too much time in their hands to focus on the negative. It is not to judge them but it is an awareness; it is our normal wiring. If we are left with nothing, we fill it up with negativity.

To silence their minds, they will reach out to TV, news, games, or even addictive behavior to numb themselves. It is not easy to be alone with your inner chatter if you do not learn how to control it.

Those who are happy on the other hand are the ones who learned more about what makes them excited, what keeps them in the flow, find meaning in their lives. They are the ones who have done their inner work, learned how to control their thoughts. It is not their external circumstances that makes them happy.

This all shows we can intentionally and consciously make the choice: Do we want to live in despair, being unhappy and in entropy? Or live a life that has a Purpose and thus has more fulfillment? 

Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erolhttps://www.purposeful.business/
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Once you know your values, passions, limits and strengths it will not be too difficult to give your life a direction.
    Knowing our “why” is the first important step in understanding how to achieve the goals that excite us and create the life we like to live. In fact, only when we know and connect to our deep motivation do we find the courage to take the risks necessary to move forward, stay motivated along the way and move our life on a completely new, more challenging and more rewarding trajectory.

  2. Brooke, some random thoughts on purpose, creative courage, and the acceptance of change:

    https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/a-calling-to-purpose/

    https://medium.com/@mark_9893/take-the-first-step-cf9352273945?source=friends_link&sk=d9ebbd6d365f25438f2d00dc1e6cf51b

    https://medium.com/@mark_9893/its-about-time-9c53fd209cfc?source=friends_link&sk=230f04e278daa1782d84071e451fb196

    All of them add up to the fact that we are cut from the same cloth. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this post.

    • It really is. I started asking about Purpose before I even knew all the various benefits of it. Now that I know more, I cannot think of a life with boredom with not knowing what to do with yourself or your life. This adds so much meaning and fulfillment to our lives. Thank you.

  3. Thanks, Brooke.

    “The mind is a wonderful servant and a terrible master.”

    One of the possibilities of this ‘break’ is for each of us to focus some energy on our attitudes, beliefs, assumptions and so forth and maybe do a ‘tune-up.” I think lots of people skip that effort as it comes with discomfort; yet to push forward instead of push back, we can embrace that discomfort as a symptom of discovery. Here’s a short piece on that topic (with a bonus podcast):

    https://azalearning.com/aza-learning/discomfort-and-pain

    And finally, I shifted a few years ago in my coaching from focusing on time management to focusing on energy management. It’s much more useful, I think. Aligning our energy with our purpose brings quick results . . . .

    Be good. And well.
    Mac

    • Wow thank you Mac. I loved the way to said it. It is so uncomfortable to do this work. There are beautiful nuggets in the article you sent too. Thank you so much for sharing. I am glad your pivot to energy management. I am much more mindful where I spend my energy every day and it makes such a huge difference in my life.

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