I more often than not talk to people and have deep discussions about one’s purpose… what it is, how can you find your purpose and how do you know when you have found it? Why do some people seem to have one while others not? And is it important to have one in the first place? In Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,”
I am bringing this up now because it feels as if Covid19 has either contributed to many people either losing their purpose or reviewing it as a result of the pandemic and changes that may have been taking place because of it.
I don’t believe purpose has to be something grand relating to resolving world poverty or finding the cure of cancer. It could be, but it doesn’t have to be.
We can find meaning and purpose in the simple things in life… in our relationships with others and our sense of belonging, our work, our creative activities, or through random acts of kindness and simply through giving back to our community.
I also personally feel that your purpose is tied to or is defined by your personal values. This is why, I believe, that it’s of a fundamental importance to have something and maybe “purpose” is the wrong word for it. When we are metaphorically speaking lost we can use it as a compass and ask the question “is what I am doing, where I am going, aligned with my values and purpose?” If the answer is a yes you can continue, while if it’s a no you might need to review. Meaning and purpose often go hand-in-hand with feelings of empowerment, mastery, and control. During this pandemic if you think about it all of those have either been seriously shaken or undermined or tested or completely vanished.
One major study, on people aged between 55 and 85, showed that those who reported the highest levels of personal ‘mastery’ – feelings of control over life-events – had an almost 60% smaller chance of death than those who felt relatively helpless. Likewise, numerous studies point out that a perceived lack of meaning or purpose are common contributors to and symptoms of mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety and addiction, which is evidence of its significance.
Certain life events can lead to a loss of our meaning and purpose in life, like losing a job, losing a loved one, loneliness or social isolation, hence another reason why during lockdown people have been confronted with vital and existential questions.
At an organisational level, businesses with a clear purpose show higher engagement, empowerment and employee commitment because people can identify with the reason of existence of that business beyond mere profits. EY and Harvard Business co-authored a research project which revealed that 58% of companies that are truly purpose-driven report 10% growth or more over the past three years, versus 42% of companies that don’t have a fully-embedded purpose reporting a lack or even decline of growth in the same period.
I am leaning more towards Mark Manson’s take on it and I am quoting directly from his blog: “We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time, we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time. So, when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
Lack of meaning and purpose at any level almost feels like lack of a reference point that resonates with your core identity, an anchor, or whatever you want to call it… , somewhere we can hang our hat on … and feel at home.