On Purpose

ON PURPOSE

It’s That Time of Year

This is commencement speech time.  Some of my favorites are the fictitious “Wear Sunscreen” commencement speech from the late ‘90s (which was later tuned into a song), Steve Jobs “How to Live Before You Die” at Stanford in 2005 (viewed over 8 million times on YouTube) and, from this year, Atul Gawande’s talk to CalTech on the importance of scientific thinking for all of us.  In our age of constant connectivity through text messages, tweets and facebook posts, these commencement speeches perhaps have never been more important to help us slow down for a moment and focus on what’s most important.  This time for reflection often points us to our purpose.

However, as much as thoughtful and inspiring commencement speeches are provocative, it feels like something larger is happening.  It seems like the narrative of finding one’s purpose is of increasing importance for people of all ages.  Indeed, Millennials have developed a reputation for seeking purpose in their jobs, not just a paycheck.  As Boomers enter retirement age, they, too, are increasingly looking at ways to use their gifts to make a difference, rather than just exit stage left from society.

Purpose Matters

The research community has an opinion on purpose.  It matters.  Dr. Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, points out in the video The Big Idea in 4 Minutes – Coming of Age In Aging America that “there isn’t anything in the psychology literature that suggests that it’s good for people to go on vacation for decades.”  People need purpose.  And, with purpose, people are more likely to look out for their health and well-being.  According to a research paper “Purpose in life and use of preventative health care services” by Kim, Stecher and Ryff, people with greater purpose are also more likely to be proactive in taking care of their health, including being more likely to pursue preventative health care services, such as flu shots, cholesterol tests, etc.  In other words, having greater purpose can be both better for the individual and for our society.

Institutions Supporting a Movement

Have a Purpose - Metropolitan College - 6-16Institutions are recognizing this greater sensitivity to purpose and are providing onramps.  Colleges, such as Metropolitan College of New York with their “Why just a have a job? Have a Purpose” campaign, are signaling to prospective students that their curriculum will help them find purpose.  Stanford University started the Distinguished Careers Institute, founded by Dr. Philip Pizzo, to attract established leaders eager to deepen their knowledge and/or embrace new fields and reflect on their life journeys, explore new pathways and redirect their lives for the common good.  AARP has a separate division called Life Reimagined and has created a set of tools, including a “LifeMap” to help people of all ages discover their purpose and create a plan of action.

Housing that Increases Purpose

Housing can have a critical role in increasing purpose, too.  At Smart Living 360, we believe that residential communities can be a catalyst for people to find greater purpose.  We encourage residents to share their goals and aspirations with others in the community.  We facilitate friendships between residents and provide opportunities for people to help each other use their unique gifts, which is particularly powerful in an intergenerational context.  We have relationships with life coaches and host workshops on life planning.  We have connections with local groups for volunteering opportunities.  (If you’re wondering how we achieve these lofty goals then check out the three minute fast pitch talk at the Encore conference earlier this year.  It outlines in greater detail my vision for creating communities of purpose.)

We all benefit from the momentarily lift of an inspirational commencement talk. But the real opportunity is to have purpose more wired into our day-to-day actions.  Research demonstrates that it is good for our health and our society.  So let’s get going!