Why is purpose so important in life?
You may already have noticed my fascination with the concept of ‘purpose’ – indeed, my flagship course dares you to discover your own!
But what exactly is purpose, and where does the word come from? Well, it originates from ‘purpus’, used for the first time around 1300 and meaning “intention, aim, goal; object to be kept in view; proper function for which something exists”. This word in turn comes from the Old French ‘porpos’ “an aim, intention” (12c.), from the verb porposer “to put forth”, and is equivalent to Latin propositium “a thing proposed or intended.”
What is interesting about this origin of the word is that it takes us back to the real meaning of it: ‘what was intended’. This helps us to remember that purpose isn’t a luxury, it is an essential. It is what we are meant for or made for, and it implies that we are passionate about it. And in that sense, it is our aim, or, to use a common expression – what gets us out of bed in the morning. Something as powerful as this can have a huge influence on our lives: helping us to make decisions, find meaning, and shape our own behaviour and goals.
For some people, purpose is very much tied up with work, while for others, it lies with their family or relationships, or even their faith or spirituality. If you don’t feel you could sum up your purpose in one word, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Your purpose is completely unique to you – and it can change on your life’s journey as your motivations and priorities change too.
What’s your purpose?
If you are struggling to find what your purpose is, ask yourself where you feel of most use, where you feel most at home, and where you feel most fulfilled, as the answer to these questions will give you clues.
In Japan, ‘ikigai’ is linked with the country’s long life-expectancy. It comes from the Japanese words “iki” (生き), which translates to “life,” and “gai” (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, and essentially means finding joy in life through purpose.
In the West, we have taken a rather mathematical way of working out ‘ikigai’ using a Venn diagram made up of four qualities:
+ What you are good at
+ What the world needs
+ What you can be paid for
+ What you love
The intersection of these points is where you can find your ‘ikigai’, and the Japanese believe it can help you live longer and with more direction.
The power of purpose
After working with retiring (and retired) baby boomers for several years, and of course being one myself, I have discovered that the one thing that seems to be lacking for those who are struggling with the transition into ‘later life’ is a sense of purpose. And that once found, it does exactly what the Japanese say it does: it helps you live longer, and with more direction.
That’s because having a sense of purpose transcends all your other needs: if you find that ‘secret sauce’, you will also find that concerns about your health, both mental and physical, your finances, your lack of direction… all fade away. That’s how powerful purpose is. I’ve discovered that some people are reluctant to pursue their life purpose because they think it seems selfish, but purpose is about recognising what makes you special and giving that back to the world, so in fact it’s not selfish at all – quite the reverse.
Why is retirement an important time to consider your purpose?
Retirement is a crisis in the true sense of the word: it is a turning point. If we retire at 65, we are likely to live another 25 years, which means we will outlive our savings, just as our health is deteriorating. Now is not the time to retire: it is the time to ‘unretire.’ We’re not finished yet. We are a work in progress and the best is yet to come.
Like other important life stages, such as adolescence, marriage and parenthood, retirement prompts physical, emotional, and spiritual transitions and we start to ask new questions about our place in the universe, such as who are we now? what do we love to do? and what is our purpose?
This is all part of life’s rich pageant: to question – and then to evolve. After all, what kind of a journey would it be if we arrived at our destination the same as when we left? Finding purpose at different points along the way is the mark of a skilled traveller.