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The Benefits of Finding Meaning Through Purpose in Work and Life

An Excerpt from Transfluence

As human beings, we crave purpose. Ask any pastor, priest, monk, imam, rabbi, politician, philosopher, or psychologist.

Steve Taylor, an author and senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, calls the need for purpose a “defining characteristic” of people. “Human beings crave purpose and suffer serious psychological difficulties when we don’t have it,” he said. “Purpose is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life.”

Many philosophers and psychologists consider meaning through purpose a key to joy and a critical factor in resilience. In fact, Viktor Frankl made it central to his groundbreaking psychological theory known as “logotherapy.” In his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl quotes German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as saying, “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how.’” And as a survivor of Nazi concentration camps during the holocaust, Frankl’s research and theories were backed by the most extreme forms of personal experience.

When you find meaning in a purpose that’s outside of yourself—something outside of the storms of life and the climates that create them—it takes you out of the shadows and into a place where your motives are genuine, and your influence becomes meaningful and truly transformative. It empowers you to admit your mistakes, listen respectfully to others, surrender control, and act with courage and conviction. It tells you that you can fail and still survive, grow, and rebound for new victories. You aren’t dependent solely on your own powers or skills or intellect. You aren’t defined by the results of any particular moment in time. You have a certainty that’s tied to things way beyond what you can control or achieve on your own.

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Victor Strecher, a professor at the University of Michigan and the director of Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, points out that we’ve known philosophically for centuries that a purpose in life is good for us, so he set out to research the benefits.

“Now there is this amazing science to the philosophy,” he says in a video about his book, Life on Purpose. “People who have a strong purpose in life live longer, they’re less likely to develop heart disease, they’re less likely to develop stroke. Ten years later, people with a strong purpose in life are half as likely to develop depression as people with a low purpose.”

And if those aren’t enough benefits for you, he adds that, “If you have a strong purpose in life, you have better sex. Nice.”1

Unfortunately, as Strecher also points out, we live in, “an increasingly nihilistic world,” where many people don’t aspire to “something beyond just watching the Kardashian sisters on television and seeing what they’re doing.”

What’s interesting to me is that our “big me,” self-absorbed culture still values purpose in theory, and it’s especially relevant among emerging leaders. A study commissioned by McGraw-Hill Education found that 73 percent of graduating students said finding a job that allows them to do what they love was more important than finding a job that pays well (20 percent).  And according to a study by Bentley University, 84 percent of millennials said helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition. The Intelligence Group found similar results in its research. For instance, 64 percent of millennials said making the world a better place is a priority, and 88 percent said they want “work-life integration.”

Needless to say, they think and act differently than my generation. When I entered the workforce in the 1970s, I didn’t ask why a company was in business or what purpose it served before taking a job. For that matter, it was hard to even learn much about a company other than what you read in published materials. Companies didn’t have websites. There were no blogs about how an organization conducted business. There were no chat rooms that criticized management policy. I worked for whoever would hire me because I needed a job and because they paid me a regular check for doing what they wanted me to do. It was simple. It was transactional. I didn’t ask many questions. I was loyal because they provided me work. That was what it took to satisfy me. And I expected nothing more.

Those days are gone. Companies don’t just go out and hire people, especially talented people. They need to attract them. And as Meghan Biro, the CEO of TalentCulture, points out, they are attracted by purpose. Millennials, she wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post, expect transparency, value authenticity and access to power, and are quick to spot frauds.

Michael Maccoby, a noted psychologist, leadership consultant, and author, says that purpose provides “a reason for asking others to follow or collaborate” and is an essential quality of a leader.2 So, as a leader in modern climates, our role isn’t just about making a profit and creating jobs; it’s about making those jobs relevant…jobs that aren’t just about financial reward, but that are about providing dignity, relevance, and purpose. And it can’t be any purpose. It has to be a worthy, more noble purpose, one that grabs at the heart of people—a purpose that has a transformative influence on their lives, in their lives, and outside their lives.

Lead with Transformative Influence

Transfluence shows leaders how they can have transformative influence by overcoming their fears and pride, building transparency into their leadership, developing a strong core of authentic values, and passionately pursuing a meaningful purpose.

Available Now.

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1. Vic Strecher, “Life On Purpose,” Victor J. Strecher, 2017, https://www.vicstrecher.com/

2. Michael Maccoby with Tim Scudder, The Leaders We Need: And What Makes Us Follow (2nd Edition) (Personal Strengths Publishing, Inc., 2018).

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