“The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder – waif, a nothing, a no man. Have a purpose in life, and, having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you.”
“Would it not be strange if a universe without purpose accidentally created humans who are so obsessed with purpose?”
Sir John Templeton
“To me, there is only one form of human depravity — the man without a purpose.”
Without a purpose in life, death comes very quickly.
I tried everything to get out of Graduate school. I put in more hours, I went to more seminars, I did more experiments, I read more articles, I wrote more, I networked more, but there was no escape. I even tried working less. No dice. I was stuck. Graduating with a Ph.D. in the medical sciences requires permission from a committee of 5 doctors. Every committee has a chair that ultimately decides the student’s fate. Unfortunately, my committee chair was my mentor, or immediate supervisor, who did not want me to leave. Though I had fulfilled all of the objective requirements, he felt I wasn’t ready to move on. I spent the next year waiting to be released.
Life is meaningless without direction. My last year in Graduate school was absolutely miserable. I realized that there was no amount of work and no number of publications that would bring me closer to graduating. I had to wait, unguided and without purpose. I felt like part of my soul was wasting away each day. I couldn’t grow. I couldn’t move forward. I couldn’t advance my purpose of living. And there was only one person to blame. Myself. The problem was I didn’t have any direction. The second problem was I was waiting for someone else to give me direction.
Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying
Your purpose in life reflects your ability to derive meaning from your life’s experiences, as well a your ability to make focused and intentional decisions. Most people have faced circumstances that made them feel purposeless at one time or another. This point may have come after the freshness of a new job faded away or after the excitement of a new relationship wore off. Or, more seriously, this point may have come after losing a job, experiencing the death of a family member, or being diagnosed with a serious illness. Either way, you feel empty. You start questioning whether or not that part of your life, or your entire life, has any meaning. It’s like you’re trying to run on a dead battery. You can’t start. You can’t turn over your engine and take any action. Instead, you sink into feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and sadness. People that fail to regain their purpose of living eventually stop feeling anything. They enter a state of apathy, which is a breeding ground of illness and death.
The two biggest risk factors to human mortality are birth and retirement. A study in the British Medical Journal followed a group of Shell Oil employees who retired at age 55 and another group that retired at age 65. The study found that the early retirees have a 37% higher risk of death than their counterparts that retired at 65. That’s not all. People who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at 65. Another study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry evaluated 246 people as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project. These people underwent cognitive and neurological testing once a year for 10 years. Each person was asked to clearly define his or her purpose in life. None of the study participants had dementia, and they all went on to die and undergo brain autopsies. The researchers found that people who did not have a clear purpose in life had significantly faster rates of mental decline. Other studies have linked purposelessness to decreased longevity and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Your purpose of living is fuel for your internal engine. It’s what gives you direction and keeps you moving forward. The more purpose you inject in your life, the brighter your internal spark will burn and the more productive action you’ll be able to initate. In my next post, I’ll discuss how having a strong purpose in life can help you increase happiness, overcome obstacles, and live to be 100.