Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and Austrian psychiatrist, once suggested that the Statue of Liberty in the United States should be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility. Frankl, who believed that life has meaning even in the most dehumanising situations, observed that people suffer from Sunday neurosis - an emptiness in their lives once the working week is over. This vacuum is the cause for stress, anxiety, and depression that only a sense of purpose or meaning can solve. For most, however, the crisis of emptiness stretches beyond Sundays to grip us on all our days and purpose remains elusive. Yet, everyone must strive for a little bit of purpose in their lives.
Employers want purpose as a way to improve performance, while psychologists say it improves wellbeing. But only a fortunate few find the intersection between purpose, passion, and sustenance. I consider myself one of them.
As a doctor, I have migrated from merely treating the disease towards actual healthcare and helping people become the best versions of themselves. I have always found purpose and fulfilment in what I do and, therefore, I stay naturally motivated and energised to keep going. But as I entered the corporate world, I could see that, at large, people are divided into two categories: those who hate their work and do it for the pay cheque and those few who are passionate about what they do, and who relish their work.
Among those who are passionate about what they do, there are certain common traits:
One of the most common traits in people who are passionate about what they do is a deeply felt sense of purpose. Purpose brings in them an ability and desire to listen, share, empower and constantly improve themselves. But, most importantly, purpose makes them inexhaustible. A study on first-time entrepreneurs found that those with a strong sense of purpose were undeterred and more focused than others in a desire to fulfil their ambitions. It’s only a strong sense of purpose that can stop you from giving up.
Another important behaviour in people who are purposeful is their attitude of thinking not of the short term but holding a long-term vision of collective success. It’s their sense of purpose, a closely lived day-to-day dream that helps them stay driven and motivated. And it’s something that lasts for life - according to a study by John Templeton Foundation, older adults with purpose are more likely to be employed, have better health, and a better professional and personal life.
Purpose can be understood as something that is not only personally enriching and meaningful but also something that helps one engage with the world that’s beyond the self. Therefore, while the western world sees purpose individually, research in Asia, especially in places like India and China, shows that the strongest sense of purpose is seen in social entrepreneurs who are working for and with communities. Purpose, therefore, need not be an individual pursuit but is, in fact, a quest for collective upliftment.
Some people arrive in this world with a clear sense of purpose while others spend numerous hours searching, looking, and contemplating. But purpose doesn’t always have to be cause-based, it can also be something you simply can’t resist doing. A way to find purpose is to tell your own life story with your strengths and weaknesses, values and passions, or, for instance, things you could endlessly do as a child.
But the idea of purpose, too, evolves as we do. I used to find purpose in my work, thinking that it was the job I was doing which defined who I am. This changed after I became a father and it became much more about what I do to grow as a person, what I do to leave a legacy.
This brings me back to Frankl who found purpose in the midst of extreme suffering in a concentration camp. “What is to give light,” he said, “must endure burning.” Even today, Frankl’s therapeutic and philosophical outlook remains applicable as the lesson that whether purpose is personal or shared, challenges don’t thwart it, but, in fact, can help strengthen it.
(This article is from Thrive Global)