Meet Joe. He's a middle-aged bridge toll-taker in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a recent interview, Joe said he loves the role he has filled for the last 12 years. The job suits his purpose. He said: "If I can help someone start their day off right in the few seconds when they are handing me the toll, I feel I have made a difference in the day and life of another person."
Meet Mel. He's a veteran New York City street sweeper who works through the night clearing away the previous day's debris. I ran into Mel one morning after my run in Central Park. Mel said: "Nothing makes me happier than making sure no one has to step on garbage when they start out their day on my street." He has been sweeping the same four square city blocks for 30 years.
Meet Minna Valentine, a.k.a. The Reading Doctor. A past client of mine, she's a former marketing executive who ditched the corporate world to teach English as a second language. This is her take on the changes she made in her vocational path: "Teaching others makes me feel like I am contributing to something worthwhile."
Joe, Mel, and Minna each go to work every day knowing they will make a difference to someone. They are grateful to be able to do so. There are many so-called high achievers earning six-figure salaries that cannot make that claim.
Why is living with purpose critical in mid-life? In mid-life, many people find themselves suddenly questioning everything: careers, lifestyles, and priorities. Nothing is spared from this examination, although few will discuss their fears. Often it takes a personal crisis, a layoff, a death, or a divorce to move people from introspection to action. When these events occur, they open up a small window of opportunity to challenge everything and consider a new course.
Inner questioning is critical in mid-life. If a person hopes to achieve greater meaning and self-fulfillment, things are never easy. It requires courage and a leap of faith. I speak from experience. A few years ago, I came home from my six-figure job and announced to my family that I was quitting. I no longer found meaning and fulfillment in what I was doing. That was my first leap of faith.
How do you find and live with purpose? Finding the meaning of life is not self-indulgent or clich . It is the essence of why we are here. If there is no meaning, then what is the point of existence? In order to create a path toward meaning, in our jobs and in our lives, we need to begin with an evaluation process that challenges...
What are the results of living with purpose in mid-life? Victor Frankl, a Nazi death camp survivor, believed that the urge of human beings to search for meaning is inborn. Researcher Martin Bolt said that having meaning and a defined purpose in a person's life makes it possible to accept one's own mortality with less fear of death and a greater sense of life's plans and their meaning.
Mid-life adults with purpose can experience:
Is this enough incentive for you? You can discover and live a more purposeful life now. Don't simply surrender to a world that will continue to rent your skills to suit its purposes. A greater second half is possible if you take action now!
Remember Mel, Joe, and Minna? What connects them is that neither fits into a conventional definition of success. Yet pursuing conventionally defined success has led so many people on a journey that ends with disappointment and a crisis of introspection that Mel and Joe probably haven't experienced. Minna, in contrast, is a good and unfortunately rare example of someone who pursued conventional success, found it wanting, and then had the courage to make a change that didn't lead to material riches. But her life itself was made richer.