Richard Leider Explains How to Find Your Purpose

One of the great secrets of happiness — and also of longevity — is living with a sense of purpose. People who wake up with a sense of purpose live up to seven years longer than those who don’t.

But if you don’t know your purpose, how can you find it?

According to Richard Leider, author of “The Power of Purpose,” the process isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Leider has spent three decades researching and writing about purpose, and coaching people to find their deepest passion. Recently, we spoke with him for some tips.

What does it look when someone has found purpose?

Richard Leider: What it looks like is a clear-eyed, energetic person getting up in the morning — with a reason to get up in the morning — and going off to do something that they have really chosen to do with their time and their life.

What’s a first step someone could take in finding it?

RL: Gifts + passions + values = purpose. Gifts are your talents — not just what you’re good at, but what you LOVE to do. You’re not going to get up in the morning to do something you don’t like with as much energy as something you do like.

Second, what are your passions? Curiosity is a key ingredient of purposeful life. The Power of Purpose — when you have the Power, it’s when you’re using your gifts on things you feel passionate or a deep curiosity about.

The third is values. Values includes the environment where you’re doing what you’re doing. You need to be in a healthy environment — not just a physically healthy environment, but also a relationally healthy environment. Within the same company, you can work within one team and with one boss and that can be a very good fit for you — and you can work with a different boss and different team and feel it’s toxic for you.

The starting point is to spend your time doing things you care about, and from that, find a larger sense of purpose in the world.

What are some side effects of not living with purpose?

RL: People don’t find the same level of health, happiness, healing or longevity when they don’t have a reason to get up in the morning. There’s studies on people who have dementia. When they get up to read to a child, or to water a plant, or to feed a pet — when they have something larger than themselves, they do better.

What you find [without purpose] is a certain lethargy. In my business we call it “inner kill.” We all know and have experienced inner kill. We know when we’re disengaged like that, we’re more tired and we have to slog through the day. And when we’re engaged, the day flows by, and it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s six o’clock.

What are some of the main blocks and reasons people don’t find purpose?

RL: The main blockage is time — and busyness. Technology, and our cell phones, and our computers, replace human contact and those purpose moments.

There’s purpose moments every day of the week — every hour of the day — where you can have the purpose be about you, or the person that you’re talking to.

So purpose is not so much about you, as it is about others?

RL: Purpose is always outside of yourself, and larger than yourself. Jim Collins said the most despised trait of leaders is self-absorption — narcissism, gargantuan egos. That’s the opposite of purpose. Someone like Nelson Mandela is all about their people, their country, the larger common good outside of ourselves.

E.B. White said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Our day is about both saving and savoring. The argument is not that you should be Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa and dedicate your life to some purpose or cause — although for some people, that’s their purpose. But if you’re going to survive and live long, it’s got to be not just about me. I learned this from Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He was in a concentration camp … and he said when people lost their reason to get up in the morning, they were dead within 24 hours.

If it’s about you all the time, there’s a certain sickness, a certain self-absorption that’s not good for healing and health … it’s got to be a balance between saving and savoring. And purpose is about that balance.

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