Does Finding a Purpose Create Anxiety?

In a few months I will be speaking in Chicago to a group of young healthcare professionals. The topic is Purposeful Work. The idea of purpose in and outside the workplace is a hot topic.  Earlier today I received an invitation to attend a workshop entitled The Future of Purpose. The brochure was written with a sense of urgency and foreboding, which reminded me of a recent article published by Korn Ferry that I read as part of my preparatory work. 

The article addressed the issue of purpose-driven anxiety. To paraphrase, no purpose = high anxiety.  Having a purpose = wellbeing. The brief article was written by Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence and Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body). Goleman states that according to research from the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, the search for meaning in one’s life results in a decline in mental health and cognitive functioning. Struggling to find your purpose is yet another thing to put on our list as being bad for our health. 

I’ve discussed purpose with many individuals over the years and while I realize that people of all ages may question their purpose in life, it seems to me that younger people in particular may be feeling more pressure to make an immediate and large impact on the world. Using social medial as a lens, it may feel like peers in their age groups (and even younger) are advancing major causes at a much faster rate. Comparing oneself to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a leading figure in climate change must be extremely intimidating. What do I tell these young professionals who want to change the world but don’t exactly know what they want to do or how? 

I’m going to tell them…. START SMALL and MAKE IT MATTER.

Big aspirations are great, but I wonder if adopting the “Go Big or Go Home” mentality is setting someone up for failure. My counsel to these individuals is to start small but make it meaningful.  I realize that this approach isn’t sexy and likely won’t thrust that individual into the national spotlight, however, it might just be the next Chicken Soup for the Soul moment. Small, intimate gestures can make meaningful impacts. For example, I know that many elderly people suffer from a lack of physical touch and connection. Therefore, each time I say goodbye to my father-in-law, I make sure I give him a hug and a kiss. Not only does this gesture mean a lot to him, it means a lot to me. IT MATTERS.

Given that I am speaking to a group of healthcare professionals, I want to reiterate that they can find purpose in and make a positive impact through their daily work. For example, doctors and other professionals can make an impact in the lives of their patient’s by holding the hand of a sick patient or by smiling when the professional walks into the exam room. Even taking the time to ask a caregiver if he or she is taking care of themselves or if they need help would go a very long way. A customer service representative can take an extra few seconds to ask the caller how her day is going or how she is feeling. Individuals who are not “customer facing” can make a difference by simply volunteering or finding a way to streamline a process for a customer.

As a wrap up check out this video. It reminds us that one person really can make a difference. 

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