Human beings need purpose to survive. Sometimes it may feel like survival is our purpose, like when we are between jobs and struggling to make ends meet, but once our basic survival needs are met we look for purpose in other places. This manifests itself in countless ways: the parent who finds purpose in raising a child, the student aiming at high grades and graduation day, the businessman or woman seeking success, the politician working for re-election, the artist grappling with expression.
Purpose changes throughout our lives. You won't always be in school, your kids will move out, you will retire or lose your job. These changes may cause you to lose your sense of purpose. Your world will be spinning. You'll feel anxious, you might even panic for a while until you find a new direction for your energy. This is normal.
International travel might be one of the "risks" you need to take.
Here, my wife and I are standing on a plaque in the center of Paris.
You can learn to view change with excitement if you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to dream and take risks. I get it, routines are comfortable. They feel safe... but they are not safe. According to Peter Drucker, "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."
The difference is not how many times we fail, it is how many times we succeed. Only the person who risks greatly can achieve greatly. I have yet to meet an elderly person who looked back on their life and said "I wish I had taken fewer risks." It is always the opposite: "I wish I had loved more passionately. Wish I had taken that job. Wish I had stepped out on a limb and gone for it."
If risk is the key to finding purpose, boredom is its antithesis. Criminology and justice professor John Horgan admits that boredom is one of the reasons youth and unemployed graduate students are being radicalized in Europe and the U.S. "The ISIS adventure is the ultimate relief for boredom." When high-potential individuals don't have purpose, they are more vulnerable to the type of black and white thinking common to far right religious groups. A less extreme example can be found in some evangelical churches that hyper-focus on persecution and the end of the world. Invoking crisis language forms a strong bond between members by creating an artificial "survival" mentality, a panic which then draws nominal/complacent individuals back into the religious community.
We need a new mentality that rises above comfort and boredom and encourages boldness and risk. A shift in thinking doesn't settle for bigger houses, bigger TVs, and contrived crises. You will find sustainable purpose for your life when you step outside of yourself, outside of your own interests, and seek the good of others.
Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, said it this way: "The salvation of man is in love and through love." Celebrate life, seek wonder and beauty, and use prosperity and health in service to others.
Russ and his soon-to-be-psychologist wife live in Los Angeles, U.S.A. He is fascinated by the intersections in life, where everything comes together into something meaningful that transcends expectations. Although he watches too many movies, he justifies it by writing about them. Russ is currently working on an MBA, has an MA in theology (emphasizing film, philosophy and culture), and a BA in ancient Greek/Hebrew. When the weather is nice (and it's always nice in L.A.), you'll find him surfing, running or backpacking up in the mountains.
See all previous articles by Russ Shumaker