Last weekend I read a review and then read On Purpose, a new book by Victor Strecher, professor and director for innovation and social entrepreneurship at University of Michigan School of Public Health. The book’s endorsers promised something more creative and innovative than Strecher delivered. Illustrated to look like a comic book, this short volume describes the death of the author’s 19 year-old daughter, gives a few details of his grief journey, and then shows the importance of having a purpose for living. On Purpose is a minimally-interesting story about a fictional college class that hears a lot of quotes from famous people and scientific research summaries about the major health benefits of having a “transcendent mission” life purpose.
In the footnotes, the book documents the cited research and supports evidence for the crucial importance of having a life purpose that goes beyond ourselves. This is a purpose characterized by empathy, compassion, openness, personal growth, supporting the needs of others, and creating or contributing to something larger than ourselves. It is far different from self-enhancing goals that strive for power, status, wealth, possessions, physical attractiveness, popularity, admiration, and prestige.
As we lose self-transcendent purpose we stagnate as a society, says Strecher. We numb ourselves in front of the TV set, eat too much, smoke, abuse prescription drugs. We ignore our environment. We listen to bad pop lyrics. We also die younger, are more likely to have strokes or heart attacks, and are 2.4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than people who have a strong, transcendent purpose.
Dr. Strecher probably is a better researcher than story teller but his easy-to-read book may spread a message that most of us already know: Having a viable, active and other-centered purpose is more than a dream of life coaches or of companies with wordy mission statements that are framed, hung on the wall and ignored. You may like Strecher’s own mission statement: to encourage over one billion people to find their purpose and to teach all my students as if they were my own daughter.”
What’s your mission statement? How do these conclusions relate to your work? Please comment.