Purpose and Learning

In his recent book, Life On Purpose: How Living What Matters Most Changes Everything (2016:221), Vic Stretcher has a chapter on purpose, challenge and learning. The chapter suggests that having a life purpose greatly influences how we respond in times of difficulty. If we have a purpose we think differently. We have greater consciousness and we exercise more control on how we construct meaning from our experiences.

When we have a life purpose, we are not determined by our past, we are determined by our future. Our orientation to purpose turns our past into a school of instruction. We interpret our past as a tool for learning how to create the future we desire.   Research suggests that this orientation matters a great deal.

Vic reviews studies of responses to devastating earthquakes. After an earthquake many people suffer for long periods. People with a life purpose are less likely to suffer from stress, depression and lower quality of life. They are more likely to learn and grow from their traumatic experiences, and then live a higher quality life. They experience more growth, less likelihood of future traumatic stress, and more energy and willpower. If fact the more extensive the crisis, the greater the post traumatic growth.

These findings suggest that when we have a purpose and experience great challenges, we put less focus on what is lost, and more focus on our purpose. Pursuing the purpose keeps us moving forward. Moving forward reduces our sense of fear. It promotes confidence and learning. The learning is not conventional but transformative.

This all means that challenge opens us up. In times of challenge, we have to reexamine our values, assumptions and perceptions. We have to take a fresh view, one centered in the present reality not in past experiences. As we go through this process, if we did not previously have a purpose, we gain one. If we did have a purpose, we test and clarify it. We thus “repurpose” our lives.

As we experience stressors in life it is conventional to respond with bitterness (fight) or denial (flight).   A more healthy response is to accept reality and adapt. Engaging in this kind of learning is more easily accomplished when we have a life purpose and we live in hope of a better future.

I believe all of this applies at the collective level. When people in a group or an organization have a genuine purpose, they respond to challenges differently. Instead of collapsing, they remain resilient. They persist and they learn. As they learn they get better.

 

Reflection

How have I coped with the great challenges of my life?

When have I engaged in purposing or repurposing my life?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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