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Friday
Feb092018

Finding Purpose

There’s a theme that keeps recurring in my books. Whether I’m getting advice from elder role models, figuring out the best home for a long life, or talking with men about their retirement, the need to find purpose is a powerful mantra. I’m writing a new book on legacy, which examines the importance of living a life driven by positive values and community commitment. By living a life of purpose we have an impact in the here and now, and our contribution keeps giving after we’re gone.

Sometimes we feel we have nothing to give. We may be overwhelmed with our own personal challenges; we may have health issues; we may doubt we have a skill or talent that would make a difference. But, in truth, we always have the capacity to contribute something to someone, or something. And by giving back we also receive. I found an eloquent example of this truth in Daniel Gottlieb’s book - Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. Gottlieb started to write these letters to his grandson Sam when Sam was born. At that point, Gottlieb had been a quadriplegic for twenty years as the result of a car accident. His letters to his grandson share his experience as a practising psychologist, combined with the insights he gained from his disability.

The memorable incident happened about two weeks after Gottlieb’s accident. At that point, he was thinking he would prefer death to being a quadriplegic. He was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to monitors and tubes, his skull bolted in a fixed position, and he began to hope he would never wake up. That night, a woman he was unable to see clearly sat beside his bed and asked if he was a psychologist. When he replied “yes,” she asked if she could talk to him. In a voice not much more than a whisper, she explained that someone had left her. She had an unbearable sense of aloneness and was having thoughts of suicide. Because he understood her pain so deeply, Gottlieb was able to listen with great compassion. After they finished talking, he offered her a referral, and he was certain he’d been able to help her. It was at that moment that Gottlieb knew he could live as a quadriplegic. “Everyone else had been trying to convince me that I was still a worthwhile person, but the only way I could really learn that lesson was from someone who asked something of me.” That evening they likely saved each other‘s lives.

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