We all know that helping others is a good thing, right? We’ve heard about the ‘helper’s high’, when acts of kindness provide a pay-off to the giver as much as to the one being given to. But did you know that making a positive difference to others is also the hallmark of a compelling purpose – though often not in the most obvious of ways? For instance, lawyers can’t always win the cases they pursue, but as a litigator my purpose came to life in the way I tried to really listen to my clients and understand their concerns and motivations. I’m not sure I always succeeded, but having a conscious focus on purpose definitely made me feel more fulfilled. I think that’s what purpose gives you; greater meaning with less effort and a little more joy.
“The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley
Jaap Bressers was one of the 50 Thrivers that I interviewed on my 35,000-mile worldwide search to discover how we can all become more resilient. Jaap can certainly testify to the power, not of what we do, but of how we do it in turbo-charging our purpose. At just 21, a diving accident left him with a high spinal cord injury and confined to a wheelchair.
Jaap told me that in the months following his accident he reflected a lot on how he had lived his life. He said it felt like he had been on a speeding train, his attention always focussed on a future destination rather than looking out of the windows to appreciate the small and beautiful moments that passed him by.
As he lay paralysed in the hospital bed, Jaap would hear the nurse’s footsteps as they entered the room, and out of the corner of his eye he’d see them check the monitors beside his bed and then leave again. They said nothing and made no physical contact with him.
Then Carlos appeared. He was a nurse on the night shift. When Jaap screamed, he responded quickly. He would place his hand on Jaap’s shoulder because he knew that was the one place Jaap still had sensation. He’d tell him ‘It’s okay’. Those small acts of kindness made Jaap feel human again.
“I thought back to those acts of kindness that Carlos had shown and how important those had been to me. I decided to make it my mission to show others that we all have a ‘Carlos’ inside us. “
– Jaap Bressers
When I interviewed Thriver, Paul Smith, the Motor Neurone Disease he was suffering from made it difficult for him to talk, and he shifted his body repeatedly to find a comfortable spot on the couch. But despite his physical limitations, Paul was a force to be reckoned with. There was nothing he could do physically to alter the crushing truth that his body was deteriorating as each minute passed. Nevertheless, he visualised a healthy and purposeful future for himself, determined to win his battle against the disease purely so that he could support others with MND to thrive.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Even if your work isn’t obviously in service of others, you can do it in a way that enables you to be. That’s what purposeful work is. And as with all things, it begins with intention.
What’s your intention to ensure you live with purpose today?
This is the third in a series of 5 blog posts released weekly, where I introduce the 5 Components of Purpose to help you identify your own purpose in each key area of your life. You are also invited to my ‘Find Your Purpose’ Masterclass, where you can complete my ‘Purpose Questionnaire’ to discover your purpose in every area of your life. You can also catch up on my earlier purpose blog posts here.