Wellness Wednesday: Finding purpose within

May 12, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees

Are there any phrases you can recall hearing your entire life? Like “stop, drop and roll” or “the sky’s the limit” or “finding your purpose”? It’s safe to say that “finding your purpose” shows up around your early college years and well into your twenties. It’s an ideal that one can spend their entire life searching for. 

For Mental Health Awareness Month, you are encouraged to find and/or re-evaluate your purpose. And while you may be languishing while juggling your work and personal lives, the motivation and energy needed to find your purpose could be low. However, know that there is meaning to your life. 

That’s why if you need to find your purpose, start today. If you need to revisit and make adjustments to your purpose, start today. If you are currently living your purpose, keep going.

Here are a few tips to help you in your quest:

Finding purpose

The pain and trauma we’ve endured for the past year could be hard to shake, but Victor Strecher, Ph.D., professor in the U-M School of Public Health and U-M Medical School, and renowned author and speaker, believes we can move forward, heal and even thrive by finding — or rediscovering — purpose in our lives. 

Besides teaching, Strecher’s other purpose in life is helping people live more purposefully. He is a frequent speaker on the topic and offers a free online course, Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most.

“Can you think back to a time when you grew in your life, becoming more mature or stronger?” he asked in the Short Takes “Reflect and Recharge” video address for Michigan Medicine faculty and staff. “Chances are it was at a time in your life when things were difficult,” he said.

Strecher said we tend to grow the most during rough times because those challenges cause us to think about what’s important and recognize our strengths.

“Veterans who have gone through war and who are able to grow are the ones who end up finding new purpose when they get back,” he said. “If they can’t find new purpose and discover strengths through this difficult experience they’ve had, they often develop post-traumatic stress.”

Strecher suggested that we ask ourselves two important questions in order to focus and find a new purpose:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What matters most in your life?

Care first for yourself

Purpose requires energy. At the same time, living purposefully creates energy.

  • What helps you become more purposeful? 
  • What helps you develop more energy during the day and what helps you find energy for your family after work?

Living with purpose often involves caring for others in some way and, to do that, we must first care for ourselves. Strecher said one easy-to-remember strategy for self-care is to give ourselves SPACE, which he defines this way:

Sleep: get the rest your body and mind need

Presence: be mindful and live in the moment

Activity: be active and exercise for physical and emotional health

Creativity: explore new things, develop new talents

Eat Well: eat healthy to stay strong and feel your best

“Finding and living with purpose is so important,” said Strecher. “In the midst of pain and suffering, it can sometimes be hard to look ahead with optimism or believe things will ever feel okay again.”

For confidential counseling at no cost, referrals, and information on how to address mental and emotional health concerns, faculty and staff can contact the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience at counseling.med.umich.edu, or by calling 734-763-5409.

* Sections of this story were originally published on Dec. 23, 2020.