Finding Your Purpose, Getting A Life

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[originally published in The Meadville Tribune’s “Active For Life” supplement as a 2-part article which ran 1/30/2010 & 4/28/2010]


Finding Your Purpose, Getting a Life


“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”   Nietzsche (1)


More people are unemployed now than at nearly any other time since The Great Depression. Many who are still employed are finding themselves forced to do the work of three for the pay of less than one. Many others are being forced into early retirement and, for those who are not, retirement may appear as the only goal worth pursuing. As more and more baby boomers reach retirement in record numbers, the question that is bound to arise is “Now what?”


Jack LaLanne, known as the Godfather of Fitness, says, “Unless you find another interest, retirement is getting up and going to bed, with eating and television in between.” (2) For many of those who are currently unemployed, the scenario is the same. He states further, “statistics indicate that most (people) who retire die within five years of retiring” (2) regardless of the age at retirement!


Some wistfully long for their “glory days” of years past. This often means their high school years. Regardless of how many years have passed since, nothing again ever meets the “standard of achievement” that was then accomplished; but why? Here are some of my thoughts on this matter. In high school, there is no shortage of interests to provide you with a long list of “mandated” goals to be met. Whether we feel up to the challenges or not, there are a whole army of people from parents to teachers to guidance counselors to coaches to peers to prod us, encourage us, push us, threaten us and so on into becoming more than we feel we can be. However, after graduation, all of this comes to an abrupt end. This can be delayed, somewhat, for those who choose (or are pushed) to pursue a college education. But, even for them, following college graduation, a day of reckoning comes. Unless we learn to set our own goals, follow our own dreams and develop our own sense of purpose, we are left feeling helpless and longing for, even clinging to, the past. This can become a negative habit that is very difficult to break and prevents you from ever moving forward. As Alexander Graham Bell states “Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.” (3) In other words, you will miss all of the opportunities that surround you if you are forever focusing on that which is already past.


This also applies to the unemployed and recently retired. Too often, people become accustomed to having their “goals” given to them by their employers. It is crucial for long-term health and survivability that you learn to set your own continual stream of goals and to develop your own sense of purpose. Whenever a goal is met, you need to have three more waiting in line to take its place. It truly is a matter of life and death. As Barry Bittman, M.D. and Anthony DeFail, M.P.H. state so eloquently in their text Maze of Life “Developing a sense of purpose, taking charge of our own lives and building nurturing relationships strengthen our defenses (against illness)…Every minute of every day, we’re in the process of either living or dying. It’s simply our choice.” (4) Viktor Frankl, a survivor of four WWII concentration camps of the Holocaust, writes with regard to daily prison life “A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts…but in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist…they preferred to close their eyes and to live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless…the prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed.” (5) There is no power in the past. It can teach you and, hopefully, help you to make better choices in the now, but that is all. Likewise, the future is nothing more than wishful thinking unless appropriate actions are taken in the now to get you to the future you desire. The true power, pregnant with infinite possibilities, exists solely in the now. It is the moment-by-moment choices you make and continue to make that can change everything for you or keep everything the same.


Goals are those short-term targets that we aim for day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. When added up together, they move you towards your purpose or ultimate aim. In the Pixar classic Wall-E, his love interest, a robot on a mission to look for green plant life on earth, refers to her purpose as her “Prime Directive.” What a great descriptor that is! Far too many people put more time, thought and effort into planning their vacations than they put into planning out their lives. And, as Jim Rohn, America’s Foremost Business Philosopher, states “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they may have planned for you? Not much.” (6)


Your hopes and dreams and innermost desires are begging for expression. But guess what? If you never act on your dreams, they die when you die. And, at the risk of sounding like an alarmist, TIME IS RUNNING OUT! In case you haven’t figured it out yet, time spares no one. None of us is getting out alive.


If I may, I’d like to offer up a personal example of the importance of goal setting, under the umbrella of purpose. In May of 2001, I found myself on the fourth floor of Meadville Medical Center, hovering between life and death following a ruptured appendix, peritonitis, septicemia and the associated emergency surgeries. Barely alive, unable to move or communicate and connected to life support, I felt as though my whole world had been ripped out from underneath me. This couldn’t have just happened to me; I exercised regularly and watched what I ate. In fact, I had just trained down for a bodybuilding show! Angry and scared, knowing this would mean the closing of my office: Bright Spot Chiropractic, I was consumed by feelings of hopelessness. After my breathing tube was removed, I had been instructed to take short walks to re-build my strength and clear my lungs. But, movement was so difficult and required such a psych-up period prior, that I wasn’t really interested in participating. Then, one day, an angel of a nurse (one of the many wonderful healthcare workers who cared for me) by the name of Barbara, took my forearms into her hands, looked me in the eyes and said to me “Do you want to live or don’t you?!? Then you have to get up and walk!” Then and there, I made the decision to live. What’s more, I remembered how, prior to my illness, I had promised my six year old son that I would accompany him on his kindergarten field trip to the Erie Zoo; a field trip that would take place four short weeks following my life-saving surgery. Empowered by my new sense of purpose and specifically wanting to keep my original promise to my son, rolling I-V stand and all, I went walking! After nine days, I was sent home to finish my recovery, open five-inch incision and all. Never did I take my eyes off of my goal, walking a little further every day.  Two and a half weeks later, I made it! Even though my incision was still nearly two weeks away from full closure, I was able to keep my promise.


In closing, I’d like to leave you with two quotes, one of my own: “You can’t retire from something to nothing and expect to have anything, at least not for very long.” And one from Denis Waitley, motivational consultant to NASA, Olympic athletes and others who states: “You’ve got to have a dream if you want to have a dream come true.” (7) Until next time, start making a list of goals / dreams that you feel passionate about accomplishing. Aim for at least 101 or more. If you’ve never done this before, or not in a very long time, it may seem awkward at first. That’s OK. Be patient, sit with a pad and pen, ask yourself “What would I really like to accomplish?” and then write whatever comes to mind. No limitations, no value judgments, just write whatever comes to mind. Also, start thinking about what your purpose is overall. There are no wrong answers here! You decide your purpose, not anybody else. Finally, start considering what actions or activities you will be replacing your prior career or job with to stay healthy. Remember, the human body was designed for motion, not recliners and TV remotes!


Until next time,


Always Believe In Your Dreams!


Dr. Jon M. Ketcham

Author iContractor 1 & Dream re-Kindler to Earth-bound Travelers of Light







(1)  Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl p.76

(2)  Live Young Forever, Jack LaLanne p.200

(3)  Brian Tracy Quote of the Day, 10/15/2009

(4)  Maze of Life, Barry Bittman, M.D. and Anthony DeFail, M.P.H. p.10

(5)  Man’s Search For Meaning, pp71,72,74

(6)  The Treasury of Quotes By Jim Rohn, Jim Rohn p.83

(7)  Neale Donald Walsch daily quote 10/12/2009


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