In my young adulthood, I do not recall thinking about passion or purpose, and I suspect that is true for most of us.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s assertion that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward,” invites us to contemplate our life’s story, past and present. Picture a set of drawers. Now, imagine that each drawer contains pieces of our story—heritage, instinct, genes, parental/cultural training, education, life/work experiences, and our passionate purpose. By sifting through these nuggets, not only will we gain a better awareness of who we are, but also we will be better prepared for our future.
Ralph Waldo Emerson believes purpose is to “…be compassionate and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Theologian Frederick Buechner maintains that a vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs.
Passion has been likened to an activity, goal, or cause that leads one to consciously give up other enjoyable activities in order to focus on this particular objective. It is something that you love to do, so much so that you almost can not, not do. It brings joy and delight. According to one physician, passion implies a love of your work, something that you would perform even if you were not paid.
Purpose can evolve at any stage in life. One physician began his professional career as a minister. The call of medicine remained, however, until he finally entered his medical practice at midlife.
Passions differ. When my friend Henry was 12, he discovered a passion for sailing. His love for the water and boating never diminished leading to his sailing competitively, often giving up his limited vacation to do so. Now, nearing retirement, he is exploring how to sustain this enthusiasm.
Another friend of mine, Maggie, loves to learn. If she does not know the answer to something, she researches it or takes a class.
Then there’s Lee. She strongly believes that her purpose in life is to help others. Her passion for lifelong learning has led her to pursue post-college educational opportunities that have enhanced her nursing proficiencies.
If we believe the premise that life is a forward motion in which we are constantly taking new actions and making new choices based on those we have made previously, then a greater awareness of what motivates us will help us to plan for our future, no matter our age.
Reflect on how your passion might change as you age. If you are one of the nearly three quarters of America’s adults believing themselves to be a lifelong learner, consider taking advantage of the non-degree or special interest classes offered by many universities, community colleges, or retirement communities. If you enjoy traveling, think about a class or volunteering with a local group to better understand the community. Or, use your professional skills as a volunteer or mentor.
Our challenge then is to think about ways we can continue to do what motivates us or gives us joy. Will you accept?
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication, and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.