What Difference Can Purpose Make for You?

A study looked at the early lives of 300 exemplary people who left indelible marks on the world. These were 300 world changers like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, and Clara Barton. They contributed in various ways across various times and in various industries but held some things in common. What did the study find?

Among these 300 exemplary people:

  • 75% were troubled by poverty, broken home or difficult parents
  • 74 of 85 fiction writers and 16 of 20 poets saw intense psychological drama by parents
  • Over 25% suffered physical handicaps like blindness, deafness or crippled limbs

Despite these challenges, they still went on to succeed in extraordinary ways. What was the key?

In his book Intentional Living, John Maxwell comments on the study:

“Adversity tried to knock these people out of their stories, but they didn’t allow it to. Why? They had a strong why—a purpose—which drew them forward even if the road wasn’t wide and smooth.”

If purpose did that for them, what would purpose do for you? Having a clear sense of purpose is a fundamental need for every human; it helps with success, satisfaction, and even survival.

Success in Life

Victor J. Strecher is professor and director for innovation and social entrepreneurship at UM School of Public Health, where he is an expert on the topic of “purpose.”

In his book, Life On Purpose, Strecher writes about the health benefits of purpose:

“Together, tobacco use, a poor diet, inactivity, stress, and other lifestyle factors contribute to roughly half of disease and early death. The media is filled with messages about these issues, but far less is written about lack of purpose in life; yet, based on current evidence, it contributes at least as much to disease and death as do these other factors.”

According to Strecher, having a strong purpose in life can be tied to these advantages:

  • Longer life
  • Better sleep
  • Better psychological health
  • Better social life
  • More relaxed
  • Better sex (hello, reason enough!)
  • Reduced risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Less likely to develop Alzheimer’s

Not only is purpose good for health and life success, it’s also good for the workplace.

Satisfaction at Work

Work engagement is feeling emotionally connected, dedicated, and committed to your work and workplace so you’re willing to give your best, discretionary effort.

We all know what it’s like to be engaged—you keep giving your best. Engagement is good for everyone. But we also know what it’s like to be disengaged—you hold back your best because you don’t feel like giving your best. Disengagement is hurting everyone.

According to Gallup, most of the workforce is disengaged, but it can be turned around. Gallup says the number one way to minimize disengagement is…purpose. When employees do understand the connection between their daily jobs and the organization’s purpose, engagement increases.

When employees see how their work tasks matter to people, engagement increases. When employees connect their work to their deeply held values, engagement increases. Why does engagement increase in these cases? Because these employees are working on purpose.

Not only is purpose good for your health and success in life and also to work satisfaction, but engagement is key to survival.

Human Survival

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was arrested and taken to a Nazi Concentration Camp during World War II. He spent time at the notorious Auschwitz and Dachau camps, which had a survival rate of just one person out of 28 persons. It was horrible.

As an observer of people, Frankl noted a secret to survival:

“Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why—an aim—for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.”

Frankl noticed that when prisoners had a defined purpose, they were more likely to survive under conditions that others did not. And he could usually predict when people were going to pass away. If they gave up and retreated into apathy and withdrawal, many would die within a few days.

Before Frankl was arrested, he was working on a book. That book became his purpose. He felt no one could write it like he could, and if he didn’t survive, no one would write it. Frankl kept this purpose in his mind and heart, and it was central to his survival.

After four years in the camps, Frankl survived and went on to write the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which was named by the Library of Congress as one of the top ten most influential books in the United States.

Writes Frankl:

“There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”


As you can see, purpose is so widely important. When best-selling author, speaker, and pastor Erwin McManus sat down to write the preface and final edits to his book, The Last Arrow, he didn’t know he would be facing a cancer diagnosis. It was the same day he got his diagnosis that he had to do these things.

So in the preface, he writes with the poignancy and perspective that facing the end will bring.

He writes:

“For in the end, the one thing where you must never settle for less is the calling that God has on your life, the purpose for which he has created you, the impact he designed you to make in the world.”

I pray you live from a deep sense of purpose.


The study on 300 people was done by Victor and Mildred Goertzel and shared in the book, Cradles of Eminence. 

Viktor Frankl Photo: BeaconBroadside.com

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