Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Power of Purpose

Since my town is still in major recovery mode from Hurricane Irene, I’m very aware of the impact of the flood has had on some of our older residents.

About the third day the shelter was open, a friend stopped by and I asked her how her folks were doing, since they lived in a fairly rural part of town with dirt roads. She broke into a big smile, “My Dad is running the crew that’s putting the road back together.”

From sun up to sun down, this 80-year-old man was on his tractor, overseeing men half his age, and reconstructing roads. Not only was he being complemented on his skills, he was welcomed as a hero as various neighbors were getting out for the first time. His daughter couldn’t help but note the change in him, “he’s having a great time and looks ten years younger.”

Because people were cut off, one of the primary ways we were able to find out who was in need of help, were social networking sites like Face book. Many people in my town have generators as well as “smart phones.” Even if it was for 10 minutes twice a day, people fired up their generators to check e-mail and to report on the recovery operation in their area. Among my best e-mailers was an 86 year old woman who e-mailed daily to let me know how things were going. She was such an inspiration, it wasn’t long before her sister, also 80 something, was e-mailing to let me know what they had to donate to the relief effort.

About a week after the flood, I saw my friend’s Dad and there was no way you would have thought of him as elderly. He had purpose, his skills were recognized and he was actively engaged in something he enjoyed.

Again and again I saw the older members of our community coming to the shelter to cook, drop off items for the relief effort or serve food. They had smiles on their faces that stretched from ear to ear. They were making a difference and they knew it.

Among the keys to a good quality of life, which does impact longevity, is having purpose and interests, particularly ones you share with others. While there are lots of websites, books and articles about “finding purpose,” the advantage of a crisis is that it rapidly defines purpose for just about everyone.

Since it’s preferable not to have to be dealing with crisis on a regular basis, below are some tips on finding purpose and making a difference

• Volunteer: No matter if it’s your local church or organization, volunteering helps many find purpose. If you are limited in your ability to get around, there are many things you can do from running an on-line support group to making “friendly calls.” Check your paper for local opportunities or try one of the following websites:
Volunteer Match

United We Serve

UN Volunteers

• Look around and see what your community, family, neighborhood, support group might need. It could be as simple as taking care of the neighbor’s dog during the day while they work to organizing a support group where one doesn’t exist.

• Do what you love. What have you tried that makes you fully engaged? What are you most passionate about? What are you good at? What do you like to talk about or learn about? Whatever it might be, do it whether it’s income producing or not. Call it “following your bliss,” or whatever term you choose, but know that when we are fully engaged, we experience happiness and contentment.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, regardless of our age, talents or abilities, we all have something to give and share. This means that we all must be willing and open to receive the gifts and purposes of others.


  1. Margo, your entry about Purpose is the answer to most of what ails our psyches, culture, and probably economy. Everyone needs the recognition, respect, and self-worth that comes with doing something that is clearly needed. The sense of purpose is clear during crisis, and probably explains why Vermonters rallied so remarkably to help each other. We all needed it. How amazing it would be if all Vermonters (citizens, policy makers, buisnessmen and women), could take some of these experiences and insights and help improve the status quo so the sense of purpose could be captured during times of calm.

  2. Hopefully, we will be converting our "crisis" purpose into new ways of sustaining ourselves and our communities for many years to come. Thanks for your comments.