What is Your Purpose?

by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
President and CEO, NCH Healthcare System

People who have a sense of purpose live seven years longer and are happier and more productive than those without a goal, according to Richard J. Leider, author of The Power of Purpose.

Additionally, purpose is one of the nine essential principles of living a long, happy and healthy life according to the research done by Dan Buettner, as he and his team discovered five communities around the world where more people lived to be 100. Although not completely endorsed as the most important principle for long life, I believe purpose is fundamental to any life at any age.

Dan created the Blue Zones Project in America currently involving over two million people in thirty-seven communities in nine states. Southwest Florida has been on its journey for almost two years, continuing our success for two years in a row as the healthiest and happiest region with the longest life expectancy in the nation.

Free and open to the public, purpose workshops have touched over 1,600 and counting folks in Southwest Florida already. Personally, I appreciated my workshop facilitated by Ms. Lisa Gruenloh, President of Purpose Journey who, along with others, volunteers her time and talent to the Blue Zones Project and other worthwhile endeavors. Purposefully (pun intended), I chose a Saturday afternoon at Florida Blue’s retail store at Coconut Point Mall with the idea that I could be a regular participant and industriously find my own purpose. I’ll share my thoughts after we setup some takeaways from the fast-moving, two-hour session.

When people in their eighties were asked what they would do differently if they were given the chance to live their lives over, the three major responses were:

  1. Hit the “pause button” more often. Take time out to smell the roses, savor the good times, and be with family and friends. The most meaningful activity of all was spending time with family and friends. Family first is axiomatic.
  2. Take more chances by having the courage to try different routes or courses of action personally and professionally. Pursuing dreams and life priorities should be encouraged early on to maximize potential and minimize regret.
  3. Find purpose earlier in life. A sense of identity beyond a paycheck is key to finding purpose. Having one’s life matter—one definition of “a good life”—is desired by most. Sitting around idly is a waste. Yogi Berra allegedly said there are three types of people—those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, What happened? Finding purpose early moves us forward to take action.


Having meaning in your life, discovering what matters, as well as being satisfied and happy that you have contributed your talents to society are all aspects of purpose. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and not what keeps you up at night.

Purpose is what motivates you and keeps you going every day. “What do you feel truly passionate about?” is the question to ask yourself in order to begin to understand your purpose. What do you want to do is an important question to answer honestly even if the idea feels a bit scary or improbable. Exploring our purpose can sometimes feel intimidating even though we all have unique abilities and competencies.


Purposeful people are attracted to each other. We all tend to aggregate with like-minded colleagues. Healthy people hang together much the way smokers aggregate. Show me your friends, and I’ll be able to describe you. In general, the world is drawn to high energy, resilient, positive people. The saying that people bring their own weather with them has so much truth because likes attract likes (unlike magnets where opposites attract).


  • Construct a self-awareness inventory as a good first step, according to tips gleaned from the Purpose Workshop and Blue Zones writings. Think about your own abilities, interests, standards, and principles. You also have mental, physical and emotional strengths to add to the mix. Writing these attributes down and cataloging the positives will be pleasantly surprising, as we all have more abilities than we realize.
  • Develop an action plan, taking into account where you are currently and where you would like to be in the future based on your purpose in life. Stephen Covey in his landmark book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, admonishes everyone to start with the end in mind. Facetiously, if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there. Have a goal which is your purpose and a plan to accomplish the objective.
  • Reward yourself by identifying your accomplishments. Reminding ourselves of our good accomplishments encourages us to take appropriate risks to continue on the journey to have purpose.
  • Recognize others’ virtuous deeds. Public recognition matters. The importance but scarcity of positive feedback in today’s society is a comment I have shared consistently with patients who have acknowledged their wonderful care from healthcare professionals.
  • Find a partner with whom you can share your plan and purpose, thereby increasing the chances of success multifold. Whether you share privately, write definitively, or declare publicly your plans with real milestones and metrics, you commit. Just the opposite happens with New Year’s resolutions, diets, exercise plans, and a myriad of other common but not as important goals. Dividing your purpose into realistic short and long term goals increases the chance for success. This positive feedback encourages even more undertakings.

As one progresses through life, purpose can and does change. For youngsters, goals of doing well with athletics, friends or school are important. Young adults are searching for satisfying and engaging careers, regardless of whether they realize we spend more waking time with our work colleagues than our families. Middle-age folks wonder what’s next and whether they should stay in the same job, environment, or relationship. Pre-retirees start thinking about the next chapter, while new retirees redefine their daily lives. The older elderly hopefully look back with fond memories on how well they did fulfilling their purpose.

As one progresses through various purposes in life, the Blue Zone purpose workshop identifies five stages in “Life’s Purpose Spiral.” The big picture which you experience from birth to death can be subdivided into smaller cycles of life. These smaller cycles are experienced many times throughout our lives and each time we tend to learn something more about our purpose.

Occasionally, a triggering event can dramatically shift our purpose. Consider my experience in 2000 when the then 34 year successful CEO and President of NCH asked me to migrate from a busy private practice of rheumatology, internal medicine, and geriatrics in Naples for the past twenty-three years to join the leadership team of the healthcare system. After a learning curve of six years, first as Chief Medical Officer then President, I have become the second longest tenured President and CEO of NCH. My workshop experience with Lisa helped me crystallize my purpose: help everyone live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

The first stage contains plateaus, which are stable and often pleasant periods. These end with a second stage triggering event that knocks a person off a safe but sometimes stagnating plateau. Getting the courage to let go and begin exploring alternatives, one enters the third stage of limbo, which can be daunting and/or healthy—filled with a sense of uncertainty and confusion when the triggering event is stressful or elation and excitement when presented with a new opportunity. Taking stock, the fourth stage, consists of evaluating and making choices while remaining optimistic. Finally, taking action by entering the final stage of this life-cycle fulfills your personal mission of finding purpose.

By embracing a worthwhile purpose, you add years of productive life for yourself and help those around you live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Consider taking a purpose workshop which can be scheduled at https://southwestflorida.bluezonesproject.com/events/landing

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