Having patience can help people find and pursue a greater purpose

People, like me, who struggle to maintain patience as we get older, might find the results of this two-year study to be a bit concerning. But, I share it for those folks who often exhibit more patience than others.

The Adolescent Moral Development Lab at California’s Berkeley University researched how young adults can improve their search for purpose. After two years of analysis, the findings suggest patience may be a critical and often overlooked element of a productive and fulfilling search for purpose.

Yes, the study was targeted toward people who think 30 is “really old,” but it does offer advice that would be important for seasoned citizens to follow as well.

“Patiently pursuing purpose does not mean sitting by and waiting for inspiration to strike,” said Kendall Bronk, the lead researcher who directed the study. “Instead, it means engaging in the personal reflection and intentional conversations that help us figure out how we want to contribute to the broader world without feeling rushed or hurried.”

It’s like driving a car. It’s not going anywhere when parked, regardless of how much someone prays that it takes them to a fun, fulfilling destination. It’s much easier to turn and maneuver a car where we need to go once it is in motion.

Kendall discovered that searching for purpose is not a “one-and-done” type of endeavor.

“It is unlikely to be the case that we search for a purpose once and then spend the rest of our lives pursuing that single purpose,” he explained. “Instead, we tend to pursue multiple purposes across our lifetimes. Purposes wax and wane with the other things going on in our lives.”

At Forward From 50, we have noted that our purpose in live during in our 30s and 40s — the chaos years — will be vastly different when we are in our 50s and beyond. The experiences we endure in the chaos years also gives us the skills we need to carry out our ultimate purpose for which we were specifically created to perform.

However, I will take issue with Kendall’s assessment that “others of us may find purpose in work, and upon retirement, those purposes may recede as we find new ways of contributing to our communities.”

I’m sorry, Kendall, but purpose for people in retirement does not recede, and academics who suggest that are contributing to the loneliness epidemic and isolation impacting older populations. What’s the difference between “work” and being engaged in purposeful activity that fuels our passions and ignites our spirit?

One could argue, people often get paid for “work” because it is often so undesirable. Yet, in retirement, people usually have more time and greater wisdom and resources to engage in their ultimate purpose for which they were created, and upon which their legacy will rest.

Kendell’s research showed patience helps optimize the search for purpose in several ways:

  • Practicing patience allows us to stand back and take in the full picture of the aim we are after.
  • Patience may bolster resilience by moving forward despite setbacks.
  • Patient people may be more likely than impatient individuals to enjoy the search.

In conclusion, Kendall offered some great advice.

“When we find ourselves becoming agitated and frustrated by the feeling that everyone else has it all figured out, we should remind ourselves to slow down. Take heart in knowing that the process requires time,” he explained.

I encourage people who are struggling with a sense of purpose in their later years to read Kendall’s article. It might be the insight you have been looking to find. The story can be found at Greater Good.