Friday, April 23, 2010

The Power of Purpose

We quickly move from graduation to graduation with big goals in mind. Do well on the SATs, get accepted to our top college, complete a major, qualify for an internship, and find a job. These goals motivate us to succeed and inspire us to do better, learn more, and work hard with each passing day. But zoom ahead three years following college graduation, well into your career and you find yourself in my position. My passion for my work has always been insurmountable, but when I went home each day to my apartment I lacked any definite goals in my personal life--a goal that would have me jumping out of bed early mornings on weekends and motivate me to push myself to succeed in some yet undefined way.

Then, one day early last November, the sixth month of my slump from running, I awoke early and walked through my neighborhood to observe runners participating in the New York City marathon. Watching the many runners among them running for a cause, a lost loved one, or a personal goal to restore their health, inspired me to take the next step in a sport that for me was losing its attraction. I found out that I could run 10 races in 2010 and qualify for a marathon in 2011, and it was in knowing this that I was able to step up my running, set short and long-term goals, and rediscover my love for something that has always given me confidence and perspective.

When I recently read a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry about purpose, I was able to gain insight on what I had discovered last November. According to the study, older adults with a strong sense of purpose were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. I reflected on my own search for purpose and at once realized the challenge of continuing to find something that drives you each day—from post-college through years after retiring. I admired the seniors who continued to draw upon inspiration from a hobby that both challenges them and improves their well-being.

It seemed to make so much sense to me. I realized that having a purpose is so deeply connected to many of the things recommended by doctors to improve cognitive health, such as diet, exercise and socialization. If someone enjoys dancing, they are likely up on their feet and interacting with others. If someone enjoys cooking, they will often eat freshly prepared foods and take time with friends and family. My own purpose has led me to eat healthier, exercise more and run socially.

What always seems to be the common factor among research is that regardless of your age, it is important to keep finding something that motivates and drives you. We continue to admire our teen advocates who find a variety of ways to honor loved ones and give back to the Alzheimer’s community, whether through research, volunteering, holding awareness-raising rallies at their school, or being there for loved ones in a time of need, with such a strong sense of passion and devotion.

While no research is definitive, I feel confident that with finding a sense of purpose I have given great meaning to each day, and as I complete personal milestones, I feel prepared to overcome each new obstacle.

- Jessie McHeffey, AFA Teens Coordinator, Alzheimer's Foundation of America

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