How to find your purpose — and live it

By Keith Yamashita, CNN

Certain people exude such a powerful presence that they can absolutely captivate you within the very first moment of meeting them.

When I was introduced to Bill Thomas at a conference, he was that kind of mesmerizing. A fortysomething, Harvard-trained doctor casually dressed in jeans and Birkenstocks, he took the stage and spoke passionately — with an actor’s eloquence — about aging. He laid out a vast and ambitious plan for how America could transform the experience of growing older, of what it means to be well, and of how we care for people in their seventies, eighties, and nineties.

He argued that the medical system, the elder-care system, and the nursing home system have to evolve: “Aging should be conceived of as an era of continual growth and renewal, rather than a period of decline,” he said. He had absolute clarity in every part of his argument, and his energy was both motivating and mobilizing.
When I talked to him after his session, I asked, “Bill, how do you describe your purpose in life?” He answered, spontaneously and effortlessly, “To bring respect back to elderhood in America.” In eight words, he captured his entire life’s work. Bill reminded me that the first step in living your purpose is to distill it. This very act sets an accurate compass heading. It shapes your choices, tells you what is important, and helps you separate the merely interesting from the truly crucial…

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