Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Time and Purpose

As someone who feels the demands of trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance, I have taken note of three news items recently and I will weave them togehter for a perspective on running my own life and how others might think about theirs.

First, as not only a successful academic but also an avid and many would say successful runner (having qualified for and run the Boston marathon in 3:15:56), I think a lot about exercise.  I have taught a course about economics and obesity.  That course went on Coursera once.  And I have lectured to students in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program about this topic.  So, I spend a lot of time running and a lot of time thinking about running.  A recent news article (here is a link to just one version of the story) suggests that running any distance at any pace has health benefits.  So, individuals don't need to run a half hour a day and certainly don't need to run marathons (or even 10 km races) to get healthy.  That removes one of the primary excuses for failing to exercise--not enough time.  The study only asked about running but the authors acknowledge that other forms of exercise are likely to have similar benefits.

Second, the quantity of sleep one gets.  I've always marveled at the idea that there is an "optimal" amount of sleep for humans as a group.  Many people seem to live on much different amounts of sleep.  I have, since switching jobs 16 months ago, found that a little more sleep can be a REALLY good thing for me.  The other night I got 10 hours and had a great day at work the next day.  Many nights I don't get more than six.  That is probably just a little too little, but better than the 4 of 5 I consistenrly got for a while.  A recent news piece reported on seven rather than eight hours being ideal.   The key here--another consideration of how to use time. And maybe getting an hour extra to do something with and not feel like I'm getting too little sleep.

Why do I want to do all this stuff.  Because I feel like I have a purpose in life.  Am I always sure what that is?  No.  I can say that it has to do with making the world a better place.  Sometimes that is one person at a time as a mentor--formal or informal and some of the most rewarding mentor experiences have been ones in which there was not assigned relationship but the person to whom I consistently offered advice over time voluntarily called me mentor.  Sometimes it is as a parent.  Sometimes it is as a teacher--and I have ranged from graduate students to an occasional undergraduate lecture to the CTY experience I mentioned above to teaching Sunday school to third graders.  Sometimes it is as a researcher.  And sometimes as an education administrator.  In all cases, I have the chance to make a difference. To smile and brighten someone's day. Or to find ways to make things better at a much bigger level by changing the way things are done.  A recent article talks about those who have a sense of purpose living longer and suggests that it is because people feel less stressed.  My own opinion (and this is just an opinion) would be that it has to do with knowing how to dissipate stress while focusing on the purpose a person feels.

So, we can live longer by doing any exercise rather than none, we may not need as much sleep as we thought, and having a purpose makes a difference as well.  What does this lead to?  A life full of activity.  A life in which each day is full of activity.  A life in which I make choices to express myself in a variety of ways in a variety of forums and share the purpose I feel with anyone who will listen.

And if I were to self evaluate what else I could do, the only thing I could come up with is the standard business answer.  Figure out what the most important purpose is and focus even more on that.  My individual sense of purpose is like an organizational mission.  Organizations that understand and focus on their mission tend to work better than organizations that over-diversify.  Thus, my purpose should guide my actions in a clear and coherent manner with everything focused on that purpose.  How woudl running fit into that?  Accomplishing goals is part of that purpose and running will hopefully keep me around longer to continue aiming for my purpose.  

So, in the end, it seems like finding a purpose and allocating time wisely is the key to a long and healthy life.  Did we need academic studies to tell us that?  Or is that generally what people have been thinking for a long time put in scientific terms?  Either way--it makes clear how I plan to lead my life.    

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