There are many great mysteries in life. Why do some people develop mental illnesses within a family, while others don't? How did those massive statues get onto Easter Island, and why were they put there? Why do you press harder on the remote when you know the batteries are dead?
In all seriousness, there are plenty of elements of this crazy ride on earth that defy explanation. And one of them has to do with the point of it all. What is the purpose of life?
Philosophers have been taking a crack at answering this question since the dawn of time. And while titans of industry have rarely been included in the list of those with good responses, one rises above.
Alan Mulally is unique for a number of reasons. One is that he was absolutely instrumental in reviving Ford Motor Company. When Ford was at its lowest point (and could easily have failed), Mulally helped turn it around. He took a multibillion-dollar company on the verge of collapse and steered it to success.
So Mulally is one to listen to with respect to business matters. But, it turns out, he's also wise when it comes to matters of the heart. This is in no small part due to his mother, who repeated three phrases to her children daily, drilling them into their little heads. The first two were:
- "To serve is to live."
- "It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice."
The third was about the purpose of human existence.
When you're growing up, it's easy to get distracted by things that don't matter. It can feel like your grades are a measure of your self-worth; or that if your crush doesn't like you back, you'll die; or that not getting enough Likes of your best summer vacay photo on social media means you aren't good enough.
Thus, having a true north repeated to you daily, a way to remember what the real point of things is, is more than a fun parenting trick. It's a profound act of grace.
What was the wisdom Mulally's mother passed down? What did she tell him repeatedly about the reason for everything -- a concept he has now passed on in a multitude of ways? It was this:
"The purpose of life is to love and be loved."
The purpose of life is love. Not to get 10,000-plus followers on Twitter or Instagram. Not to get your startup on Shark Tank, or make The New York Times' bestseller list, or be a keynote speaker at SXSW. Those things are great, but they're not the purpose.
We would all do well to remember that.
Part of the reason to remember it has to do with health. Scientific research clearly demonstrates that the fundamental basis of human health is loving relationships (not necessarily romantic relationships--any loving relationship counts).
Right now, when we think about how to stay healthy, we place a lot of emphasis on sleep, diet, and exercise. But science shows we're missing something critical from that list if we aren't including love. Because people who don't have -- and prioritize -- loving relationships are far more at risk for heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, mental health disorders, substance abuse problems, and more.
When it comes to the purpose of life, we tend to make things complicated. We tend to believe we'll only be good enough if or when: once we raise the next big round of funding; or when we get that next promotion at work; or if we make the Forbes 30 Under 30 or 40 Under 40 list.
The Mulallys take a firm stand that while that stuff might be nice, it's not the purpose of life (and shouldn't be treated as such).
The purpose of life has nothing to do with grand accomplishments. It's not about being the best.
It's about giving your gifts as an act of love in the world, and receiving that love back. It's about the quiet moments with people you cherish, when no words are even needed. It's about consistently sharing your own heart and creating spaces in which others feel safe enough to share theirs.
The purpose of life isn't to be perfect. It is simply to love and be loved.