We believe that strength has a greater purpose—and that purpose goes far beyond the ability to lift weight or move loads. Being physically strong is great. Especially when you consider the alternative. Being weak is less appealing. But the importance of strength shows itself when it transcends what you do in the gym. The strength you earn through your training is something that should enrich all other areas of your life and the lives of the people who are important to you.
The Difference Between Purpose and Passion
Many people claim that they are passionate about strength, that their passion for strength lives inside them. And if that’s what keeps them going, great. But there is a profound difference between passion and purpose. Zach Henderson, StrongFirst Elite, was onto something when he said: “If a passion for strength burns inside you, ignite it in others! And if someone is willing to learn…teach them.”
Professor Morten Hansen (University of California, Berkely) defines purpose as “the sense that you are contributing to others, that your work has broader meaning. Passion is the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm you have about your work.”
So, in a broader sense, your passion is about what you do for yourself, but having a purpose is about what you do for others. Having a purpose is what unites people, and together we are stronger.
Cultivating Purpose: I Am Because We Are
According to Yale University Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, purpose isn’t something that you randomly discover. It’s something that you can cultivate.
In The Power Of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath say that “Passion is individualistic. It can energize us but also isolate us because my passion isn’t yours. By contrast, purpose is something people can share. It can knit groups together.” That’s why it is so important that you “… learn [how] to cultivate purpose—to unite people who might otherwise drift in different directions, chasing different passions.”
Remember: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Just look at our certifications. Everyone at these events shares the same goal, whether they attend or assist—to improve, to learn, and to help others to do so as well. Every past SFG attendee appreciates—down to their bone—how challenging these three days are. Not just physically, but mentally. It’s the goal you share with all the people around you, the shared feeling of being part of something greater, that connects everyone and gives you strength. This is a big part of what makes the experience exhilarating.
Another great example is the Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC)—the next one is happening on May 4, 2019. Instead of lone warriors looking after themselves, people cheer for and support each other. These are your people, encouraging, celebrating, sharing a powerful experience whether they compete for the top spots globally or simply against their own past achievements.
Purpose Trumps Passion
Professor Hansen also found that “People who were passionate about their jobs—who expressed high levels of excitement about their work—were still poor performers if they lacked a sense of purpose.” The authors of The Power Of Moments think this way as well: “A sense of purpose seems to spark ‘above and beyond’ behaviors.”
So purpose leads to more and better performance than passion. But why? The answer is surprisingly simple. It’s because it gives meaning to what we do.
“When you understand the ultimate contribution you’re making, it allows you to transcend the task list.”Chip and Dan Heath
Never underestimate what you do for others. Things that seem small, even meaningless or pointless to you, might mean everything to the person you interact with.
What Is The Greater Purpose Of Strength?
From a physical standpoint, strength is the master quality, “the foundation for developing the rest of the physical qualities.” (Prof. Leonid Maveev). But I fear that those who only see strength for the ability to displace load are missing the heart of the matter: the purpose.
Perhaps answering the question is so difficult because it’s missing an implicit qualifier “for you.” Strength is contextual for every individual—that’s why we can’t presume to tell you what the purpose is for you. What we do know, however, is that the pursuit of strength is where lives are improved.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”Isaac Newton, 1675
And so I am fortunate to be able to draw from people out there far better than me to provide context for what purpose strength can serve. That’s why I leave it to them to express.
In the second episode of the StrongFirst Podcast, Brett Jones said, “Building physical strength can be a gateway to building other forms of strength.” Like mental strength or emotional strength, not just other physical qualities.
On Culture Chat, he shared that “The physical can and should be an expression of that internal strength. Grit, persistence, and the ability to sacrifice—that’s strength.”
“The person that’s not putting food on their plate so that their kids can eat, the person that’s working two jobs so that their family has an opportunity, that’s strong, that’s tough.”
So the strength you build through your training should be a means to an end, not necessarily the goal itself. We all know that baseline strength is important and beneficial. But as with many things, ‘even’ more is not necessarily better. Too much of something good can (depending on the situation) be harmful. Dan John eloquently put it: “I believe it’s the role of the strong to be strong and protect the weak, not to become stronger.” When you achieved greatness in something, help others do it as well.
If pressed for my answer, I’d say the purpose of being strong to me is to improve the quality of life, to enrich life, not only your own but more importantly the lives of others. To be able to endure, to be there for others that, for whatever reason, are not strong enough to endure on their own. That is my strength’s greater purpose. Cultivate your strength in the gym, but let it go far beyond that.
“Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a hard one.”Bruce Lee
What Is YOUR Purpose?
That is the ultimate question. A question that cannot be answered for you; a question that probably has no right or wrong answer. You might not be fully aware of your purpose yet, but it sleeps deep within you. So use your strength training to help cultivate it. Take the lessons, the characteristics it breeds, the self-awareness, and the can-do attitude that a solid strength practice brings and channel it towards discovering and then living your purpose. Because strength goes far beyond what you can lift.
A huge thank you to Analisa Naldi who recommended “The Power Of Moments” on Sarah Polacco’s amazing podcast Purposeful Strength and to Alexey Senart who gave a fantastic interview on “Fitness Blitz Radio” about the greater purpose of strength.