Featured Book: On Purpose, Lessons in Life and Health From the Frog, The Dung Beetle, and Julia
Author and WWB Guru: Vic Strecher, PhD
Vic Strecher, PhD, MPH is a Professor and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. As a teacher and researcher, Vic has spent much of his time studying the science and psychology of healthy personal change for both individuals and large populations. In 1999, Vic founded Health Media, Inc., a groundbreaking health and wellness company that, for the first time, allowed large health plans and employers to cost effectively encourage and support healthy behavior change for the thousands of their members and employees. Health Media was eventually sold to Johnson & Johnson, Inc., the largest healthcare company in the world and, as Wellness & Prevention, Inc., continues to help tens of thousands of individuals live healthier, more fulfilled lives.
Lauroly Welcome- Welcome Vic! As a seeker of wisdom I am so excited about presenting your book and mission to World Wise Beauty readers. Your bio is impressive and we can devote a whole other blog to your life’s work and scientific research but today we are here to talk about your new book “On Purpose”. My mantra at World Wise Beauty is to be “comfortable in your own skin”. Personal growth begins with a loving relationship with “the self” and if we love ourselves in a healthy way, we ultimately have more to give to the world and our loved ones. Using the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s words “we become fully realized”.
There is no greater example of this than parenthood and as a father you have taken the journey of loving a child selflessly, losing your child painfully and having to come back to yourself. Your creative book “On Purpose” is a wonderful graphic novel of your personal journey and the profound realizations you came to as you navigated the experience of losing your daughter to a rare heart disease. It’s also an entertaining philosophy course which gets us to think about the meaning of life in a “worldly” fun way. The subtitle of the book tells us we are in for an interesting read “Lessons in Life and Health from The Frog, The Dung Beetle, and Julia”. Let’s start there with this creative title. How did you come up with this and what you made you decide to do a graphic novel? Kudos to the wonderful artist Kody Chamberlain who illustrated your book and website.
Vic Strecher PhD
Victor Strecher PhD: First, thank you so much for having me on your wonderful site! You’re doing a very cool and important thing here! It’s funny, I wasn’t a comic book reader when I was young. But I’ve always been a visual learner. My lectures at the University of Michigan are VERY visually focused. I really have trouble with the typical bullets points on slides – in my opinion, they’ve taken presentations to a new low. So for this book I thought that a visually-driven story might be an interesting way to propel a rather deep subject matter.
Lauroly Q- Your daughter who you lost at the tender age of nineteen lived joyfully and exuberantly despite having a life threatening heart condition beginning in her childhood. She must have been an amazing inspiration to you. What did you learn from Julia that you didn’t find in your scientific research? I have to believe you were a wonderful father and inspiration to her too. Tell us more about lovely Julia…
Victor Strecher PhD: She was indeed lovely… but also funny, quirky, brave, and passionate. Without the trouble she went through and the tentative nature of her existence, I truly would not have lived the life I have. Lucretius, the ancient Roman poet, wrote: “You’re almost dead in life, although you walk and breathe. You fritter away most of your time asleep.” Julia didn’t fritter away most of her time asleep. When she was feeling well, she lived her life to the fullest. She took cooking lessons in northern Thailand, hung out with monkeys on an island off Malaysia, played with koala bears in Australia, and ran around the city of London with her boyfriend. As a nursing student at the University of Michigan, and just before she died, Julia was working with the designer Donna Karan on her Urban Zen project, an amazing initiative to create a more healing environment for nurses. She was even talking with Donna about designing a hipper version of nursing scrubs.
She lived only 19 years but I think she put more into those years than most 80-year-old lives. Julia woke me from my sleep and made me realize that every one of us has a tentative hold on life and that we should live life to the fullest while we’re here on this earth. I fully understand that this is the theme of many vapid greeting cards and posters. But when the message really hits home, it changes the direction of your life.
Lauroly Q- Julia truly was an inspiration and she did live her “gift of life” fully with love and purpose. This must bring great solace to you. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories of her with us. Let’s drill into the central themes of your book “On Purpose”. While it is about living life to our fullest potential and finding purpose in our lives, it is also about DEATH. Can you tell us why you think we all should think about our own death more rather than avoiding it as most of us do in Western society?
Victor Strecher PhD: The writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short story entitled The Immortal, where a Roman soldier discovered a city where people lived forever. The people in this city, however, didn’t do anything! A person may fall off a bridge and no one would come to his aid. Eventually, perhaps two hundred years later, someone might get to him. Death, as Steve Jobs pointed out in his Stanford University commencement address, “is life’s change agent.” The philosopher Todd May, as well as some recent scientific research, has pointed out that the consideration of our mortality can actually make us value our lives that much more. As I point out in my book, if you have $5, each dollar is more valuable than each dollar if you have $10,000.
The consideration of death prompts you to realize that you don’t have 10,000 years to live. Our western culture has imbued us with a deep fear of death and dying: to the point that we don’t even want to think about death. We also now have lots of scientists talking about how we may be able to soon extend our lives by hundreds of years. That’s cool if you don’t spend those years watching what the Kardashians are doing with their lives. I just wish more scientists would think about how we can construct better lives with the years we currently have.
Lauroly Q- After delving into the meaning of life myself, I come across two sometimes conflicting ideologies alot. The old saying “you can never truly love another until you learn to love yourself” is often used in the “personal growth” schools of thought but many religions will encourage you to be selfless, look outward and love others to find happiness and fulfillment. I personally have found that life is a fluid dance of both these things and some of us can get “lost” in either direction. It is important to go “within” but just as important not to get stuck there! Your personal purpose in life is to show us how important it is to find purpose for our health and well-being as well as for a better society. Can you share more on why “having a purpose” is so important to health of a person and a society? I know these are big questions for my humble blog but just give us a tickler of what we can learn from your book. I have included a video from your creative website right here so our readers can learn more about you and your mission. It’s a must view!
Victor Strecher PhD: I must say that I’m really enjoying your questions. It’s hardly a “humble blog” you’ve created – it’s a “big thinkers blog!” For thousands of years people have considered ways to live a meaningful, purposeful life. Aristotle called it a “eudaimonic” life – living in the spirit of your “daimon” or true self. Now there is a growing science supporting this philosophy. People with a strong purpose in life have been found to be half as likely to develop Alzheimers Disease, less likely to get a heart attack or stroke, have better sex, and even have better repair of their chromosomes. This is a very new area for scientific research and the specific reasons why this is so are not clear. It is, however, likely that self-transcending purpose in life was positively selected for through evolution.
Every society needs people who behave in ways that transcend themselves: altruistic, cooperative, supportive. These are virtues that scientists are finding to be physiologically beneficial! Most of us are not born bad. We’re born with these transcending behaviors. It’s now up to our society to nurture these transcending behaviors and purposes – not beat or bore them out of us.
Both the deeply religious Soren Kierkegaard and the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre believed that having an authentic life purpose would help us as individuals and as a society. My fear is that our world is becoming an increasingly nihilistic – lacking meaning and direction. We’re doing better but feeling worse. It’s my intention to put a dent in this problem as best I am able. One thing I know something about is interactive media – creating websites and apps that help people change their lives. I’m hoping that the book On Purpose, but also the dungbeetle.org website and related apps will help people and help our society. Ultimately, I hope that these efforts become the kernel for a larger movement.
Lauroly Closing: What a wonderful movement! Sign me up Vic! My purpose and mission is to encourage women to be comfortable in their own skin and to celebrate and embrace wellness culture. There is no greater feeling than to be fully self-actualized and comfortable in your own skin but I think the journey of becoming whole is a wonderful state of constant renewal as we grow, age and become wise. Your personal journey illustrates renewal, healing and restoration beautifully. I am so honored to have had the opportunity to feature you. I would love if you would visit WWB again and share your wisdom with us. You are an official and honorary WWB Wise Guru. I know there are so many who will want to join you in your mission and give your book to loved ones who may be needing inspiration and direction.
Visit www.dungbeetle.org to learn more about Vic’s book “On Purpose” , digital app projects and to follow his blog.