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What purpose means to me, Dr. Chou, 65, Taiwan.
Photography by Charles Lee.

January 2024 – Dr. Chou interviewed By Lynn Li

Theme: Purpose

What purpose means to me:
Dr. Chou, 65, Taiwan.

Meet Dr. Joe Chou, the Director General of Taiwan’s Tourism office. He takes us on a moving and inspirational journey through his life’s purpose from school days, launching his career, to starting a family and now at 65. Dr. Chou shares his wisdom about responsibility, relationships, and finding meaning. Despite reaching retirement age, he remains dedicated to contributing to society, embodying a lifelong commitment to what he loves. 

Mr. Chou on a train

TCL. What does ‘having a purpose’ mean to you, and why is it important in your life?  

Dr. Chou. My purpose has been important to me throughout my life, but it has changed and evolved. I’m going to divide my life into four stages to explain. 

When I was young, like most people, my focus was on education. My schoolteachers were always asking us to write essays about “what you want to be when you grow up.” In 1969, when I was just ten, Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon. This changed everything for me. It showed that there was potential for a different future. Yet, during this stage of my life, like many others, I believed that the key to making a difference was all about studying hard and obtaining a good degree. 

Mr. Chou and his parnets and sisters when he was small on the beach.

Dr. Chou with his parents and sisters.

When I was in my 20s, starting to look for a job, like most people I struggled between the things I wanted to do and the expectations of my parents and society. Additionally, I was building and nurturing a young family. This becomes my focus — my family was my purpose. As I entered my 40s, my career took more of a focus as my children grew up and I could now give full attention to my career.  

When I turned 60, the significance of having a purpose in my life intensified. Life experiences taught me to appreciate a more meaningful existence. While some people use the metaphor of four seasons to describe life stages, I don’t find it particularly helpful especially considering the extended and healthier lives people lead today. Each stage should signify the beginning of a new chapter of life. 

My Chou smiling outside, thumbs up

TCL. What makes you feel like your life has a meaning or purpose?  

Dr. Chou. I know I have a meaning in my life. And I feel I have found my destination. I was born in Penghu, a small remote island in Taiwan. I then lived in many different cities and ended up living in Taipei where I am now. Thinking back on my life, I’ve come to see that the people and experiences I had in different cities have been vital in shaping my understanding of life. 

"It's not about how high you can fly, but about flying as long as you can."

I have had a guiding principle which has inspired me throughout my life: it’s not about how high you can fly, but about flying as long as you can. This is about viewing every task we take on not as a job but as a responsibility. I feel so grateful knowing that the person I’ve become is a result of so many different people who have been part of my support network and who have helped me at various stages of life. 

In all my relationships—with my children, wife, parents, and friends—I appreciate the support, shared learning, and companionship that have helped me build such a powerful network throughout my life. My wife often remarks that I am luckier than most because I have built a strong network. I value it and it gives purpose to my life. As I age, these relationships become even more important. 


“Every person has their own unique learning system... encourage them, share that life is extraordinary."

TCL. As you have become older or experience new things, have you felt different about what gives your life meaning?  

Dr. Chou. As I mentioned earlier, my views on what gives my life meaning has evolved over time. The big turning point was when I turned 40. Before then I had always focused on meeting my targets. However, after 40 I gradually start to focus more on developing the talents of others, and I will always continue doing this. Through my experience heading up several different departments I learned the importance of helping younger generation, to develop their talents as well as listening to the needs of the people I worked with. And how rewarding this was. Let me give you an example. I was in charge of electrifying the east coast railway to deliver faster trains to the eastern part of Taiwan. It was a challenging infrastructure project and no one in Taiwan had the experience to do it. This type of railway work is tough, and we couldn’t attract any international experts to do the work. I had no choice but to train young engineers. It was a long and challenging project. The moment it was completed I felt so good knowing that I had helped to support and grow the young engineers to accomplish this project. This reward was priceless and only made better seeing the people in the communities hugging the fast train as it arrived for the first time. This was an unforgettable moment in my life. 

As I grow older the meaning of life will change based on my experiences, some will stay the same and some will be differentMy desire to help people has remained unchanged, but with a lifetime of experiences I now approach things differently   

"I feel every person at some point thinks about the meaning of life... I was incredibly lucky to know earlier and can just carry on what I love to do."

TCL. How do you think we can help more people find what makes their life feel important or meaningful?  

Dr. Chou. I feel every person has their own unique learning system. For example, everyone goes home from their school every day, but each person will learn different things even on the same journey. I think the best way to help people to find meaning in life is to encourage them, to share that life is extraordinary, that they canr ceate a wonderful life for themselves. I am reminded of a line from a Chinese poet that resonates with this sentiment: “Strolling along the stream, all the way up to its end, where I sit down, and it is the great moment I enjoy watching the clouds begin to rise from around me.” 

 In my experience, when people start to think about the meaning of life, it is usually when they feel down, so the best thing is to encourage them.  A good way to do this I have found, is to come up with a positive slogan that is easy to remember which will then help them to think about the good side of living. Another option is to find faith that could guide them to find their beliefs. Both a healthy body and a healthy mind are important for our lives.  For example, my father’s transition from Christianity to Buddhism at the age of 80 highlights the significance of adapting to evolving beliefs and finding meaning in various stages of life. As a Buddhist, witnessing his change was profoundly meaningful to me. 


Dr. Chou holidng vegetrables smiling

TCL. Do you think everyone, no matter where they come from or how old they are, wants similar things to feel like their life matters? What do you think those things are?  

Dr. Chou. We all need to listen to our hearts.  I think everyone at some point thinks about the meaning of life. I knew quite early in my life that the meaning of my life was is to contribute to society, serve people, and help deliver on their needs. Some people know the meaning of their lives later in their lifetime, but I knew what I wanted to do when I was young, and it has never changed. Everyone will eventually start to think about what the meaning of life is. I was incredibly lucky to know earlier and can just carry on what I love to do. 

When I was studying my PhD, I saw that there were two different types of people in my school. One group was focused on money and achieving ‘success’ as their life goal, and the other was focused on politics, wanting to create their ideal society and community as their life goal. All my good friends in my class are about creating better places to live. I have been highly influenced by my friends who have always been around to help me. I like what I do, and even though I am now 65, which is retirement age based in Taiwan, I will continue to do my work; it’s my destination. 

More Information

More about Dr. Joe Chou

Dr. Joe Chou, 65, currently holds the position of Director General at the Tourism Administration of Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC). With a career spanning over three decades in public service, he began his journey as a civil servant in 1989. Dr. Chou earned his Ph.D. with a major in Traffic and Transportation from the prestigious National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. His wealth of experience includes key roles such as Director of the Road Administration Division at MOTC, Director of the Railway Reconstruction Bureau, Director General of Taiwan Railway Administration, and Chairman of the Chinese Consultant Engineering Foundation. Dr. Chou’s comprehensive background in transportation and his leadership in various pivotal positions underscore his significant contributions to the development and management of Taiwan’s transportation infrastructure. 

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