Struggling to define “My Purpose”

“It is for us to make the effort.

The result is always in God’s hands.”

{Mahatma Gandhi}

What is my purpose in life?  How am I making a meaningful impact on the world?  What role do I play in making society a better place?

These are just a few of the questions I’ve wrestled with since become so ill that I had to stop working almost 7 years ago.  Even just writing down that number takes my breath away! 7 years. Wow. What happened to “my life” I wonder?

My first job, at 13, was a summer assistant in a school-age child care program, and it was the beginning of what was to become my career.  I loved children.  I love children (I just can no longer work with them). I climbed the “child care ladder” quickly, my passion and enthusiasm for my career shining in my every action.  I was promoted from lead teacher to toddler coordinator to assistant director to director; all before the age of 30.  I was 27 years old and the Director of a large center (135 children, 35 staff) looking over the Charles River in Boston, MA and I thought I could see the map of my whole future in front of me.

Before the final edict to stop working full time was given, I was a Staff Training and Development Specialist for two centers.  I was in my element; the hospital I worked for had created this position just for me; there was nothing more satisfying.

And then the “march of the dreaded symptoms” began their invasive take-over of my body. Da. Dum. Dum. It began with the incessant fatigue, migraines, myalgias, infections, and arthralgias we’ve all come to “love and loathe.”  When the arthritis took hold of my knees, my rheumatologist gave the medical orders that I could no longer “bend, stoop, kneel, lift, crawl, …” What? What?! That was my whole job!  How was I supposed to train teachers?  From up on high?  I was a hands-on (or I should say, knees-on), example driven teacher.  But, I persevered. I thought, there must be some way to make this work. But, I was told, no.  Kindly, but, “no” just the same.

NOW WHAT?

I didn’t have much time to think on my dilemma, when I was hit with my colon perforation (rupture) and the subsequent 3 years in and out of hospitals, truly fighting just to survive.  I didn’t question my “purpose” during this time because I knew, instinctively, that it was to be a living example of hope.  I saw the difference my interactions and words could make.  I was so focused on making it through the next day (alive) that I wasn’t overly concerned about where my future would take me.

But, then, somewhere along the years, I lost this trust: this trust that whatever I was doing was what I was meant to be doing in that moment, in that day.

I started to question myself and my place in the world.  I felt like I was more of a drain on life than a source of life.  My disease required me, and still requires me, to feel dependent on a lot of people.  It’s hard to feel purposeful when you feel like you have no independence.

I started to create my art, which was personally fulfilling.  But, again I struggled with how this activity translated into being a contributing member of society. When I was working with young children, nurturing their development, supporting their individuality and providing support and resources to the caregivers in their lives, the answer was clear.  To me, there was no better way to be “of purpose” than to facilitate the healthy growth of our future; children.

But here I was, healthy enough to be “hospital free” but not healthy enough to manage gainful employment.  And I had somehow equated gainful employment with having a positive impact on the world, living a meaningful life.

And that’s where I was wrong.  Once I could separate myself from the “person I thought I was going to be” from “the person I am today,” I could see that my roles have changed, not my purpose.

I am still intrinsically motivated to make a difference in other people’s lives.  I’m just still in the process of defining what that means for me.  And, most likely, will re-define that meaning each day anew.  Just as my body is a constantly changing landscape of symptoms, strengths, and weaknesses, I, too, have to regularly evolve.

So, what does my purpose look like today?  What is my defining life philosophy?

  • I know that to make a difference with just one person is to make a difference with many:  for example, by sharing my experiences in this blog, I am exponentially reaching out to the world.  If I can impact just one person, with one word, I’ve made a difference for that day!  My friend, so neatly said to me the other day, “just imagine, someone in China reads your blog and shares something that impacted her at the dinner table.  A week later, her cousin shares with a friend, ‘I heard this really cool thing the other day at a family dinner.’ And then that person shares it with her mother, and on, and on.”  Each one of us “bloggers” is making that difference!
  •  Which leads me to… the best way to make a difference is to be “faceless.”  I don’t have to be front and center anymore, the lead director of a company.  I am perfectly comfortable being the “silent partner” whose thoughts and spirit of HOPE are passed on, with no mention of the source. We are all The Source!
  • My artistic creations aren’t frivolous.  Every piece I create, from a necklace to a painting, has a piece of my loving energy in it.  And if that creation resonates with someone else’s soul and they choose it to grace their necks or the walls of their home, then I am already passing on my energy.  I am bringing beauty into people’s lives.  What could be “un-purposeful” about that?!
  • I don’t have to define what my purpose is going to be on a given day.  I just have to be open to listening to the intuitive messenger already inside me.  My personal goal for a day may be to nurture myself so I can be there for someone else the next day.  Or it may be to pick up the phone when a friend in need calls or even to answer the “calling” to reach out to a unknown cashier that is need of some sort of personal recognition on that day.  Just listen… the answer is already inside your soul.

Today, my life is filled with PURPOSE.  It may be unconventional, but it’s no less meaningful.  No matter where you are on the scale of physical and mental capabilities today, you, too, serve a one-of-a-kind purpose to the world.  Your mere existence is a gift. Try not to lose sight of that!

Today, I just have to make the effort… the results are up to a power greater than me!

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