Why Am I Here?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others.”–Mahatma Gandhi
How many of you have asked yourself at one time or another, “What am I supposed to be doing? What is my life’s purpose?”
I’ll venture a guess and say we’ve all had those moments where we’ve stared up at the stars, humbled by the vastness of the universe, but also feel unfulfilled with our lives.
You could be happily married with children, own the house and the cars, have the good job with the 401k, and yet still feel as though something is lacking in your life. It’s something you can’t quite put your finger on and so you brush it away. But days drag on and you feel less connected and more lonely with zero motivation to do anything.
Everything just feels… mundane.
Lack of purpose can weigh heavily on us. I’ve met many individuals spanning across age groups and backgrounds who unknowingly share the same feeling. It’s something we don’t talk about because who are we to complain about our lives when there’s so much suffering in the world.
I can empathize as I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to be on the hamster wheel. Friends and family offer their thoughts on what we should do and yet none of it feels right to us.
And so we continue on the wheel, not complaining but also not feeling entirely fulfilled either. We pretend we’re fine when deep down we know we’re not. We shrug our shoulders and say to ourselves,
“Why shouldn’t I be happy? I pretty much have everything I need in life. Why spend energy figuring out what that gnawing sensation is in the pit of my stomach? Maybe this is all that life is supposed to be.”
But that uncomfortable feeling we have deep inside us, the one that says, “There’s more to life than this” is the most important voice in all of us. That inner voice is Truth.
Too often we ignore it and think we know best. We override that inner voice with fanciful ideas of life and all the things we think will make us happy. We get the “perfect” car/job/relationship and still that voice remains.
There is something lacking in our lives. And trust me, no amount of money or possessions will satisfy it. We must dig deep and listen to the voice inside us as our happiness depends on it.
Our relationships, jobs, and everyday life depend on us fulfilling our life’s purpose.
The meaning of life always seemed so out of reach, a secret that one could only discover if they climbed the highest mountain to meet the most worldly guru. We make the meaning of life out to be some enormous, prolific force that only a few fully realize. In the end, we convince ourselves that our lives are “good enough”.
But it’s not, is it?
You can tell me. It’s okay to admit that you feel life is lacking, but are unsure how to fix it. Everyone feels this way at some point in their lives. We’re all acutely aware we only have this one life, and we don’t want to waste it on something meaningless. None of us want to be on our deathbeds, lying there full of regrets.
So what is the meaning of life? Do we all have an individual purpose we need to fulfill before we leave the physical realm? And if so, how do we find it?
I’m sure you’ve read every blog, taken every personality test, and researched every book to find the answer and none of them are satisfying.
Allow me to enlighten you, like so many have tried before.
You will fulfill your life purpose as a human being when you help others.
Yep, that’s it. No need for the eye rolls. Thanks, though.
And this isn’t just about helping you and the little bubble of people in your life. This means helping complete strangers.
I remember when I discovered this fact of life after years of hunting for answers to my own life purpose questions. To say I was annoyed when I discovered the meaning of life is an understatement.
“People are the worst! I don’t want to help people. Ugh! How boring!”
Or so I thought…
But the fact remains, no matter how we feel about it. If you accomplish nothing else in your life and only help other human beings, you will be complete. It is your purpose, as well as mine.
I get it. It’s very annoying because life seems much more complex than this. We have careers and families to take care of. Surely, we have individual lives which have their own intrinsic purpose.
Yes, all of those statements are true. We have a life purpose within a purpose within a purpose. There are multiple layers to it. But the overarching one we all share is helping humanity. So even if you don’t know your own personal purpose, you can still feel life fulfilment simply by stepping out and helping someone.
I can’t answer why it’s our purpose as humans. All I can say is that it is the reason we are alive. It’s why you and I were born. Now, one might argue that there are people who obviously have more important life purposes than just helping others. (i.e.: world leaders, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, etc…)
But what do all of those people have in common? Serving humanity is at the very core of what they do. Sure, they make tons of money at it. But the bottom line is they started out simply wanting to help their fellow human being in whatever capacity they could.
By helping others, you help yourself.
A few days ago, I read a story about a Pittsburgh man whose wife committed suicide after horribly suffering with postpartum depression. Here’s a man who not only has a newborn but also must process the devastation of his wife’s suicide. He could easily, and no one would fault him for it, spiral into a “why me” of self-pity and anger at how his life turned out.
But instead, he took the pain he felt and held his hand out to help other women who suffer from postpartum depression. He opened a hospital treatment center, which has helped over 6,000 mothers.
And why does he do it?
“It’s my therapy.”
Humanitarianism was always about helping others. That’s nice and all, but no one ever says what it does for the individual, the major impact it has on their own life. It’s never talked about because helping each other is supposed to be a selfless act. It’s never about what you get out of it.
But even so, it’s important for us to understand the impact it has on us as individuals.
- You see humanity for what it truly is, not what the media wants you to believe. It’s as if a thick fog disappears and the truth is revealed.
- You realize what’s important vs unimportant in your own life.
- You gain a tremendous amount of clarity, fresh perspectives on your life.
- You learn more about yourself than ever before.
- You realize it’s the ultimate therapy session.
I always found volunteering to be utterly boring. It might sound a bit selfish, but I was more concerned about my own life and doing what I needed to do for myself. And I’ll be honest, it’s not that I couldn’t find the time to help others. I simply didn’t want to.
We all come up with excuses that start with “I can’t”, when really that’s bullshit. Most of us are physically able to help others. We just won’t. That’s the reality of things. It’s easier to say we “can’t” so we don’t feel bad about ourselves.
There are “do-gooders” out there and I relied on them to help humanity. I wanted to focus on my own life. We all do, right?
And this perspective I held onto worked for many years until it didn’t. I couldn’t shove those feelings of unfulfillment aside any longer. Everything in my life felt out of sorts. My relationships were mediocre at best. I felt miserable at my job. And I lacked any real ambition or desire to do anything.
All I knew was that I wanted to give what I didn’t get. Maybe by offering empathy, love, and compassion, I too would feel it myself. Perhaps my cynicism could be washed away and my faith in humanity restored.
I realized that in the past; I had been volunteering for all the wrong reasons. It was for community service hours or because the company I was working for required it. I didn’t do it because I felt an absolute need to help anyone. I did it because it was “forced” onto me as the right thing to do.
Through the many twists and turns of my life, I still can’t believe I’m here writing to you about the power of humanitarianism, the healing power that comes with simply helping another human being. It’s so bizarre to me! But in the end, it doesn’t really matter how I finally came to see the light. I’m just grateful I got here before I became food for the worms.
I hope you consider yourself in this equation. You are part of this species, after all. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or give up your life in total service to others. Instead, think of how you can make an impact on your fellow humans every day. What you may think is an insignificant gesture actually means the world to another.
You can not measure the impact you have on someone. It’s not about waiting for someone to help you first or a “what are you going to do for me” attitude. Every day, you get to choose to contribute positively or negatively to the world you live in. It’s not just about donating money once or twice a year. What impact can you have on others every single day? How many acts of kindness can you give out? Can you tell the cashier you appreciate them? Can you send a kind note to someone?
You can start right this minute. Take a healthy break from technology and help yourself by helping humanity. Your own happiness and life fulfilment depends on it.
Actively help others in ways which feel most natural to you. But do it every day.
Holidays carry with them an obligation to spend time with family and friends. And I’ll venture a guess and say most of us enjoy those times together with loved ones. Though I also know COVID has, perhaps, dampened the jolly mood a bit as we try to navigate the state of our reality.
Besides COVID, after-holiday woes, and perhaps a touch of seasonal depression, there’s another reality which has been slapping us across the face as of late. And that beast is called climate change. I’m not here to politicize or start a debate about the topic. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how it came to be our current reality. But it’s very much here as we’ve seen with recent monster tornados and hurricane-like winds happening in parts of the U.S. that have never seen such events.
These types of natural disasters will only increase. That’s not to scare you, but more just a fact of how our Earth (which is a living, breathing thing after all) is changing. Though we as humans might see our species as all-mighty, Earth continues to humble us with its power over all living things. We are truly at its mercy, for no amount of technology will ever control Mother Earth. She would no sooner rid herself of our species before she allowed anything to reign over her. The power she wields is unmatched. And as of August 22, 2020, we’re officially on borrowed time.
Clearly, this isn’t sustainable and has wide-reaching effects on all of us.
I don’t watch the news much. In fact, I haven’t watched a news program in over a year. But that’s not to say I don’t know what’s going on in the world. I just choose my content carefully, sticking to only a few minutes a day on the BBC or AP news sites. I’m also a heavy user of Twitter, which is a first-to-know about everything platform due to the sheer volume of independent journalists who tweet every second of the day.
On Dec 10th, I saw urgent news reports about a massive tornado, clocking over 200 mph winds, destroying areas outside of what’s considered “tornado alley”. This monster tornado was lofting debris over 30,000 feet into the air. That’s among the most intense ever recorded. This twister also broke a 100-year-old record for how long a tornado stayed on the ground in a path of destruction.
What was most startling, however, was the death toll the tornado left in its wake, particularly in a town called Mayfield, Kentucky.
79 men, women, and children.
Tornados are rare in the winter months. This natural phenomenon needs warm, moist air to generate intensity to even turn into a twister.
But in case you’ve been living under a rock, our winters continue to get warmer every year. As national temperatures continue to rise above long-term averages, we’ll only continue to see monster storms increase in volume and magnitude, in areas of the country which rarely experienced such disasters.
The news of this tornado weighed heavily on my mind as the holidays approached. But I continued to look for an Airbnb in Pittsburgh to visit my parents for Christmas.
A week before the holiday and I still hadn’t pulled the trigger on any place to stay. I was waiting to see if any last-minute deals might pop up. But something kept gnawing at me, which I couldn’t quite figure out. I wanted to spend the holidays with my parents, but something just didn’t feel right. I felt compelled to do something more than sit around a tree, eat food, and open gifts. Something about that wasn’t sitting right with me.
I looked up food drives and soup kitchens I might I volunteer at here in Atlanta. Most of them were not accepting volunteers because of COVID or had cancelled their events. Plus, none of those options felt right.
My thoughts turned to the tornado. I hadn’t been able to shake it from my mind. I felt this energy which was urging me to help in some way. I had never worked in a disaster area before, nor was I part of any non-profit organization. But I felt utterly compelled to help. My inner voice grew louder and I no longer could ignore it.
So I typed into Facebook’s search bar, “Mayfield tornado volunteers” and various posts from local fire stations and city council popped up. I saw a few posts from Samaritan’s Purse, found their website, and signed up as a volunteer.
A wave of relief washed over me. It instantly felt like the right decision. It was the same feeling I had gotten years ago when I was going through my self-discovery after realizing how unfulfilled I felt in life.
I booked an Airbnb 30 minutes outside Mayfield, so as not to take away a room from a survivor, packed the dogs in the back seat and off I went. I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I know anyone there. But I also know how important it is to get out of one’s comfort zone. And because I thrive and thoroughly enjoy being uncomfortable, I embraced all the unknowns of this trip.
I’ve taken the past 2 weeks to really process what I experienced over the four days I was in Mayfield, Kentucky. And when I sit down to write, all I do is feel. Which, to be honest, is a foreign thing for me. I’m much more of a rational, logical person who finds emotions to be a bit chaotic and nonsensical. I allow emotions to flow in and out as they do, but deeply exploring them is like nails on a chalkboard for me. That’s not to say I’m a robot. I simply don’t allow emotions to rule over my brain patterns nor dictate my reality. However…
There are no words to describe what it feels like to reach down and pick up pieces of someone’s house, which has been reduced to rubble from Mother Nature’s wrath. Where walls once stood that housed people’s lives were now a heap of nothingness, along with shoes, torn photographs, Christmas ornaments, pieces of toys, and personal belongings, all on full display for the entire world to see.
It is total and utter destruction in the historic town of Mayfield, Kentucky.
I don’t know how to express to you what it feels like to shovel debris, which was once a proud standing 100-year-old house, into a pile for city bulldozers to haul away. Your team leader leans over and whispers to you that the tornado killed a 5-year-old in that house.
All that comes to me is a hard lump in the back of my throat.
I’m no stranger to significant trauma, for which therapy was a crucial part in helping me overcome my emotional experiences. But I couldn’t understand why I was struggling when I returned home the days after my time in Mayfield.
I told my mother how odd I was feeling, a sadness I couldn’t put into words, about how I wanted to go back and help. My mother reminded me, “Kira, you were in the thick of it. This type of experience hits trained first responders hard!” And then I read an article which helped me understand my own emotions.
Former Marine Shawn Triplett of Mayfield, Kentucky served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Haunted by the devastation and horror, he went to the volunteer center, volunteering to guide a photo-journalist through streets littered with debris.
“I’ve been deployed three times. I’ve seen war zones, I’ve seen absolute destruction, and nothing compared to it.”
To be on the front lines of the very essence of humanity goes beyond words. It’s as if you’re handed a box and inside you see the secret truth about humans, about life.
To immediately feel a connection with strangers who also traveled from all over the U.S. to help is something beyond emotions. It’s part of our DNA. We naturally bonded as humans from all walks of life. We didn’t judge one another. In fact, it was quite the opposite. You’re immediately humbled and gain an enormous amount of respect for each other because we were all there to simply help our fellow human beings. Nothing else mattered.
If we strip away the fabric of our individual lives, we’re left with each other. At that point, you immediately realize humanity is alive and well and is truly the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
There’s nothing wrong with humanity. You may not be proud of yourself. But believe me, I’ve never met so many compassionate, loving, selfless people in my entire life as I did in the 3 days I volunteered with perfect strangers. THAT is just a slice of what humanity REALLY is.
But you have to experience it for yourself. Or you can continue to think the worst about your fellow humans. You can continue to believe the lie that humanity is worse than ever. I’m not here to change your mind. But for your sake, I do hope you get there in this lifetime. Because there is nothing more powerful than seeing with your own eyes and feeling with your own heart the true meaning of life. And once you see and feel it, nothing else matters.
“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” — Albert Einstein
Did You Know?
On a neurobiological level, when you help others, you’re also helping yourself, even more so than if you personally receive support.
- Altruism is hard-wired in the most primitive part of our brains.
- Because helping others is part of our design as a species, when we perform such acts, our brain releases what’s called the “happiness trifecta,” which includes oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. (Oxytocin boosts your mood and counteracts the effects of cortisol-the terrible stress hormone. The higher the levels of oxytocin, the more you want to help others, which also boosts serotonin and dopamine.)
- Any activity that increases the production of these neurochemicals will cause a boost in mood. (And no, the effects do not diminish the more you do it.)
Simply put, helping others is good for your health!
When you satisfy this very primitive part of who you are as a human being, you’ll feel fulfilled in life. It’s that simple.
Would You Rather?
…be as rich as Bill Gates or as smart as Albert Einstein?
This one is easy for me. I value intellect. In fact, I consider myself a philonoist, which is someone who loves learning and knowledge.
Can you imagine the wealth of knowledge Albert Einstein’s brain possessed?! Who wouldn’t want that over money? On top of that, he understood the power of humanity.
But if you asked Albert which one he’d choose, he’d say, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Make Humor Great Again
A big, burly man visited the pastor’s home and asked to see the minister’s wife, a woman well known for her charitable impulses.
“Madam,” he said in a broken voice, “I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in this district. The father is dead, the mother is too ill to work, and the nine children are starving. They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $400.”
“How terrible!” exclaimed the preacher’s wife. “May I ask who you are?”
The sympathetic visitor applied his handkerchief to his eyes.
“I’m the landlord,” he sobbed.