My Pursuit of Purpose

From the flooded homes of Mississippi to the psychiatric hospitals of Poland, my journey led me right to where I started.

It was Spring Break in my freshman year of undergrad.

I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew I wouldn’t find it drinking keg beer on Panama Beach with my friends.

So I went to Mississippi instead.

That’s when I first felt a strong sense of purpose. At least, this is what stands out in my memory.

I was in the rafters of a mold-infested house with a hazmat suit on my body, a metal brush in my hand, a bottle of cleaner on my shoulder, and an enormous smile on my face.

Sweat poured down my back.

I wasn’t getting paid a dime. In fact, I had to pay for this experience.

I had to pay for the flight to Mississippi to help the people of Biloxi recover from the damaging effects of Hurricane Katrina. I had to pay for the bottom portion of a bunk bed at the nearby camp. The plain grits each morning. I spent nearly my entire savings for this opportunity.

Or perhaps it was my time volunteering at a psychiatric hospital in Poland, not speaking a word of the language as I walked the therapy rabbit from room to room. As I played ping pong for hours on end with the patients. How I sang with them. How we made art together. How I fed them. I felt purpose then too.

In moments like these, I was the happiest. These times helped me learn that comfort is not the path to fulfillment. In fact, fulfillment, for me, stems from progress and contribution, which are often the byproduct of some very uncomfortable situations.

These sort of trips led me to work for an organization serving people with cerebral palsy back home. The first time I gave one gentleman a shower after he defecated all over himself… that was uncomfortable. The times I was spit on. The broken necklace chains. The bite marks. Those were uncomfortable too.

But I wouldn’t trade those times for anything.

I’m grateful for these experiences. They fulfilled me. They helped me realize the power of service. The joy of giving. They helped me live with gratitude.

I knew I wanted to build these sort of experiences into my daily life.

I abandoned any plans of going to law school to become a corporate lawyer. Instead, I enrolled in an MSW program to become a social worker.

My dreams of becoming rich were quickly supplanted by dreams of being wealthy, which comes from emotional, psychological, and spiritual sources. Financial success was replaced with inner peace. I was no longer interested in external luxury, but internal fulfillment.

I knew the recipe. I knew it was not going to be easy.

Today, I work as a therapist. I spend my days with people who are struggling with depression, anxiety, poverty, despair, health concerns, grief, and everything else you can imagine. I witness their stories. I listen.

I give the gift of presence.

I am writing this on a flight to Atlanta where I will become a certified trainer in Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR). Helping people with thoughts of suicide is a major part of my work.

My mission is to reduce suffering for others.

It is a stressful job, for sure. Each day brings its challenges.

To bear witness to suffering is not easy, but the most worthwhile pursuits rarely are.

There are times when I feel like complaining, so instead I think about the things I’m grateful for. I think about the opportunities I’ve been given. The skills I’ve learned. The experiences I’ve had. The people I’ve met.

I think about the hardships and struggle. I’m grateful for those too. They’ve helped me grow.

I think about the choice I have to see the good in each person.

I choose to do the same in each moment.

I direct my focus. I select my thoughts. I control my reality. And I get back to work.

This is my journey. It’s my evolution.

I can’t say for certain that I’ve found my purpose. I am not even sure that there is one purpose to be found.

But I do know that this is the closest I’ve ever been.

And I get closer every day.

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