“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
I noticed this quote in the Daily Inspiration section of the Music Choice Soundscapes channel screen in the wee small hours of the morning (I love that phrase) during another Dexsomnia (part of my chemotherapy regimen – steroid induced insomnia) night about 2:00am, and of course it got me to pondering once again. Have you tried to answer this question at any point in your life, “Why am I here?” And if so, have you come up with an answer? I thought I had, several times over the past five-plus decades, but even at seventy-something, I’m not so sure.
For many of us a version of that question comes up around high school graduation and college admission, like it did for me, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” And it’s often career focused, like it was for me, rather than purpose focused. We believe it’s necessary to choose and learn a vocation or a profession in order to earn a living. I thought I had it figured out when I chose Research Physicist, then again when I did a total about face and switched to Landscape Architect, and once more when I changed my major to Accounting. Then I took a class in Information Technology and realized that Accounting wasn’t it either, but I was too invested and committed to that career track and my entrance into ROTC and the Air Force to change.
In retrospect, it seems to me the question is really more about a purpose than a career. And to me that is a much more challenging question to answer when you’re around 20 years old, give or take, and still trying to just “find yourself.” As our children were reaching that age and grappling with those career choices we began urging them to figure out what they really seemed to be naturally gifted and talented at, and what they were passionate about. It was my hope that if they could find work that fit them, and gave them joy, that they would be better able to understand why they were here, to answer the bigger “purpose” question.
In the late 90s I started my own firm as a business and technology advisor; became active in my local chamber of commerce; and also began writing a little. I was capturing my business ideas and writing about life stories and topics in the form of blank verse poetry. Although I kept most of those writings private, I was beginning to find some joy in the writing aspects, business, and non-business, of my self-employment life. It was satisfying but not exactly income generating, so I couldn’t let it take away from my entrepreneurial efforts. And I wasn’t really thinking any more about my “purpose” in life.
About the same time I became part-time Coordinator of Lay Ministries for my church, helping congregation members to find opportunities to serve the church within their skill sets and gifts to help them avoid volunteer burnout (yes, it’s a real thing, and a big problem in churches). I developed and taught a class in identifying their spirit gifts and talents and discovering their passions, all of which could help identify good fits in church service for themselves. And maybe even answer their own “purpose” question. And I was writing posts in my church newsletter, inspired by the posts our pastor wrote each month. And as I look back on that time I was finding more joy in teaching and writing, and I began thinking more about my own purpose in life.
I began reading more about the idea of purpose in life and work and read The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, by Rick Warren. I also read more about Corporate Social Responsibility and Mission and Vision Statements for business. Back in the mid-eighties I helped the owners and leaders of a major regional business (my employer) document their first written vision and mission statement for the company, a statement that remains virtually as written almost forty years ago. And I was reminded of the sense of pleasure and satisfaction I experienced in publishing that statement for them. I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but I was writing about purpose in the business world, and, in my mid-thirties, thinking about my own purpose, but not in a way that registered as beginning to answer that bigger “purpose” question.
I finally tried writing my personal mission statement in 2000. It was inspired by a lot of things, focused on what I was passionate about, and what I had to offer people, businesses, and the community, but quite lengthy. You can find it at this link, if you care to read it, but as I look back on what I wrote I feel as if I partially or perhaps totally missed the boat. Could my purpose really be that complicated and complex, or was that more a reflection of my rational, logical, analytical self, trying to write a statement that just satisfied my own desire to say something meaningful? I believed what I wrote at the time, and I still believe most, if not all of it, even today, but I doubt if that statement written 23 years ago is truly my purpose in life. Why?
Because during the last fifteen years I’ve been writing personal and business blogs off and on. And during that time, but even more of late, I’ve been sensing clues in what other people say to me about how I share my own reality and personal challenges, my business ideas, and my thoughts on life experiences, and how much they enjoy and are moved by what and how I write.
Could my purpose in life really be that simple? When I write about my own experiences, about the perfect moments in my life, about rediscovered friends, and hayrides, and last Christmases, and life changing events, and heart wrenching grief, and fist pumping highs, and soul searching questions, and friends and family tell me how moved they are by what and how I write, is that why I’m here? It is, after all, the place where I find so much joy.
Could it be that I’m here to listen to the stories and life experiences of others, to share my compassion for them, to support and encourage them, and to inspire them to fully engage in life’s perfect moments by writing about my own joy-filled, heart-felt, or even heart-wrenching, unforgettable moments? Maybe, but as I listen to and find myself humbled by those expressions of connection and gratitude, I wonder if maybe a person’s purpose in life is best defined, not by that person at all, but by the people closest to and most impacted by that life.
So, as a little hint of dawn creeps through the forest and over my shoulder I ask you, are you listening to what others are telling you about your life and its purpose? Do you believe you have heard or perhaps found for yourself the answer to the question, “Why am I here?” Or are you still pondering, searching, or listening? Regardless of where you may be on this quest spawned by that statement of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, (the real Mark Twain of course) and you feel like sharing, please tell us in the comments below. And if you’ve ever shared your thoughts and feelings about my writing, know that I am humbled and inspired by you because you give purpose and meaning to what I express in these pages.
Meanwhile, I’m still writing and hoping to evoke a smile, an idea, a change, or even a tear or two as I myself ponder and struggle to hear an answer to that lifelong question, God, what do you still have planned for me?, and …
Why am I here? – Pops