Sara, a social work intern, placed in an outpatient clinic, was fortunate enough to come across Ricardo, one of the few field-instructors, who took the time to provide proper supervision and mentorship. She admired him greatly—he was the smartest person she had ever worked with, in such fashion. Yet, Sara questioned, “He could be doing so much more. Why was he content with just a nine-to-five job, getting home and being with his dog and nothing else? More importantly, is Ricardo happy; is this what I should expect for myself; is this really all there is to life after obtaining a graduate professional degree?" Sara remained perplexed with this, still, by the end of her internship. Unsatisfied with keeping her questions to herself, Sara decided to risk “being judged” and asked Ricardo some of these “personal questions.” It was during her last supervision session that Sara managed to overcome her fear and anxiety to broche the subject. First, she thanked Ricardo with deep sincerity, communicating how appreciative she had been, how she had learned so much. Sara then paused, maintained eye contact and uttered with a low, timid, voice: "Ricardo, are you happy?"
Ricardo looked at Sara, as if jolted; the silence was long enough to make Sara uncomfortable, sensing the need to apologize. "I am so sorry, forgive my stupidity; I was just …" “No, no," interrupted Ricardo, "No need to apologize, especially when doing the right thing, even if it makes you uncomfortable. I can’t remember the last time anyone posed such a question, at least, beyond my early years, growing up. I am actually not happy, Sara. That’s very perceptive. Every morning, I wake up asking myself what exactly have I been doing with my life? My hope for you and for every intern that passes through this clinic is that you live a life with purpose, which I realize I don't have, at least, not any longer."
After another moment of silence, Ricardo added, "When I was a child, I had big dreams, some of them I achieved, and even when I was your age, I still had a sense of purpose, but now I don't know. Now, I am here, trying to do whatever I can to survive, knowing that I am not using my full potential, knowing that I am not happy."
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, “Purpose” is defined as: the reason for doing something or for allowing something to happen. Also, “Life” is a particular type or part of someone’s experience.” And living life with purpose means making the conscious decision to understand your life, to consciously evaluate the “why” of your life and deliberately live and strive towards it. At this point, “purpose” or “a life with purpose” or “living a purposeful life” may all sound too abstract, but I promise that by the end of these series of articles, you will have a full understanding of what it means to live a life with purpose. You will know how to find purpose in your life, and you will be ready to implement and impart the same secrets to others.
Some will tell you that you were born with a purpose, that you only need to find what this purpose is and work towards fulfilling it. For now, I will stay away from commenting too much on this assertion. I will simply say that if you find it difficult to grasp the above statement, you are not alone. For if you were born with a purpose, then who chose it for you; how was the specific purpose determined; what's your role in all of this and what if you decide something is no longer your purpose, how do you get permission to get a new one? If you can identify with these questions, it means that the idea of "being born with a purpose" may be difficult for you to connect with. It also means that you are reading the right article and likely at the right time.
One thing for sure, just like Ricardo, if you currently feel like you have no clear purpose, or you may have lost it, or have stopped living it, then, at best, you may experience an unhappy life with little meaning, and the worst case scenario will be: an eternal, incessant and insatiable pursuit of happiness, which can lead to addictive behaviors and to an increase in physical illness, mental illness, and even suicide. I am far from suggesting that those living their lives with a purpose do not get ill. We all experience common things as humans—we grow; we ache, and our body may fail us at one point, or in one-way or another.
The good news is that the best and worst case scenarios I described above, do not have to be a reality for you; the positive aspect of it all is that you have a choice, and the empowering part of it all is I am going to suggest to you how to find your purpose in life.
I hope I have been able to articulate “why” it is crucial to live a life with purpose. But now, I would like to discuss some of the benefits of living life with purpose. Such a life helps keep vision in mind; it sets your destination path, which in turn keeps you motivated and makes it easier for you to withstand life challenges. Living life with purpose also forces you to become more self aware, to be more deliberate, and to make more conscious decisions. This may sound challenging, difficult, and even impossible, at times. Where it may sound onerous, and it can be, it is also doable and the process of getting there is an important part of self-discovery.
Here is a quick example: Sally is an Obstetrician and the more I got to know, the more I admire her. She once told me: “I have gone through life in search of my purpose, it took me a while, but I finally found it. Once you found it, you will never want to go back to your previous life; but again, I know that my previous life was part of the experience of finding my purpose, and for that, too, I am grateful.” Once you find your life’s purpose, like Sally said, your life will never be the same again.
We just briefly discussed the “why” of having a life with purpose. Before we touch upon the “how” of having a life with purpose, I invite you to answer the following 8 questions:
1. What do you have to lose by choosing a life with purpose, especially when it's clear that the opposite almost equals not living at all?
2. Why do so many go through life without a clear purpose?
3. What is life all about?
4. How happy are you with your current life?
5. What does happiness mean?
6. What would living a life with purpose look like for you?
7. How would you know you were living a life with purpose – What would you see and feel?
8. What do you think is preventing you from living a life with purpose?
An attempt at responding to the above 8 questions will serve you well at being ready to implement the concepts and practical recommendations in the upcoming articles.
In a series of 3 upcoming articles (Finding Your Passion; Finding What You are Best at Doing; Finding How to Combine Your Passion With What You are Best at Doing), I will be walking you through the steps to help you start living a life with purpose, one that is based on conscious decisions, and one that will motivate you to get up in the morning, to start your day, because after all, your life will then be larger than yourself, because you will live it with purpose.
Thank you for reading,
Dr. Sidor is quadruple board certified in psychiatry, with vast clinical, teaching, supervision, mentorship, and management experience. He also has extensive experience in public speaking, leadership, business, and research, in addition to a passion for program development and project management. His overall goal is to empower all health care professionals throughout the United States and globally, towards ensuring the continuity of excellent patient care, while balancing the need to take care of themselves. Dr. Sidor is the main instructor for the SWEET Institute, and he is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is also the Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer for CASES (Center for Alternative Sentencing and employment Services), and he speaks and writes fluently in six (6) languages—French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Creole and Italian.