“Find what you were made for.”
This is the slogan for To Write Love on Her Arms National Suicide Prevention Week 2017 campaign. For myself, this week provides additional meaning as it coincides with the birthday of my close friend who took his life in 2014, a sacrifice that has forever inspired me to find my happiness.
Two years ago I packed my life into my Altima and drove cross-country from Connecticut in pursuit of a California dream. When I arrived at the University of California, Riverside, everything and I mean everything was different. For starters, Connecticut has four very colorful seasons, cold winters and humid summers. Riverside is in the desert -it’s quite hot- and only varies between different shades of brown. Another striking difference- the demographics of Southern California compared to Connecticut. To illustrate, UC Riverside is known for its commitment to underrepresented, first-generation students, leading to a student body that is among the most diverse in the country. In my position on campus as an admissions counselor, many of my colleagues and students I worked with also identified as underrepresented, first-generation students. Through our interactions I became more familiar with their challenges, challenges much different from those at the University of Connecticut.
- The transfer student who spent five years at community college paying class-by-class for the chance at a four year degree.
- The commuter student battling the worst traffic in the country twice a day because living at home is the only way college would be realistic.
- The daughter whose father took night classes while she was little to better help with her homework so she may graduate. A story you may already be familiar with.
“Happiness can only be found by identifying and striving to achieve meaningful purpose for one’s existence.”
-Jerry Hirsch (Lodestar Foundation), Barron’s list of high-impact givers.
Most impressive was that regardless of the individual circumstance or obstacle, these students were very happy. In most cases, I probably had more- money, experience, possessions- but they seemed to have the one thing I wanted, consistent happiness. As the months passed it became clear to me that the “what” – or adversity/obstacle – did not matter. The common theme I found with UCR students was the “why”- or purpose – and that made all the difference. Over the years I have worked with and observed all types of students from all types of backgrounds with all types of purposes. Though they are fighting an uphill battle, the students completing a degree with the motivation of creating a better life for their family are rich in purpose, and therefore, rich in happiness (generally speaking).
The unwavering commitment to education despite an uphill climb against the system invoked overwhelming feelings of guilt for a lack of effort into my own education, specifically the sacrifices I took for granted. Aside from education, at the crux of the issue was a recognition of a lack of accountability when I was at home- quick to place blame (usually on my family) instead of taking responsibility for my actions. This was certainly not part of the California dream I had envisioned, but the unexpected result from these realizations was that I stopped taking my life for granted. I stopped expecting a certain life to just happen to me and instead actively started creating the life I wanted for myself through a commitment to maintaining positive habits and accepting daily, incremental change as part of a long term goal. That goal? Treat others the way I would like to be treated. When I was finally honest with myself and identified my faults, change then became a commitment to correcting those faults hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Once I took the first step, my guilt transformed to motivation and happiness began to replace emptiness.
Recently I was able to attract a nice girl into my life as a direct result of my commitment to change. She has introduced a simplicity that I seem to have lost touch with through years of solo journeying- a simplicity that revolves around family, a simplicity that I would like to return to. I have not been the best son, the best brother or the best friend, but I would like to change that and I finally know where to start.
“Find what you were made for.”
My purpose when I moved to California was strictly adventure. This purpose had little meaning as my worldview at that point was formed exclusively from experiences growing up on the East Coast- valuable experiences but only one side of the story. However, after two years on the other side, my interactions and experiences in California merged with those from Connecticut and blended into an updated worldview that is more reflective of who I am and what I am looking for, a worldview I will continue to refine.
After a summer of deliberation, I decided to resign from UCR and return home to spend September with my family. I want a re-engagement in what matters most- relationships with family and friends- and I will work at it hour-by-hour, day-by-day until I am satisfied. Thus far I have been able to see my dad’s side of the family at a reunion on the Cape, bring flowers to my grandparents grave and make dinner for my parents. Simplicity. Life is too short to waste time and there is no better time to begin.
Looking forward, I have long understood an underlying purpose of mine is to make others’ lives easier- whether it be through large scale innovation or individual interactions, that story is yet to unfold. What I do know is when I am able to live out that purpose in some way, shape or form, that is when I am most happy. I have a rejuvenated appreciation for the sacrifice and work ethic it will take to reach my goals. I am ready to put in the work and I know how to get the job done. The process translates. Effort, concentration and persistence combined with purpose will lead to success. I am committed to the process, no matter how long it may take.
I don’t know where this journey will end up, but I do know it was meant to start at home.
In the meantime, if anyone has any leads, suggestions or recommendations, either short or long-term, I would be more than happy to hear them. I am planning a return to Southern California in October to pursue experiences in the Los Angeles area that will continue to push me out of my comfort zone.
If the key to happiness is living a meaningful purpose, I will continue to re-purpose until I find what I am made for. For those out there who feel stuck in any aspect of life, I believe in you to always find the courage to do the same.