(The Facing Project board)
Find purpose. Find community.
I get a lot of emails from students and recent grads who are struggling to find their way or going through a rough patch. The quarter-life crisis is real! I can relate to the struggle. I only began to discover my purpose when I was 25 and tracked down the guy who made my favorite shirt, Amilcar, in Honduras. (We’re still friends.)
I received such an email last month, and I thought I’d share my response with you. Maybe it will help you, or you could share it with someone who you think it will help.
I first shared this in my newsletter. Go ahead and subscribe already.
Here’s what I wrote to the struggling student:
Thanks for emailing. It means a lot.
I’m sorry that you are going through a time of struggle. Here’s what I know about struggle. Often our greatest struggles become our greatest sources of strength in helping others. So know that whenever you get through what you are going through, you will be uniquely suited to help others going through the same thing. I know that’s not an immediate solution to your present situation.
Any time that I’ve been down my view of the world tends to shrink, and soon I can only see my own problems. The bigger the problem, the closer to home the problem, the harder it is to see beyond the problem. We can shut ourselves off from the world. Loneliness and isolation prevail, making things just that much worse. All of this is our natural reaction, and one that we need to fight against, by serving others and embedding ourselves in a community.
I’ll give you a recent example in my own life.
Our pediatrician expressed concern that our son, Griffin, at the age of 15 months was autistic. Our world was turned upside down. We never knew what to do, where to go, who to talk to. Our pediatrician wasn’t much help beyond bringing up the initial concern. We had to wait 4 months to see a specialist. My wife was especially distressed and depressed by the news.
I had cofounded a community storytelling nonprofit called the Facing Project. We were looking for the next topic for a project. We chose autism. Through that project we told the stories of 20 folks in our community who had been right where we were. Organizing the project introduced us to so many people who are on Team Griffin today. We learned we could get a diagnosis at a local office instead of waiting months and driving 2 hours away, we could get plugged into a parent support group, we could connect with people who knew how to help us best help Griffin. Ultimately the project produced a book [download pdf for free] that has helped many other families across the country, but none probably more than it helped my family.
Here’s my point: Sometimes serving others is the most selfish thing we can do. It connects us to other people and it gives us purpose.
Here’s another thing that we did…we joined a CrossFit gym. I know that sounds like a silly thing. But this was especially important for my wife who had recently stopped working. It was important for her to get plugged into a community. I wrote a post about it for the Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelsey-timmerman/crossfit_b_4519961.html
I’m not saying sign up to do CrossFit, but I am saying find a community to plug into. Maybe that’s a nonprofit you volunteer for, maybe that’s an institution of faith, who knows.
To wrap this up: 1) As you’re facing your own problems find a way you can help others; 2) Plug into a community.
Hope that helps.
Thanks for writing and please don’t hesitate to write again,
If you have any questions for me, please email firstname.lastname@example.org