I recall their words as I told them I was leaving architecture. The plan was to invest my time fully into my nonprofit – and more broadly, into serving people. But this choice came with sacrifices. I would have to surrender security in the process, leaving a healthy salary for zero income. Furthermore, I was leaving a settled career path for an ambiguous new venture.
Some on my own staff doubted the decision. Even members of my own family questioned my choices. “Are you crazy? How will you sustain yourself? Isn’t this what you worked so hard for?”
To be honest, I understood their concern, and I asked myself many of the same questions. I had been pursuing architecture since I was a child, and I worked my ass off to land a great job in one of the best firms directly out of college. But when I got there, I realized it was just another job to me. Generally, I enjoyed the work, but it wasn’t my passion. I could see in the eyes of some of my colleagues that this is what they were born to do, that this was how they best served the world. I desired that same feeling, so I left.
Many boxed these decisions in with the onslaught of “frustrating” millennial tendencies. Trust me, we’ve heard it all. Some would argue that I wasn’t patient enough, or that I didn’t put in enough work. But I ask you, if the heart demands a change, should we not listen.
This doesn’t mean that the decisions that follow will come easily, or progress swiftly. If anything, it almost ensures the journey will be riddled with bigger, more pressing questions. Still, the choice is quite simple. So often we complicate the two, simplicity and ease. If you’re unhappy, you either make a change, or you don’t. The road itself, may be difficult and tiresome.
After all, when trial surfaces, so does doubt. I, for example, couldn’t find the right investments, and any public efforts of support I pursued fell flat. The sacrifices I’d made appeared to me as a monumental failure, and I was unclear what came next. As debt began stacking up, worry overwhelmed me. The negative voices grew louder and louder in my head as the weeks went on. “How will I pay my bills? Did I make a mistake? Is this going to limit my potential?”
Still, I knew this place of discomfort had meaning. An awareness bubbled up in me during that year in architecture, and I haven’t let go of it since. I had been focusing on the wrong questions. What I was seeking was not a wholesale destination, but a feeling of purpose. On the journey, this pathway through and out of architecture was not a misstep, but an essential piece to the larger puzzle. Without it, I would not be where I am today.
And so, I persisted. I was fiercely determined, even in doubt, that there was a place for me to fuse passion with profession. I trusted that simple decision to prioritize purpose, knowing there was a place for me where joy and wellbeing came first, and the great work I would contribute to was informed by these values. I affirmed myself that it was not selfish to demand both joy and security. We should all be able to build a life doing what we love; no one should have to pick one over the other.
A year and a half later, I found myself at Plenty. Plenty is a place where I feel my passions and my professional pursuits merge. Plenty is a place where I feel nurtured, and capable of living and working as my whole self. It is a blessing, and I feel so grateful to be here. That said, there is nothing accidental about where I am.
Few things came easy for me in the last couple of years, but I persisted. I lost six people who were near and dear to my heart during this time, but I persisted. I was almost evicted twice, but I persisted. I relocated to a new city and virtually doubled monthly expenses, but I persisted, because it felt right. I dealt with months of doubt, insecurity, and frustration, but I persisted.
I am here because I made a choice, and refused to give up, even when I most doubted myself. All of it – good and bad – brought me here, to this place of peace.
Now, I’m aware that this post comes with certain level of privilege. I’m young, I don’t have a family of my own, I have limited investments and only a few bills, respectively. But these limitations only go so far. I refuse to believe that one’s circumstances invalidates their opportunity for purpose. Some may have more barriers than others, but growth is always possible. If you’re living a life that doesn’t satisfy you, you are the sole author of the narrative you wish to rewrite. The book will not write itself, and others certainly won’t do it for you.
I mention all of this mostly to say, it is never too late to chase purpose. And there is no level of circumstance in which purpose cannot still breathe. If any of you are on a similar journey, I encourage you to reflect on your own path, on the choices you’ve made, and how they inform who you want to be. Should your days get tough, or you feel overwhelmed by darkness, I hope you’ll consider the following quick reminders – lessons I learned from my own journey to find purpose:
1. Find the balance between heart and mind.
The heart often gets a bad rep. It’s “too mushy” or “too soft.” But the truth is, the heart is wise. The heart has instinct, trust it. But be smart, patient and diligent in your work. Balance the guidance of heart with the strategy of mind.
2. Make a choice. Take a step in faith.
Simplicity and ease are not the same. The choice is surprisingly simple. Choose a new path, or don’t. Choose purpose, or don’t. But the journey is often difficult, riddled with doubt, worry, and insecurity. Do not fear the darkness, and take a step in faith. Believe in yourself and be confident in your steps. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “You don’t have to see what’s at the end of the staircase, just take the first step.”
3. Prioritize small moments of courage.
We often convince ourselves that purpose ought to come in monumental, seismic shifts. That one day we wake up, and everything has changed. But the reality is, it’s about small, daily acts of courage. Do what you can everyday to challenge yourself to be happier, more focused, more at peace. Take a walk. Have a real conversation with a friend. Do something you’ve never done before. Purpose (and all that comes with it) is nothing more than the collective product of our energies.
4. Find a reason to smile every day.
Echoing on the above, my grandfather once told me, “Find a reason to smile every night before you go to bed.” He said this to me a few weeks before he passed, and I’ve thought about it almost everyday. It’s true. When I seek worry, I find it. When I seek beauty, I find it. Seems to me it’s largely a matter of perspective. Choose joy, the rest will follow.
5. Do the things that matter to you.
This sounds simple and obvious, but it is actually quite hard. At each juncture, take the time necessary to prioritize what genuinely makes you happy. What fulfills you? What brings you to life? Challenge yourself, don’t just settle. This is a practice, and it takes time, as well as unending reminders. As Jim Carey says, “You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
6. Keep searching for purpose.
If I may lean into the obvious cliché here, purpose is not a place, but a process. Even in the places that feel purposeful (like Plenty), there will always be imperfections. Even the places that bring you joy will cause you to doubt. The pursuit of purpose never ends, nor should it. Stay vigilant, be honest with yourself and others, and keep pursuing your heart’s convictions.
To most, my idea was naïve. Leaving money for passion is not what we’re trained to do. For many, it’s an unnatural train of thought. We’re learned to survive, to compete, to claim success, to make money, to thrive. But what good is success if it’s hinged upon a wounded soul? Can one really thrive when they’re bored, vacant, unhappy?