“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” - Dalai Lama
Do you wake up with purpose every day? What does having purpose mean to you?
For some people, having purpose simply means having something to look forward to each day. For others, having purpose means having one big life mission or goal to accomplish.
Your life purpose can be inspired by a life event. For example, if your mother had passed away from breast cancer when you were young, you might want to become a doctor who works with breast cancer patients. Or, instead of becoming a doctor, you may make it your life purpose to help find a cure for cancer by pursuing a profession in research.
Your life purpose may be inspired by family tradition. If you were born into a family tradition of law enforcement or military service, you might have made it your goal to get into the police academy or enlist in the same military branch. Your life purpose is to protect and to serve your community or nation.
Your life purpose can be inspired by your life experience. A traumatic experience might have left you feeling alone, lost, or abused. As a result, you might feel you need a reason to keep going or to find new meaning in your life. You might choose to repurpose your pain by helping others. Therefore, your new life’s mission may be to heal others as a licensed counselor or therapist, or maybe you chose a spiritual path. Your life purpose may be to pursue a faith-based career as a pastor.
Ultimately, you define what purpose means to you. Purpose can mean having a reason to get up in the morning or a goal you’ve always wanted to accomplish. Either way, it is not just about having purpose. For some, it is also about feeling your life serves a special purpose or meaning.
Having purpose doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. You are also not limited to one commitment for life. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all life purpose. Your direction can change as you change or as your life unfolds with new experiences and beginnings. Therefore, your purpose can change over time.
I have always had a passion for helping others. Therefore, I pursued jobs where my purpose was to help people. In fact, many positions I’ve held were in the health industry, where I worked one-on-one with people to improve their well-being. But, even in non-health sectors, my purpose was to be of service.
But, of all the job experiences I’ve had, I learned the most about purpose while working with the elderly in a senior living community. I learned that many residents felt lost, confused, angry, and hurt. They felt abandoned, unwanted, unloved, and forgotten. Some even felt they were being punished for getting old or for being “no good” at doing anything anymore. In fact, most suffered with anxiety and depression.
But, these amazing people had led full lives. Before moving in, their lives were rich with meaning and purpose. They spent decades raising their children, leading successful careers, climbing corporate ladders, taking care of others, celebrating family memories, traveling the world, and simply loving life.
Then, all of a sudden, they felt like it was all gone. Some really felt like it was the end of the world. Some believed their lives were over the minute they crossed the threshold into their new forever home, which was now dictated by nurse-enforced medication management rounds, weekly housekeeping, and three square meals served daily in the community dining room. They felt like cattle, rounded up and herded from one meal to the next.
Many surrendered, believing there was nothing left for them to live for. Now, their minds couldn’t remember, their legs couldn’t walk, their hands couldn’t cook or clean the house, their eyes couldn’t focus on the road, and their fingers couldn’t paint, draw, sew, or knit like they did before. They felt like there was nothing left to do if they couldn’t do it well or because they’ve done it all before. Some felt like there was nothing left to live for because nothing else mattered if they didn’t have their loved ones near.
This was the challenge I accepted for four years. For four years, I made it my purpose to help those who wanted to be helped. I made it my mission to give these residents a reason to get up every morning and to live life to the fullest every day. In doing so, I helped the elderly discover new passions and find new purpose, even in the last chapters of their lives.
By using my aloha approach, I made it my goal to help them feel safe, feel heard, feel loved, and feel like they mattered every day. And, it worked. They were inspired, motivated, and empowered to live their best lives again.
Together, we learned new things or we learned things we already knew in a new way. We made each other laugh by telling jokes. We shared stories from yesterday, created new memories from today, and dreamed out loud about tomorrow. We used each other’s eyes and hands to create new, beautiful things together, from arts and crafts to floral bouquets and music. We learned how to move in new ways and to push ourselves to be our very best. We played games and relished in the feeling of winning. We went on adventures, seeing things we've never seen, going places we've never been, and meeting people we've never met. We saw the world as it always was and we saw it with fresh eyes at the same time. We learned how to encourage each other and bring out the best in each other. But, most of all, we made new connections. We forged new friendships. And, we created a new family out of a community of people from different walks of life.
Together, our purpose became to love without boundaries and to be happy with who we are, where we are, and what we have. We learned to love ourselves, accept ourselves, believe in ourselves, have compassion for ourselves, and to have courage and confidence again.
Knowing how precious life was, we saw every day as an opportunity to make it our best. And, how quickly they became my family. In fact, while losing a resident never got easy for me, they had bravely accepted death as part of their new frontier. This experience quickly taught me that today is all we have. No one is promised tomorrow.
My experience working with the elderly proved that being loving, kind, and compassionate can bridge the gap in age, gender, education, skills, talents, experiences, and cultures. I worked with residents on the full spectrum of memory loss, physical ability, and cognitive ability all at the same time. I had to manage tough personalities and people who didn't always have the patience, tolerance, or compassion to be around those who were mentally declining. I even had to teach manners and respect all over again. I taught love.
Together, we learned love knows no boundaries. Instead, it teaches us to move forward and aim higher. It teaches us we can start over or start again. It teaches that we have more similarities than differences.
Finally, it teaches us that we all have something to offer to the world. We can always offer kindness. In that, my residents found and felt they had purpose again. The learned that love always has purpose. It teaches that we all have life purpose no matter what our circumstances. The purpose of life is love.
No matter what you choose to pursue as a vocation, my Pineapple, your life will always serve a purpose. Your purpose is to be happy, to love, and to be loved.
Live, Love, and Lead with Aloha.