Today, my life re-oriented itself and I am renewed in purpose. I had the enormous fortune to spend some time with a friend – one of those friends who is supportive but directive and says the really crucial stuff, sometimes the really hard stuff. It was the equivalent of someone taking me by the shoulders and saying “Look, what happened was painful and unexpected, and this path doesn’t get any easier. you need to learn how to apply some of your skills to yourself, to be more objective about your successes and setbacks, and recognize your value and purpose. you are prepared and skilled and talented and your heart is big enough – time to move forward again.”
And she’s right. What I’d forgotten, what my time at DOC had hacked away, is my desire to be of service. For almost two decades, the question that has driven me is “how can I best be of service?” I haven’t always known this question was pushing me onward, although the pattern of seeking some answer is obvious in my choices of education, career, and interests. And to be clear, I’m not entirely thrilled about having discovered the question. I’ve been fighting the knowledge for a while, wanting some acknowledgement for what I’d already done, the service I’d already given.
I was so tired, so exhausted, so beaten down by the endless need and casual, normalized brutality of the prison system that I couldn’t tolerate the thought of more service. I couldn’t tolerate giving more of myself and getting nothing in return. The final defeat was when I was being targeted by DOC. My employer never acknowledged my service, my value, or that they cared about my situation or me. That was crushing. To have worked for them for so long, doing such difficult work, and be pushed aside, so casually and thoughtlessly, was a terrible experience. My desire to serve was profoundly wounded, and I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself back into that arena.
Unfortunately, purpose doesn’t really work that way.
Even if my conscious mind couldn’t bear to think of being in service, the rest of me knew the deal. I focused on private industry, found a job, and all was well with the world. Until two weeks ago when, out of the blue, with no explanation, they let me go. I was thrown into the perpetual chaos, confusion, and uncertainty of looking for work, again, in a very tight market.
I was also faced, AGAIN, with the question of what did I want for myself, what kind of life did I want to live? Not once, but twice in a six month period I found myself asking the same round of questions, looking at the same batch of answers, and questioning my sanity. Why would this happen twice? Why would I be forced into this process twice, in such a short period of time? What the fuck was I supposed to learn? Sweet baby christmas, how much reflection was I supposed to do before the light came on?
Of course, I was far too close to see the answer, even though it was probably obvious to everyone else. Everything in my life is about being of service. Hell, every single idea I’ve had about starting my own business is based in service to others through education, creativity, or advocacy. My reading, my art, my writing, it’s all grounded in the desire to serve, to help others be the best they can.
I was hoping for a different answer. I tried to redirect my ambition in other directions, but it literally didn’t fit. My ego, my intellect, wants a bigger presence, accolades, acknowledgment, praise, the recognition I see going to others who do work I admire. But that’s not why they do the work and, ultimately, not why I will continue doing that work.
We do it because it’s who we are. We came here to serve, to be of service, to lift others and, in turn, be lifted. As Gandhi said “we find ourselves in service to others.” This clarity doesn’t mean my desire for recognition has magically disappeared, it just means it isn’t driving the bus anymore. I’ve found my north again.