Over the past couple of years, there’s been one issue that has seemingly dominated my anxieties. Many nights I have laid in bed, my mind racing, trying to find a solution that seemingly never wanted to be found. I believed that there was no hope for me.
What was this particular life issue you may ask?
Trying to figure out what to do with my life.
For many people my age and younger, this is not an unfamiliar feeling. Before, during and after college, there is the constant question hanging over everyone: what the hell are you doing to do? And for those who choose other routes that do not include going to college, this theme remains (and in some ways is worse).
But this issue does not just affect young people. It can be a problem for anyone of any age. Finding purpose in life is not something that is taken lightly. Many people in a similar boat as me agonize over this mystery. And sometimes the agony is too much, and the thought of just giving up can become more appealing. When the path to our purpose is not clear, it’s easy to think that we don’t have one at all.
This was a persistent belief that I had during this confusing time in my life. Because my path was not straight and “perfect” like others’ seemed to be, I falsely believed that I didn’t have one in the first place. But little did I know, that was far from being the truth. My purpose was (and still is) there.
Growing up, I always dreamed about doing so many different things in my life. In kindergarten, I wanted to play for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. Later, I dreamed of working with whales and other creatures that called the world’s oceans home. That turned into me wanting to train dogs and be the next “Dog Whisperer” like Cesar Milan. During my freshman year of high school, I strived to become a famous artist. Sadly, those dreams were squashed by a demeaning art teacher who only wanted to criticize my work instead of offering any ways that I could improve it. So I decided to turn my focus to writing, and for the first time felt like I had a clear calling for my life. From that moment on, I thought that I had a one-way ticket to success and purpose.
Boy, was I wrong. Like, super wrong.
Going through college, I began to explore other interests that I never thought would speak to me. Photography captured my heart, giving me a new avenue to tell the kind of stories that I cared about, this time with pixels instead of words. Through it, I could share my unique perspective on how I saw the world. Filmmaking also gave me a similar sense of excitement, though I didn’t become quite as fond of editing as I did with other creative expressions.
Both my life in college and post-graduation were filled with many ups and downs. It’s not something new to the human experience, but it greatly affected the way I saw my potential path to purposeful living. I could only see the dim and gloomy aspects of life, making it nearly impossible to focus on what I needed to do to get my life together.
When you’re drowning in life’s sorrows and there’s no lifeboat in sight, fulfilling your purpose is not your primary life objective. Instead, you’re just trying to survive. And that was my life mission.
Survive…but not thrive.
During this time in my life, I greatly struggled with my mental health. Already plagued by not having a clear purpose, these struggles exacerbated my sorrows to the point where I didn’t think that I could live a good life.
Yes, I did have some major accomplishments in that people were telling me to be proud of. At 22, a little over a year after I graduated from college, I landed my first “grown up” job working for state government in communications and content creation. I had the opportunity to do several substantial photo jobs for photo clients who greatly appreciated my work and helped spread the word on my talent to others.
Blogging also came back in a major way, and this time I felt like with my newfound experiences I could have a more mature and authentic voice when sharing my story. And I got to travel to places that I never thought I would see. From driving across the country to the Pacific Ocean to flying off to the Caribbean island of Barbados, I was a new kind of adventurer.
On the surface, everything seemed to be going great. But inside, anxiety was taking control, leaving me with nothing but hopelessness. I desperately wanted—no, needed—to find my life’s purpose. Without it, I didn’t think that I could find any real joy, even among the good things that were happening. So I decided to go on a search to find out what the universe wanted me to do with my life. Here is what I discovered.
For most of my life, I knew that I wanted to be a helper. Whether it was helping people or animals (or both), I desired to make a positive change for someone else. I also knew that creativity and artistic expression needed to be a part of my life in order to feel fulfilled. My creative talents mainly came out in my writing and photography. But last year I rediscovered another another art form that I hadn’t practiced since I was a teen: Tai Chi. All three, in their own unique ways, allowed me to voice my narrative in a way that no one else could change.
So, I had my aspirations of wanting to help the world and be creative, but there was a piece missing that I still needed to find. I needed a mission of sorts—something that I could focus my passions on and work towards. It had to be deeply connected to my story and experiences—I wanted to have first-hand experience in the area, or I would feel like a fraud. In a way, the answer had been right in front of me for a long time. But the pain that could come along with it gave me some hesitation. However, through a major change in perspective, I was able to see it differently and accept the mission that was before me.
The third piece that I decided to focus on to find my purpose was mental health recovery. Because of my my lifelong struggles with the dark parts of my mind, I felt like I was a sort of expert on how to live with an illness that seemingly wants to ruin your life. But I had to learn to stop focusing solely on mental health diagnoses and the afflictions that can come with them. I needed to study up on recovery, so I made the decision to become a peer recovery supporter.
Luckily for me, my “grown up” job that I had happened to be the state agency that deals with mental health and addiction. Connecting with my coworkers led me to discover the world of peer support. Because I was a person with a lived experience of mental illness, I could be certified to share my story with others in order to help them and serve as their peer. I never knew that a position like this even existed before I joined the agency, and when I learned more about it, I thought that it could be another path that led me to my purpose. I was excited to give it a try, so last year I took part in trainings and classes, and eventually passed the exam. Earlier this year, I achieve the certification that I had worked so hard for. My purpose was becoming much clearer as time went on.
All of the ups and downs, interests and disinterests, and even many trials and errors over my life, has led me to this special point in my life. A week after my 25th birthday earlier this year, I registered a business name and got my LLC. River of Joy Studios is my new passion project that has allowed me to combine all that I have wanted to do I in life under one umbrella. Even though it is still a work in progress, RoJ Studios will allow me to use my passions for writing, photography, tai chi and peer support to help others find a way to recovery. Whether they are on a ‘traditional” mental health/substance use recovery path, or are just trying to find new ways to improve their lives, RoJ can be an online community that supports and inspires. It may not be my main job at the moment, but I am confident that with dedication and patience, everything will all come together. In a way, I see it as my destiny.
So if you’re like me and have struggled to find your purpose or what path to take your life on, I want to assure you to not worry too much. Take the time to explore and learn as much as you can about as much as you want to. Looking back on my life, I’ve found that by exploring new things, I was able to find my main passions that are driving a lot of my work right now. It was on a whim that I tried blogging, photography, and tai chi. Peer recovery support was something that I had never even heard of, but now it is such a vital part of my story.
The path to your purpose may not always be clear, but going along with the journey can take you to places you never even imagined you would go.
Everyone has a purpose. Please be patient with yourself as you find yours.
Photo by Cody King