What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of situation would you like?
When I was about 7, we did a project at school where we were asked to draw 4 things we wanted to be when we grew up. In no particular order, I chose artist, author, fashion designer, and teacher.
The latter was motivated by my parents’ teaching jobs, and the lifestyle in which I grew up. They had steady incomes, stable work hours, nighttime complaints about unruly children, and unrulier parents, overflowing gift-baskets at the end of the school year, and 2 months of summer holiday, the envy of my friends’ parents. It seemed like a pretty good deal. However, from first-hand experience later on in my life, I’d swiftly learn that teaching was definitely not my true calling. It’s indicative, though, of how much our immediate family role models can influence our future choices.
Perhaps a testament to the power of our childhood dreams, I still remember these 4 drawings quite clearly. My fashion career was rendered in crayon, by way of a purple and yellow polka dotted bikini. All of the vision and heart that 2-D bikini held! Made with care and eagerness, these haphazard illustrations captured my 7 year old self’s genuine desires for the future. This feeling of possibility can still exist throughout our whole lives if we make the effort to listen to, and live, our hearts’ intentions.
During high school, I still harbored dreams of design. Making sketches of dresses, hats, and catwalks, I played around with possible brand-names, and thought of models who would work best with my style. As I grew older, my interests in gender studies increased, exposing the unhealthy reality of this superficial industry, and quickly dispelling the romantic illusions I’d previously been under. Fashion, I decided, was not the life for me.
These days, I usually introduce myself to new friends as a visual artist and photographer. Though I’m aware that I perhaps haven’t experienced the same long list of professional accomplishments that many of my peers have, I nevertheless feel confident about this self-designation. Drawing, photography, painting, and other modes of creative expression are so vital to my well-being that I can’t think of any truer title with which to describe myself. To my mind, I am a visual artist simply by virtue of the fact that I’m driven to constantly produce artwork in order to understand myself better and experience life more fully.
Do I make a living from this? Not exactly! I’m not alone here, though. Many artists choose to take up other jobs in order to fund their artwork and creative purpose. While this may sound unappealing on the surface, there are actually many advantages to keeping our passions separate from our money matters, such as an increase in creative freedom. Flexibility and outside-the-box problem-solving are important qualities for us to embody when we’re on our path to finding, and living, our life’s purpose.
Finding your purpose
More recently, I was re-introduced to the fun topic of finding your purpose through one of my favorite writers, Maria Popova, and her wonderful website, Brainpickings. She often speaks about doing what you love, and references inspiring ideas from other revolutionary thinkers on this relevant subject, such as Steve Jobs, who pointedly encourages us to live our hearts:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
While not everyone’s purpose involves change-making on a global scale, often our true passions still tie in with helping others to live better. Whether we express ourselves through art, music, entrepreneurship, or science, finding a way to integrate other people into our purpose will likely increase our fulfillment. Finding a purpose that goes beyond ourselves can also help to provide us with motivation through challenging times.
“We partnered with charity: water so that each time a Soma filter shows up on your doorstep, we donate a portion of the proceeds to fund clean water projects around the world. To date, charity: water has funded almost 9,000 water projects in 20 countries, providing 3 million people with clean drinking water.”
Mike knew that creating an innovative, eco-friendly water filter would not be enough to give him the sense of purpose he truly yearned for. By aiming bigger, and aspiring to help people around the world with a single product, he is extending his reach beyond the norm. From this, he is not only giving more to the community at large, but he is also getting more back on a personal level. This sense of purpose helps to drive the Soma team further, to do their very best even when times are difficult. When our purpose impacts other people positively, we are more inclined to go beyond our usual limits.
Being the light
Some people are born revolutionaries, and not necessarily in the take-to-the-streets and cause-a-ruckus sort of way. I’m constantly inspired by the people I meet who are truly putting their money where their heart is, like Mike, who dug deep to discover his calling, and like another woman currently making waves of global change.
Alezandra Russell is also a talented entrepreneur whose life drastically shifted gears after a visit to Thailand. This amazing Latin-American woman began making seismic shifts in our world when she founded Urban Light, a charity devoted to helping prevent and deal with the current consequences of sex work and trafficking occurring among Thai boys in the country’s northern city of Chiang Mai.
Only a few years ago, Alezandra was living a posh life in Washington, DC, with a great job and bank account to match. Happy living the ‘good life’ with her husband and friends in America, a trip to Thailand would soon change the course of Alex’s life forever.
Here in Chiang Mai, she was introduced to the horrifying truth happening to young Thai boys aged 14 – 21, from poor villages and broken homes: inside the city’s many boy bars, they were being used for sex by male sex tourists from the West. Alezandra realized that not only was there no one to help these boys, but there was also a disturbingly loud silence surrounding the issue: no one was willing to talk about it. It was through her pressing need to speak the boys’ truth that Alezandra found her life’s purpose.
Her background in social work laid a solid foundation for the next steps she took in making her dream happen. Quitting her fantastic job and easy lifestyle, she packed her bags and headed to Chiang Mai to starting building her vision of creating a safe space for these boys who truly had no one else, and preventing others from falling into the same ugly trap. Her choice to spend half of her time in Thailand, creating an NGO, meant living on a tight budget in a brand new culture, while fundraising during every moment of her time back home in the US. It also meant convincing others that this was a topic worthy not only of their attention, but of their money too.
Urban Light is now making waves worldwide, due to Alezandra’s tireless devotion to her cause and improving the lives of the UL boys. Having visited Urban Light, and spent time with the boys, I can tell you first-hand that this work is vital to the well-being of these boys, and to the future generations who are being introduced to sex-work at far too young an age, with no other options for recourse.
Boys cannot be baht
I was shocked to hear Alezandra tell me the facts about this tragic situation. Unfortunately, the topics of male sex work and trafficking, as well as male sexual abuse, are extremely stigmatized in both the West and East. Alex has made it part of her life’s mission to raise awareness about these taboo subject matters and works non-stop to create a safe environment for the boys.
Urban Light offers daily activities for the boys, including English lessons, job search skills, cooking classes, and education on health and safe-sex practices. There are also fun weekend outings, and safe people for the boys to talk to about their difficult situations. It has become a safe haven for the boys, who often come from sleeping on the streets and being at the mercy of earning money for their families and themselves from nightly sex work. The differences Alex has made in their lives is innumerable; and the possibility for future change, infinite.
The lesson that I take away from Mike and Alezandra’s respective stories is simple, yet wholly profound: by following our hearts, we can find our purpose, and create change in the world in a way that no one else can. Creating ripple effects that help the world over, we can each make our mark from our unique talents and passions, and use them to drive our decisions. Dedicating ourselves to our higher purpose brings personal reward like no other.
Through hard work and big dreams, these two are role models who are creating positive change for us all. As Mike reminds us:
“You should be disciplined in figuring out your life purpose. The greatest thinkers ever have written down their wisdom for thousands of years. You should probably stop watching TV and surfing the Internet, and start listening to that stuff.”
What would you do if money were no object?
This is the question posed by philosopher Alan Watts, encouraging us to dig deeper and find our true passion in life. I love this question because it really lets us discover how we feel and what we really want. I’ve asked myself this more times than I can count, because I find it always helps me get down to my true essence. Separate from mundane logistics, such as money, and also from old stories I might be telling myself about what I can or can’t have, do, or be: what do I really want out of life?
My answer to this questions differs depending on the day. My dream of fashion design never actually died; it’s something I still want to follow at some point. Motorcycling around the world is another dream, though I first need to obtain my license for that one to happen! Writing a book, making a documentary film, and doing more photography all feature prominently in my future desires. How will I merge these together to create positive change and help others? I don’t have those answers yet, but I do know that looking into my heart and being honest with where my true passions lie are really good beginnings to discovering my true purpose.
When we listen to our deepest desires, we start to feel connected to causes and passions that might be far away from where we’re currently living, or from what we’re doing at the moment. By continuing to explore the world, and seeking new connections with people, information, and places, we are that much more likely to stumble upon our life’s purpose. Dedicating our talent and energy to a cause dear to our hearts is one of life’s most rewarding experiences.
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.
-Henry David Thoreau