Discovering Purpose in Life

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Part 1- Navigating Life After High School

A young friend contacted me yesterday and he was struggling with what career to pursue next. He had tried HVAC and he is 20 years old. I could feel his pain, I was there. But now I would like to help. Let me share with you some things that went well … and not so well… when I was 20. My hope is to help my friend… and you, dear reader …. arrive at a place in life much sooner than I did, with a career/purpose that fits who you are, and a desire to be involved in society and help others as well. Some things that started for me in college have been useful to me later, like now, when I am 63 and the organizer of Serve Tucson.

What did go well for me after high school. 

     I did learn how to work, and by that I mean physically. I had a summer job cleaning up trash at Six Flags Over Mid America outside St Louis. It was a horrible low paying job, in the heat. But I decided somehow that I was going to beat this job. And I got an award and scholarship money for my hard work. This new habit of working hard has helped me ever since.

     I developed skill at something, I was a good pool player. Being good at anything is good, because it gives you some confidence that can help you in other areas of your life. And it develops particular skills. In playing pool, solving the problem of how to run the table in one turn is complicated and requires creativity and risk taking. With that has come a skill to see creative patterns and connect dots, allowing me to see new solutions to problems and make educated guesses about the future.

     I started asking bigger questions. I was being railroaded down the path of the American Dream. I was going to marry my college girlfriend, become an engineer and live happily ever after in suburbia. But before my senior year, out of nowhere, something within me surged, as I felt something was missing. Is this all there is? What is the purpose of life? These questions catapulted me onto a path of seeking answers, adventure, and trying new ideas.

What didn’t go well for me in college   

  I had a social weakness, I was too much of a people-pleaser. That led me to want to be accepted by others and be cool so to speak. So without a solid enough identity in who I was and where I was going in life, I succumbed into partying, drinking and smoking pot. It’s all fun once in a while on weekends, but becomes a problem if you have an empty void inside, and develops into an addiction, which it did for me. This nagging pot smoking problem hindered my life for 10 more years, ugh!

     Family issues. My parents helped me a lot growing up to become educated and sporty while providing food and shelter, For that I am thankful. But they had their own struggles and therefore lacked showing tenderness and intimacy, which left me with that void. I didn’t know it at the time, as it just seemed normal. My dad also didn’t like his job, so he demonstrated by his example that work was only to pay the bills and have the weekends free. That left me without any direction or motivation as I entered college. So I was only guessing about careers. I was good in Math, so I got pushed into engineering, and I only worked in it a whole 6 months after graduating. 

     A deeper struggle related to that, was a lack of purpose in life and lack of commitment to anything. I was carried away by the selfishness and rebellion of the 70’s culture. And that over emphasized independence and freedom, which left commitment, especially to a potential wife, as something scary or extremely limiting. Plus I was exposed to lots of lousy or boring marriages growing up. Experiencing problems growing up can leave you angry at parents, at society and even at yourself, and feeling empty and lost. And you think independence and travel are the answer.

     How can you relate to what I shared? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How has your upbringing and culture formed who you are? What habits are you forming, for better or worse?

    After 40 years of struggling through life and arriving at a level of self awareness and usefulness to the community, I have some simple yet useful ideas to help others along their path. I am concerned about the state of society and believe that what we really need are more people involved. So that is my overall goal and wish for you. That you can learn some tools and ideas to guide you into discovering who you are designed to be and why you should use some of your skills and resources for the good of others. That usually includes finding a tolerable, or even enjoyable way to make a living along the way.

I break things down into three pieces. Others may organize their advice differently, but this is what has worked for me. With practice, experience and great stories, I have the authority and heart to share these with you.

 Foundations: As a young adult, I advise you to lay foundations that you can build upon for years to come. Some steps to take:

     Ask the bigger questions, like why we are here and what purpose is there? What do you believe about the nature of people? God? This world? You? Where did these ideas come from? How based in reality are your ideas? How well are things working? You could get stuck living for boring, temporary, empty, deceitful or selfish reasons unless you ask some questions.

     Attend to your spiritual and moral life. Who you are on the inside, in your heart and soul, will drive your decisions, speech and actions. Evaluate your attitudes, motives, thoughts, speech, actions, or lack of action from time to time. Experiment with reading scripture books, praying, and by practicing making decisions which are good, to yourself and others. When you struggle, realize that you need help, from God and others. Don’t be afraid to go there, as it is foundational to having true freedom in your life to be yourself and to care for others. You can’t give what you don’t have.

     Take action and experiment. You are young and full of energy, so get out and try new things. That is why we offer volunteering at Serve Tucson, simple ways to get involved and get moving. Begin to notice the little things in daily life, like someone needing help, or removing a piece of junk in the road that could cause an accident, or that nudge to call your aunt, etc… Practice doing the little things, to begin to care for your little world but also leaning into getting involved to help others and society.

       As you lay these foundations, you are adding key pieces to the puzzle of your life. I go further into where this will lead in future notes and videos. But for now, I share two more big stages and paradigm shifts that I suggest for the long term.

Begin living in a bigger world. One of the biggest faults I see all over, whether in social media battering or even someone pushing a shopping cart through a crowded store. People are living in too small of a world, mostly centered on themselves and their own little ideas or needs. We all need to relax and see ourselves as part of a bigger story, one that we can enter into and play a role… for good. So begin to practice giving space to others and observing ways to interact better with more people, places and ideas.

     Begin connecting more dots. I call it living in the flow. It’s a term that some university students gave for how I seem to live. I just seem to have good timing often and fun and crazy things happen. I believe that all of us can experience this to some level and be more interconnected and flow together… for good.

     Thanks for reading this and I trust that it is helpful as you ponder where you are going in life. Look for other posts and short videos where I develop these topics in more detail. If you are in Tucson, you could join us for a discussion group or volunteer project. Making personal in person contact is a key part of living in a bigger and connected world, where we can team up for good. Contact me for more information at, thank you!

2 Comments on “Discovering Purpose in Life”

  1. Thanks Mike!

    always good to get exposed to you and learn more about your passions.
    I’m forwarding to my (young) sons. 🙂

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