May 2, 2015

Purpose: The Real Question and Answer

So what is your life’s purpose?

It was a question posed in a moderated discussion thrown out to a small group of three. Up until that point, we had been responding to questions in ways we thought would make us stand out as individuals.

Or at least I had been, truthfully.

The question clogged my thinking and stopped me in my tracks. As long as I could remember, I heard the perpetual question from my parents, well-meaning friends of my parents, teachers and guidance counselors: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Then when I became an adult (seriously, am I really an adult?), my own voice grated in my mind even when it appeared like I had it altogether: What don’t I want to do?

What I wanted to be as an adult had everything to do with career, money. What I didn’t want to do was a bar I’d set for making money in a said career.

Neither had anything to do with purpose.

But yet, there I was almost clocking in at the half-century mark with more years behind me than ahead, realizing I never had been asked, nor had I ever considered my life’s purpose.

Purpose is what people say about you when you’re gone.

What would people say about me, I thought. She was nice? That she paid her bills mostly on time? That she sent her kid to the best school she could? That she made sure a protein, a vegetable and a starch were in every dinner she prepared?

Really? That’s my purpose? Because that’s what I’ve aiming for in the past fifteen years.

Strange as it seems, all of that stirred in my thoughts in a split second. But then, in the next second, I knew. I knew my purpose, and I know I knew because the answer tumbled out naturally, almost as if I had forgotten my birthday for a blink of an eye and then remembered it.

I left the meeting twenty pounds lighter, refocused, redirected. The sky seemed bluer and the bursting little pods on the ends of springtime’s budding trees seemed sharper.

*  *  *  *

I’m a newbie co-producer of Milwaukee’s 2015 Listen to Your Mother Show, a nationwide production that gives people the chance to tell stories that reflect on motherhood through their eyes. The cast’s stories touched on motherhood’s sorrow, hilarity, confusion, longing, and some with raw honesty that made you shift uncomfortably.

They were there to tell their stories. It was their purpose for that day.

As a co-producer, I watched these people stride up to a mic, spotlight on them and them alone, gather their resolve and bravely tell their stories. I knew the audience not only received their words, but understood each person’s purpose because I could hear it in the silence, the laughter and the sniffles.

I thought about each person’s bravery and resolve in revealing themselves through their words -- all because their purpose was clear.

And I was inspired.
*  *  *  *

It’s relatively safe to choose what you want to do when you grow up. It’s just as safe to know what you don’t want to do once you’re doing whatever it is when you’re a grown-up.

Coming to understand your purpose on this earth and letting that purpose guide you is scary, almost like walking up to a microphone with nothing but you, the spotlight and your story reverberating into the darkness.

But the reverberations reach minds and touch hearts.

And I think that’s what your purpose does...once you know what it is.

Photo credit, Margaret Andrews of  Nanny Goats in Panties
from Sacramento's Listen to Your Mother Show 2014


  1. There is nothing I can add to this. You know where my heart is. Beautiful work, Rochelle. Thank you. LTYM, I, am lucky to know you and have you in our lives.