I believe in God-given purpose. That each of us is tasked with carrying out a pre-ordained mission during our limited time on this earth. But purpose isn’t something that exists out there in the ether that one needs to discover. Rather it’s that thing one already does with such joy and automation that it is a part of who she is, and “finding” ones purpose is simply a matter of calling that thing what it is.
For me, identifying my purpose involved making the galactic and frightening leap from being a well-compensated corporate attorney to a semi-broke, aspiring television writer.
As a kid, I enjoyed writing short stories about my friends and me then binding them into books using the stapler my mom stole from her office. I also gobbled up enough television to rot the average developing child’s brain. As I grew older, the only things that changed about my interests was that my writing now appeared in publications rather than a dusty shoe box under my canopy bed, and a brave new world of the DVR opened up, allowing me to time-shift my tv viewing and to rewatch my favorite shows to the point that I memorized story lines and dialogue, and learned the characters so intimately that they became like close, personal friends. My actual close, personal friends thought that I was completely crazy. I knew because when I’d reveal how may times I’d watched each episode of all five seasons of The Wire, they’d respond, “Wow – that’s crazy.” But instead of recognizing this fanatical interest as an indication of my purpose, I shoved it down and I became a lawyer instead.
I’d always been told I’d make a good lawyer. I was smart, argumentative and always had to be rightóthree qualities people inaccurately associate with a successful attorney. And for the first few years of practice, I did well. But there was one inciting incident that brought things into focus for me very quickly. One afternoon, I was talking to a partner with whom I had a great working relationship and whom I liked personally (He watched The Wire too). He was eager to tell me about his recent court victory he’d had before a rather disagreeable judge in a case we were working on together. As he launched into the story, his eyes dilated; his speech grew rapid like gunfire; and he began gesticulating wildly. Yet for as excited as he became, the story had the opposite effects on me. I simply drifted away. Tuned out. And it was in the moment that I knew I had to go.
This partner had clearly found his purpose. I needed to find mine. I needed to find the thing that made my eyes dilated; my speech quicken; and that made me flail my arms like a banshee. There were only two things that did that: writing and television. I knew that I had to do for other people what the writers of Six Feet Under — who made me feel so closely connected to Nate, whose free-spiritedness was contrasted by his frustrated quest for meaning in his life — did for me. I had to be able to make people bite their nails down to the nub the way the writers of Breaking Bad did for me when The Salamanca Brothers lay-in-wait in Walter White’s bedroom, ready to wield an axe and avenge their cousin, Tuco’s, death.
Writing is exceptionally hard. It taxes the mind and spirit in ways unimaginable to most people. But it is the one thing that, despite its challenges, I would do for the rest of my life, without complaint. I know that in writing I have found the one thing that, as T.D. Jakes once said, “makes me feel like God blew his breath through my body when I do it.” It is, indeed, my purpose.