When I was in college, I took up a higher psychology course for the mere purpose of filling in my required units for graduation. It was an innocent 3 hours a week that I did not expect to change the way I see the world.One of my favourite psychologists is this man named Rollo May. He’s an American psychologist who popularised the school of Existential Psychology. The idea was borne out of his personal hurdles, where he encountered life-changing situations that eventually led him to question his life in the face of death.
It never really occurred to me to question why I am where I am. Perhaps only during fleeting moments at night, when I would look back at the day that has been and start thinking about where the hours have gone. (Haven’t we all?) It was only recently that I started asking what my true purpose is, which, just like Rollo May, stemmed from personal hardships I’ve gone through.
I wouldn’t say I’m the only one who asks this unanswerable question. It’s in our nature to feel like we are valued, and that we belong somewhere. Even cows and horses experience immense stress when they get separated from their group — what more human beings when they feel that they are not part of a bigger scheme of things?
To be honest, our purpose is never clearly defined until we start to ask the question while finding our way around others. The realisation slowly sets in that it’s a big world full of other people once we start interacting with what’s around us. In that sense, we do not live for ourselves; we do not live today to die tomorrow without knowing others, going places, and being curious about new things.
I guess this is why I believe that my purpose lies greatly in relating to and helping other people.
Even explaining this part is difficult because it could mean different things to different people. Simply put, I do not believe that I am only living for myself. Yes, I have personal dreams and desires; I have concrete goals and I want to have my own family in the future. But to purely think about how I can achieve what’s in my world is such a myopic view. Isn’t that a waste of opportunity to become better in a larger sense?
It was never always like this for me. I can’t say when the exact moment was when realisations clicked and the world delivered a message that I’m not just in it for myself. I’m not here just for myself. Maybe this goes back to realising that there are other people who are also going through the same problems I have, or perhaps even worse things. (Studying in a Liberal Arts college practically forces you to look at how awful some kids have it in toy factories and civil wars.) I began asking, “how do they live?”, “are we really this cruel of a species?”, and, “aren’t we powerful enough to make choices for the betterment of everyone?” Questions like that earned me critical comments, such as me being idealistic or that I am too naive to the realities of the world.
But, on the contrary, I am very well aware of the realities of the world. I just never really heard a number of people talk that way or ask the same questions; instead wanting to settle with how the world works and leaving people to die from hunger, war, and poverty. As a social science degree holder, I can tell you that those are all happening and might continue to happen. But as a person who has gone through crises herself, I can also tell you that they don’t have to remain true; that everyone can make a difference, little by little, if they truly wanted to.
My purpose is to help people, whether it be realising that they can do what they put their mind into or acting onto that realisation of choosing to do what will make them feel of value. This purpose is quite romantic and a bit too grand for some, but I always think about how simple people like Rollo May, Jane Goodall, and Malala Yousafzai came from just living their lives but ended up influencing thousands of people to step up and do bigger things — do better things and help others do better too.
To me, true purpose lies on never being contented with themselves and with how the world works. Because if you simply accept where you are, there would never be questions of wanting to find out where we truly belong. It wouldn’t be such an intimidating concept to begin with. And if I can instil such a mindset to even just one person, inspire them to be courageous and find their way around the world on their own terms, then that is what purpose looks like for me.