“Ironically enough, when you make peace with the fact that the purpose of life is not happiness, but rather experience and growth, happiness comes as a natural byproduct. When you are not seeking it as the objective, it will find its way to you.” ~Unknown
I have always enjoyed helping others. Ever since I can remember, my empathic nature has led me to feel what others are feeling and to try and assist them to the best of my ability. Serving others has always been a point of pride for me.
I have built my entire life around the idea that my life serves a greater purpose in the universal machine. My suffering and the life experiences I’ve had are leading me toward a grand destination, where I can look back and finally make sense of everything that’s happened and feel fulfilled. I’ve held this belief for so long and internalized this message so deeply that to think of any alternatives seems insane.
Can I share a secret with you? I am terrified that I might be wrong about all of it. Maybe my life didn’t align to fulfill some sense of greater purpose. Maybe my experiences, good and bad, held no other significance other than to propel me forward into the unknown.
Nothing I have ever set out to do has worked out in the way I imagined it would. And now I am in my thirties, and I have no idea what I’m doing. What do you do when you have no sense of direction or purpose? Why has the universe left me this way? I’d like to share my story with you…
I joined the Air Force in my early twenties to get away from my small town. The military paid for my education, and I was able to start a career while I was young. I wasn’t excited about my career field in the slightest though. I was a communications officer, and I hated computers.
I wanted to connect with people and help them. I also wanted to assist my faith group in sponsoring the first Pagan chaplain in the Department of Defense. I asked the universe for guidance, and I received what I thought was an unequivocal ‘yes.’ So, I attended seminary and trained to become an ordained minister.
Fast forward several years, and my health changes after I give birth to my son. I can no longer serve on active duty, so I decide to change goals to become a chaplain for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. I serve two years in two separate VA hospitals as a student chaplain; supporting people in crisis, teaching groups, learning about mental health care, and serving veterans of all walks of life. I apply to many chaplain jobs within the VA, and none of them work out.
My family and I relocate several times. I apply to chaplain jobs wherever we go, and nothing works out. It is now two years after I finished my time at the VA hospitals. I ask the universe for guidance again, completely stumped as to why my efforts to be a chaplain have not panned out despite my best efforts.
I hear about life coaching, and research acquiring a life coaching certification. The skills are similar to what a chaplain does, and if I start my own business, I can focus on a specific population to serve. In my time at the hospitals, I have realized I connect with and love helping veterans. I create my own coaching business aimed at helping veterans with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A year goes by. I have attended business seminars, marketing classes, hired my own coach as a mentor, and created all of my social media accounts and a website. I put out content and throw myself into networking with non-profits and influential people. I end up with one paying client and I am burnt out emotionally and professionally after nine months of consistent effort.
My emotional health starts to deteriorate. I feel dejected, useless, and I feel like a failure. I am so good at helping people when given the chance, but it feels like the universe is conspiring against me. In other words, I have internalized the notion that my self-worth is dependent on what I can do for others rather than my inherent worth.
Where did this come from? Why do I feel this way? I sit down and unpack this. I realize after some reflection that my tendencies to want to help everyone else is deeply rooted in the idea that I am not worthy. Many times throughout my life I was unwanted and abandoned (I have a history of abuse), and that sets up a shame spiral within me that I have perpetuated by my need to feel loved and wanted.
I feel if I am not serving some purpose, or giving to others in some way, then I am not fulfilling my duty in life and I am worth nothing. How many of us can relate to these feelings? And what can we do about them?
I had a heart-to-heart with my friend about this, and she made me realize several things. How do we truly know what the purpose of our life is? How do we know we weren’t meant to be kind to one person, or to step in at the right time to say something and then our lives are complete to be enjoyed till the end of our days? Do we really know what life is about, or is it a complex web of experiences and feelings with no designated plan?
I’ve given thought to these questions, and I find comfort in the answers I find in the little things: Coffee in the morning on my back porch. Helping my son with his homework. Cooking a nutritious meal for my family. Having a conversation with a friend when they are in need of support.
I have to be intentional about not letting my mind wander to the “what if?” and “am I doing enough?” narratives in my head and take each day as it comes with what I can do in the now.
I am slowly warming up to the realization that my worth is not dependent on what I do for people. My only responsibility is to live my life to the best of my ability, with experiences and personal growth being my primary focus. I don’t actually know if my life has a grand purpose, and for now that is okay. I find meaning in the little things.
About Tiffany Andes
Tiffany Andes is a wife, mother, and life coach. As an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force—her career spanned several fields including Network Administration, Military Funeral Honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and Executive Support for the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Joint Chiefs of Staff. She owns and operates Indomitus Life Coaching, helping veterans who have suffered from trauma, PTSD, substance abuse, and similar challenges to take back control of their lives.