on finding your purpose

how many times have you examined your life and felt a gripping fear that you aren't living up to your full potential? that you aren't fulfilling your purpose?

i absolutely have/feel like it's consuming my thoughts almost constantly. this existential angst, this pounding scale that measures your worth, is a monster that grows as you feed it. the funny thing about fear is that it is fueled by you just as much is at fuels you.

maybe you're working a job that you're unhappy in. or you're in school without the faintest idea of what you'll do afterward. just a few years ago i was in both of these situations.

right after high school i started at a community college. i didn't know what i wanted to major in, so i thought this was a safe choice. as the semesters passed by, the options of careers weighed heavier and heavier on me. i was working in a hospital as a receptionist. i didn't hate this job, but i knew that it was only temporary for me.

working in a hospital opened my eyes to all of the career opportunities in health care. i decided to pursue a career in nursing. this was something i had never really considered for my life, but as america was going through a recession, my dad lost his business job, i felt that this was a safe option. the world will always need nurses, right? i started taking classes required for this degree and searching around for nursing schools in my area.

as i was taking steps toward this major, i felt this small whisper in my heart telling me this wasn't the right fit. i ignored it, kept moving forward, until so many roadblocks woke me up. i am terrified of blood. i have so many other passions. so i moved away from this career option.

i had been at community college for two years and knew it was time to transfer to a four-year college. all of this time i was at war within myself between practical/safe career vs. following my passion (a risky one). so i found a middle ground.

i have always loved writing & literature, so i thought that the smartest option would be to teach high school english. a noble career. i transferred to ohio state university (one of the nation's largest colleges). it was truly overwhelming. my classes were triple the size of the ones at columbus state, financial aid was complicated, and throughout my first semester, i felt like a number. now, many people i love have had incredible experiences here and at state colleges, but for some reason, things kept going wrong for me. similar to pursuing nursing, the roadblocks served as somewhat of a sign. maybe i should do something else.

and the thoughts of fulfilling my purpose grew into a crushing giant. i could hardly see straight. but i knew it was time to change.

to summarize the rest, i stumbled upon a smaller but reputable college in my city, transferred there, took teaching classes and eventually changed my degree to english language & literature. i knew teaching wasn't for me.

so there i was, cap and gown, my family cheering me on as i accepted my diploma. a long-awaited, hard earned, achievement. a step closer to finally resting in a nest made of my successes, dreams come to life, and feeling like my puzzle piece fits where it's supposed to.

and then that didn't happen. the next few months were some of the hardest i've experienced. my depression and anxiety came back with a vengeance. i didn't get the jobs that i wanted. and truth be told, it wasn't until a few months ago that i finally started feeling like i'm actually using my gifts and doing something i enjoy with my life.

all of these changes and choices over the years have only served to help me get to know myself a bit better. to experience things, to struggle with uncertainty, and realize that no matter what i do, i can't miss out on my "purpose."

i use quotations around this words because i believe it is somewhat mythical. at least in the way that it's a period at the end of a sentence. that you work hard and suffer and then all of a sudden your spirit is calm and resting in knowing that you've made it. you're done striving, you're floating in the warm sea without any more worries.

because here's the thing, i believe that the purpose of our existence is to struggle. in a sense.

to me, the definition of 'purpose' is less of serving like a tool, and more of serving like an organ in a body. 

a tool is created for a specific job. and when it does that job, you set it aside until you need it again. a tool can only do the thing it was made to do, and if it's not doing it, it's useless. i think a lot of people view their lives this way. if they choose the wrong city, the wrong college, the wrong job, they'll be useless.

but i see it as more of working your hardest to benefit the world around you. if the universe is a body, we're all microorganisms needed to keep it alive. we work hard at what comes naturally to us, what we enjoy (not necessarily your greatest passion), and it brings life to others, to the whole. so whether you're a cashier at a supermarket, a nanny, or a doctor, you're serving the greater good. you are not missing out.

my drive has always been to chase after working in a way that i feel will benefit the world best. for me, sitting in a cubicle for hours on end would only serve to crush the creativity in me, and i wouldn't be serving my 'purpose' as well.

so this is a rather long-winded bit of my life story. i strived for so many years to achieve this sense of peace in becoming the right tool, when all i really needed to focus on was loving & understanding myself, my gifts, my passions.

in conclusion, take care of yourself, love others, and your purpose will be found.


Listening to:

Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth (Wedding Version)


  1. Thank you for this, I love how you described purpose as helping others and the world around you. Your blog is so inspirational and you are certainly doing great things to help others with your writing and your poetry. I'm currently still studying and figuring out what I want to do in life- I guess I just want to be creative with my art and make people happy, or at least feel better. I'll just keep going until I realise what I want to do, hopefully something will come.

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  3. I got teary eyed while reading this, I graduated from high school with a safe plan, I thought I had everything figured it out, I got into the university I wanted, everything was going as planned. After the first semester I knew it wasn't for me, mom said I should give it another chance and I did; it took me two and a half years to say "enough", I dropped out of uni, having zero idea of what I wanted to do. I didn't know what I liked anymore so I got a "temporary" job, I'm actually here right now, but after another year and a half, after dark times, I guess I do have an idea of what I want now, if things work out I'll be starting at a community college next month, to be honest I'm terrified, just a few hours ago someone in my family told me she feels I'm going to fail again and after that fall I'll hopefully find my way, as I weren't scared enough...
    I don't know if this is going to stop the emptiness but I do know I gotta try, I really hope I float this time.

  4. It is crazy how i opened my inbox and saw that it was titled "finding purpose". this has been something i have been struggling with lately and desperately looking for answers, but this has really helped to clear my head and think straight. thank you so much for continuing to write these. trust me, you are helping people every time you do.

  5. In Russia much easier with higher education. Everyone has a chance to try to learn a profession for free and even get a scholarship. Oddly enough, in 17-18 years, who rarely chooses a purpose for his life. Specialty choose the parents for reasons of prestige, for example. But in our country everything is changing so fast... it seemed to Me that in 2002 I found a case of his life when I went to study in the Department of literature. But now, after 15 years, my profession, my job is not related with what I studied 6 years. It is again looking for a new, again the fear of the future, trying to gaining confidence in herself. Every year, each time harder to find their target. But.. You're right, it should be done. Thank you, Ashley for sharing your story. PS You are wonderful, really

  6. life is so funny. i'm a senior in college, set to graduate this coming May, without an inkling of what i want to do afterwards. earlier today i was looking at possible jobs to apply for, getting more and more frustrated with the feeling that nothing was really meant for me. your words are such a breath of fresh air and such a comfort. thank you for pushing through your struggles in order to get to a point where your words are now reaching people, like myself, who are in the exact position you used to be in. i'm so happy to hear you are feeling that sense of purpose now. your book has been on my list of things to order for a while now (college finances ugh) but I can't wait until i can read it! i have a feeling its a masterpiece.

  7. It's interesting that you posted this because this is something that I have been struggling with a lot lately. Anxiety has been through the roof and I feel lost. I went to university and graduated, only to go on to teachers college and graduate there. That whole experience was good for me: helping me be more comfortable around people and leading the class, but I still had a sense of dread neatly everyday that I went to the college. Now I'm not sure what my purpose or path really is but I feel like I've wasted money to get to where I am and am still not sure. Lately though I've found ways to be happy and experience joy, even though they are broken up by the feeling of uncertainty and fear of what comes next. Thanks for posting, Ashley!

  8. This was so timely. Thank you so much. <33333

  9. Ashley, this is literally what's been my biggest struggle, recently. I'm about to transition into college and I have no real idea about what I'm going to do with my life. I just know that I can't not be creative and I can't not do something that helps people. I've just struggled with the idea of how to do both and what the heck God is doing that will pull them together. Because in my sight, there's only a few things I can see that make sense... And it's been hard for me to remember that God doesn't need to make sense of His plan for this, to me. And so I guess I just want to say how nice it is to hear that someone else was in the same boat. I don't know anyone who truly understands me on this level. It's nice to know a specific someone has felt the things I'm feeling too. It's a lot easier than having to imagine someone who understands.

  10. Thank you for this, Ashley. This has been something I've been struggling with for a few years. Soon, I will be done with community college and it will be time for me to transfer. I graduated from high school, unsure of what I wanted to study so I just went with General Studies in hopes that something would stick out to me. I love being creative in art and writing, but I'm scared it won't be reliable enough for me, and often fear I need to pick a safer career. On top of that, I am not happy where I live and part of me wants to transfer to a university somewhere else, but what if it's not the right place either? I feel unsteady about my future, but this post has helped me feel less alone and understand that things might not work out right away, but it will be okay.

  11. i love that both you and your brother/his band focus so much on finding your purpose and finding something in your life that makes you happy :) you have really inspired me and i am eternally grateful for that.

  12. i recently went through a change in major as well. i thought i wanted to study psychology and become a therapist because i thought it was the best way i could help people. i finally realized it really wasn't for me. understanding the brain and why people do things they way they do is interesting but it definitely isn't something i'm passionate about. i'm passionate about writing and i have always been scared that i couldn't be a good writer or even compare to other writers. i've been telling myself for so long that i can't do the things i like to do. that i am not good enough. in fact i hadn't been writing even though it was something i have been passionate about. i've been working on writing more. i'm switching my major to english. i'm thinking of going into publishing and helping people get their work published. it's been a scary change but also this huge relief.

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