BY GUEST WRITER, MIKE NUCKOLLS OF NEWCASTLE COUNSELING
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” ~ VICTOR FRANKL, EXISTENTIAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND AUTHOR OF MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING
I believe there is a crisis happening in our culture. I don’t have any data to back that up, though there may be some out there. I am sure it is a basic struggle of humanity and don’t know if it is more of a crisis now, as opposed to other times. All I know is that people are suffering from a crisis of purpose in their lives.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor and former professional minister, I have encountered people with all manner of issues: stress, depression, anxiety, anger, suicidal thoughts, relational problems, self-defeating/damaging behaviors, substance abuse. I could list more, but you get the point—there is a lot of bad stuff happening with people.
As a counselor, I believe that I don’t work with anyone I consider mentally ill. All of my clients, no matter which issue they face from the list above, are just regular people like myself. (Well, there are some who know me who might say that standard isn’t really that high.)
Several years ago, I started piecing together a theme I was hearing from all my clients, no matter their age, their gender, their income, their career, their race, their religion, or any other category. At the time, I called it a crisis of identity; people were just unsure of who they are and/or hiding who they are.
The more I have learned about and heard from people, I have decided the overarching crisis is having no sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. I say this because I have been there more than once in life myself and know what that does for your mental/physical health, social life, motivation, you name it. I also say this because people are starting to explicitly say, “I don’t have any purpose in life.” Some people just need it spelled out for them.
When writing this piece, I started reading about statistics on purpose in life, why people don’t discover their purpose, and all the benefits having a purpose can have. I quickly realized that not only was I bored to tears, but to my clients, and me for that matter, statistics and research about purpose are meaningless! Purpose is deeply personal and individualized.
So I will share my viewpoint on purpose and meaning in life in hopes that maybe it could help someone reading this to seek their own.
I decided some time back that a purpose in life does not come from a major revelation, is not necessarily tied to my career, is not some big thing for everyone to see, and probably will not come with accolades, awards, or praise. Instead, it is a result from the everyday things I do to make it purposeful.
When I was a school counselor, I was walking a second-grade student back to class one day when she looked up at me and said, “Thank you for helping me, Mr. Nuckolls.” And at the time I had become a little jaded in my work, but seven and a half years of my life became defined in that moment. I have a purpose.
A few years ago, I encountered an older man in the grocery store and for no reason I can recall a conversation just started. He talked a lot about his life and being alone after the death of his wife and ended it with a simple, “Nice talking with you.” I have a purpose.
I lamented in a recent sermon about how I, a Christian, could point to very few close non-Christian friends in my life. A number of people spoke, e-mailed, or called afterward to say they realized they were at the same place and needed to change as well. I have a purpose.
My five-year-old son frequently calls out, “Dad, will you spend time with me?” We sit on the floor, building all manner of things. I have a purpose.
There might be some grand purpose for me at some point in life. I want to get one of my books published, I’d love to make a living speaking to encourage people to better their lives, and owning a Ferrari would certainly do a lot for me.
For now, I have to get ready to go to lunch with my wife, which we seldom get to do, just the two of us. I have a purpose.