“Ripple Out,” A Calling of Purpose

10 Feb

???????????????????????????????Now as I have graduated, I am constantly in the mode of thinking about my role this larger world. One day I was nestled safely within the supervision of the University, a body that gave my life ongoing structure and, perhaps surprisingly, a strong sense of purpose. I was always needed for something– whether it was for classes, homework, or my extracurricular activities, someone always demanded my attention. As someone who classifies myself as a busy-body, having my attention be on demand at all times was equally comforting as it was stressful. Well, then the next day I graduated, and all of that structure dissipated immediately in front of me. While I was wildly excited about moving forward with my life, I nevertheless felt like my world dropped out from underneath me.

Through this process, what I struggled with the most was that the university was a container in which I could organize my life and and through which I could view the world. While I was a student, there were always clear goals set in front of me, and my actions were limited within the confines of the university’s standards. Take classes, get good grades, work part time, get engaged with student life– that was the call. And that was satisfying to me. Sure, I wanted to spread my wings and soar to the sun, but making the most of myself while living within the parameter of the university was a very comfortable space and life. Once I graduated, all of those confining features of the university fell away, and I found myself in the vast ocean called adulthood. Now, my goal is to support myself financially and hopefully simultaneously enjoy my job and find purpose within it, also hopefully finding meaningfulness in my personal life as well.

Yet as freeing as my disassociation from the university is, I find it astonishingly overwhelming. I am someone who looks out upon the world and finds myself moved by the joys and horrors of the world. Quite simply, I care. I care what happens to my fellow beings, and I care about what happens to this beautiful land on which we live. It is my conviction, then, that I do something in my life to leave this world a better place than I found it. I think about on a daily basis how I am living up to that conviction, always thinking about how I can make more of an impact on this broken world. I often measure myself by how much I do, not only from moment to moment, but in the larger scheme of things. This is an aspect of myself that I love dearly, but it can also be one of my greatest demons. Considering that this world will continue to be broken probably for eternity, I have given myself a taller order than I can ever achieve.

The challenge that was presented before me once I graduated from college was that suddenly I was no longer living in a world of restraints in the same way I had before. Because classes consumed my time and I was bound geographically to the university, I believed that there was only so much I could do to create an impact in society. [At least, this is what I taught myself to believe, although it perhaps was a comforting illusion]. I felt that college bought me time to learn and figure things out. Truly, I learned SO much in college, as I developed a new world view and a more solidified set of values by which to live my life. I promised myself that when I got out of college that I would make something of myself, and I believed then that by the time I graduated, I would know how to make something of myself.

It turns out, I don’t. Four years later, and I still don’t fully understand my place in this world, the role in which I can have the most positive impact. Not only that, but I am incredibly intimidated by the size of the world and the world’s problems. I am intimidated by the seeming limitlessness of possibilities and opportunities. And I am even more intimidated by the new set of restrictions on my life: make money so I can afford to live. Living up to my convictions to make the world a  better place in a meaningful way and having a salary at the same time seems like an insurmountable task at times, and it leaves me with a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism. I ask myself, where can I even begin? What is my first step forward? Where do I go? And will it even make a difference? Now laid out in front of me are not those easier and concrete goals like passing my classes. Laid out in front of me is that abstract and immeasurable goal of finding happiness and creating meaningfulness as a result of my occupation. It is a really scary proposition.

Yet recently I stumbled upon a thought that is wonderfully helpful and useful. I am reading this book right now, called Soul of a Citizen, which I recommend to everyone. The author, Paul Loeb, writes words of reason and inspiration not only for why we should get involved publicly, but more importantly how possible it is for us to do so. Loeb says that some of the most incredible social action occurs from people who are the most inconspicuous types of people, people who never imagined getting involved until they took their first baby step. Loeb also says that you never really know how your actions will inspire others. Often we believe we are the only ones who feel as we do about a certain issue, no matter how large or small. Many times, just the act of one person voicing their concerns illuminates the commonness of such concern amongst many others. As people begin to realize they are not alone, suddenly there opens up space for collective action.

This last concept was really potent to me, and the words that have been repeating in my head for the past two weeks are, “ripple out.” Struggling as I am to feel like I am making any substantial change in this world, sometimes I forget just how much our actions can have unforeseen consequences. I think of how many people have touched my life and have had a hand in my personal transformation. Many of them probably have no idea they have impacted me in irreversible ways. And I wonder, “Could I possibly impact as many people as have impacted me? Can I even begin to imagine how I have touched the lives of others in unseen ways?”

Thinking this thought was incredibly empowering. I never know how I influence others, and so I have an infinite ability to transform others’ lives, little by little. Perhaps by just me being me and me doing what I do, my thoughts, words, and actions can ripple out from me. Perhaps if I work hard to make myself the best person I can be– the most loving, vibrant, open, and compassionate person I can find within me– then I can help others do the same. I never know how I might impact another person, so every action I take or not, every time I decide to love or not, may be that thing that really alters the life someone else. That may seem like a big pressure to put on myself, but for me, it gives me a reason to strive. It gives me reason to do spiritual searching, to always seek to improve, to be healthy, to live through my values, and to raise my voice. Even in the face of such largeness in the world, the idea of “ripple out” is a call for me to not give into discouragement and never to overlook the small things.

So as I am growing accustomed to this life outside of the university, I am finding that creating meaningfulness in this world is possible in every moment. Making the world a better place is not necessarily encapsulated in that one moment when I will do something great. It is more encapsulated in each moment when I am choosing whom to be, how to act, and how to treat others and our Earth. I can choose in every moment to live deliberately, be honestly and truly, and always try my best. This way, maybe my heart will ripple out and do great things for this world.

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