purpose, career

In Pursuit of a Purpose

By Dr. Rob Douk

Why wasn’t I happy? I’d done what I was supposed to do. I took all the right classes, excelled in my internships, graduated with honors, and now I was earning a great salary at a big insurance firm. My bosses liked me—but when they offered me a promotion, I offered my resignation.

I finally recognized that I wasn’t cut out for this. It was a “good” living only if goodness is measured by gain. I wanted to help people, but I felt as if I was only helping the firm. I was a young man who wanted to conquer the world, but I felt conquered by the world. I’d been driving myself hard, but to where? I needed to find myself, and so I spent every lunch hour at the nearby Barnes & Noble, eating my sandwich while poring over self-help books.

Who was the authentic Rob Douk? I was aware that my passion was not just the world of business. I needed to somehow make it my business to help others. My problem was that I was not living my passion. In fact, I was ignoring it. I was not putting a purpose to that passion.

In trying to do all the right things, I’d done it all wrong. I was laboring at a job that did not fit me, trying to please my supervisors. I was aching for something else, and that had to be more than making a lot of money. I did not wish to be trapped. Young people often go deeply in debt when they get a great job, spending extravagantly. I kept my options open.

Until then, I’d thought that I knew who I was and where I was going, but I was, in truth, a young man frightened by the unknown. My thoughts turned to how my father must have felt in Cambodia as he cast his nets to the tide, secretly selling fish for the money he would need to bribe the enemy so that he and his family might escape. That young man knew that money mattered, but, unlike me, he knew why. Though my family struggled in this new land, we had been greatly blessed. It was time that I did my part to start giving back. I felt a rush of joy as I wrote my letter of resignation. Whatever I would do next, I was confident that it would be for good.

I still wanted to make a good living, so I began studying to get into MBA school, figuring that business would be the means by which I could help the most people. What I was missing was a definition. “Helping people” isn’t a purpose in life. I had no direction for my passion.

I began to ask questions of everyone who knew me well, including my parents, relatives, and friends. What am I good at? What do you see me doing for a career? When I was a kid, what seemed to come naturally for me? The questions had a common theme: What did they see as my passion and my purpose in life? They might see things about me that I could not see myself.

A particularly helpful suggestion came from my Aunt Sophea as we sat at my mother’s kitchen table. “You are really good with people,” she told me, “and you are a good listener. I’ve always seen how much you like to help people.” She paused, and then turned to look into my eyes: “I could see you being a psychologist.”

The seed was planted. That very evening, as I was doing some career research online, I read that many of the nation’s psychologists were baby boomers who soon would be retiring. I saw an opportunity that fit my nature, even though I didn’t yet know much about what psychologists did. I had assigned a purpose to my passion.

When you finally recognize and nurture a passion, it evolves into a purpose. It becomes a vocation that is satisfying to the soul. Every one of us needs to reflect on the timeline of life. Think about what you have done, what you have accomplished, and how it contributed toward building something greater. You must first come to understand yourself. You need to truly know who you are and what drives you.

Life is too short to languish in excuses and indecision. I do value my early experiences in the financial field. I gained essential skills and perspectives. I am grateful even for the frustrations that I faced then because they led me to the soul-searching that changed everything. I found my purpose. I would become Rob Douk, psychologist. I just needed to figure out how.

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