I was born expecting the world to wipe my cute pink patootie.
As I aged, the master plan was for me to “grow up” (i.e. manage life on my own). Sure enough, I learned to clean up my own poop by Day 1,277, sleep all night without help by Day 3,650, and make my own edible meals by Day 5,110.
Emotionally though, I’ve clenched tight to “Hey, look at me!” well into Day 14,000. Browsing through Instagram, it’s easy to see I’m very good company. From new hairdos to funny kid tricks or the latest dream vacation, today’s world of “socially-adept” adults is really just a big bunch of babies. Please however make no mistake. I’m a proud card-carrying member myself most days.
For a long time, I believed travel was my personal panacea against self-aggrandizement, but that too was a joke. From the vibrant temples of Chiang Mai to the reverential mosques of Istanbul, I lumbered from one location to the next — filling up shallow bucket lists with nothing to show but an iPhone Camera Roll bloated with evidence of my “me first” approach to the world.
Two and a half years ago, however, things began to change when a question fluttered into my infantile brain and began pecking away incessantly. In the midst of selling everything we owned to move to France, I began questioning whether I was following “my true destiny” or merely leading my family of seven on a wild goose chase born of an approaching midlife. Again, it was 99% about me at the time.
“What was I born to do?” the question kept reverberating around in my head, but all I could discern was the echoing absence of a clear response. I wondered if others might have a better idea, so I began asking around.
What happened next continues to redefine how I perceive the world.
It started next door, with a neighbor that I’d seen daily for close to a decade. I knew his name was Scott. I knew his wife Kim. I even knew about his love for WWI history, gardening, music, and all dogs (with the exception of Pit Bulls). We had been “close” for many years, which is why I felt comfortable asking him first.
I cornered Scott on our sidewalk a week before we left town for good. “Scott, can I ask you a question?”
“You betcha,” Scott was forever ready to lend a hand.
“What were you born to do?” I wasted no time in releasing the bomb, anxiously watching for the reaction.
“Hrm…” Scott’s expression instantly changed, his gaze turning inward momentarily.
Then he spoke.
“I guess it depends n which stage of life you’re talking about. I continually find myself being reborn and redefined… not by my own design. When I was young, I was born was to obey my mother and father. Later on it became to provide for a family, even if at times I don’t know if I did it that well. That all changed again after my stroke left me unable to read and barely write.
The one thing I can say confidently is that most of my what I’ve done in life has involved trying to impress (my wife) Kim, which is hard to do because she’s so intelligent and a definite Southern belle.”
In less than 30 seconds Scott had transported me out of my body, making me an active spectator of what was core to his life experience, not mine. I left with the sensation of falling in love all over again, with Scott, with Kim, with the world at large.
I recognized in that moment that everyone I had ever met and would ever meet had their own story to tell. I’d simply never taken the time to care enough to ask.
I’ve been fortunate since that sunny summer afternoon with Scott. I’ve traveled near and far from home, asking friends and strangers “What were you born to do?” Sometimes the answer is visible instantly, like a well-established birthmark on the skin of the soul. At other times, the answer comes slowly and methodically, still slow cooking as it rolls off the tongue. One answer even took a year to come back to me, its profundity proof of the investment of time taken in personal interrogation.
I’ve started chronicling these inspiring answers from the people I meet and love, even if only for a moment on the sidewalk of life.
The question of “What were you born to do?” no longer gnaws on my tiny mind. Today, it’s my boarding card to better understanding the wealth of worlds outside my head. With every question asked, I come closer to better understanding where I’ve come from and where I’m going. For once, I hope the journey never ends.
It might have taken 14,197 days, but I‘m ready to start growing up.
So… “What were you born to do?”
Note: If you need some inspiration you’re not alone, click here.