The redemptive power of purpose
Our story begins with this picture, which was taken on Tuesday, May 8th at 5:00 p.m. in St. George, Utah:
Queen Karina and I had just returned from being away from our three daughters, ages twelve, ten, and eight, for sixteen days. They stayed with grandma and grandpa at our house while we travelled to Europe, both for business and pleasure.
After flying into Las Vegas, we arrived by shuttle to St. George, where we found them waiting for us at the shuttle station. We had seen some breathtaking, jaw-dropping sights on our trip. But none of them compare to this moment capturing our love and connection.
I’m not a perfect father by any means. But I love my family with all my heart. I have deliberately worked from home for my children’s whole lives. I have been there for every first: every first smile, every first giggle, every first step, every first lost tooth. My wife and children know to their bones that they are loved, accepted, and seen by me.
To help you understand the relevance of our family connection, let me provide some context.
I was raised number eleven of thirteen children. Angry father, dysfunctional family, toxic culture based on fear and shame. I spent my childhood years in a daze of pain and confusion. My teenage years were clouded by depression. I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life trying to make sense of and heal my emotional pain.
In this environment, I developed beliefs about myself.
- “No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be good enough.”
- “No one wants me.”
- “No one understands me.”
- “No one values what I have to offer.”
Money fights between my parents were common. I would say I grew up poor. But more accurately and importantly, I grew up believing we were poor. I was ashamed of my family and my upbringing.
My family shame runs deeper still, through generations. I had very little interaction with any of my grandparents. I have no sense of generational connectedness, let alone family pride.
I have spent my whole life trying to escape the pain, shame, fear, and toxicity I was born into. But I had no idea how deeply the shame of my upbringing ran until an experience I had while in Europe.
My business purpose for visiting Europe was to attend a three-day seminar of a client in order to gather content for a book. The seminar was held in a five-star, luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps. From my perspective, all the other thirteen participants were all high-income, well-accomplished people from high-class families.
I immediately felt out of place and insecure in the group.
On the second night we ate a nice communal dinner at a long table. Each participant had been asked to bring a small personal item and give a two-minute presentation on why it was meaningful to us.
While people were delivering their presentations, dinner was served by the staff. The main course was fish—easy enough for an uninitiated American like me to spear and shovel in my mouth.
But I watched how everyone around me ate it. They were all universal in their manners, which, between me and you, I found to be quite unnecessarily finicky. It seemed like a lot of wasted time and effort to me.
But I have a curious mind. So I reserved judgment and began asking questions of the gentlemen closest to me. I poked and prodded in a sincere effort to truly understand the ultimate meaning behind the social rules they operated by. Of course, those rules being such a natural part of their lives, they found it funny that I was even curious about something so “obvious.”
I felt in myself an underlying motive behind my questions. But it wasn’t quite clear to me.
It was revealed when the gentleman next to me shared his personal object. He removed his watch from his wrist. He shared that it had been given to him by his grandfather. As he shared his story, he revealed a life that is completely foreign to me.
His life was almost the complete opposite of mine. He was born into a healthy, loving, financially successful family going back generations. He was born into a sense of belonging, rootedness, pride, and family legacy.
And that’s when I started feeling the deep shame and insecurity underlying my curiosity about table manners. I was surrounded by people who had naturally been taught such things from a young age because of their family and upbringing, of which they could be proud.
And then it happened.
Just as I was really clueing into my deep shame, I turned in my chair to answer a question. As I turned, my hand accidentally struck my glass full of red wine.
The wine spilled all over the white tablecloth.
I was utterly mortified. Humiliated. I wanted to crawl under the table. But all I could do was sit there and stare at the huge purple stain.
In retrospect, I see how the stain was a piercing symbol of all my family pain and shame; generations of toxicity, shame, and dysfunction; my layers upon layers of subconscious beliefs about myself and my family.
We finished dinner. I retreated to my room. I laid in bed in the dark processing the experience and fell asleep.
The next morning I awoke with this simple, yet profoundly liberating realization: There is absolutely no hell I will not endure, no torment I will not suffer in order to experience the peace and connection I now feel with my wife and children.
And in seeing that, I immediately made peace with all my pain from the past. Knowing I am willing to do it all again to hold my newborn child in my arms, comfort a crying child with a skinned knee, share a sunset hand-in-hand with Karina, how can I possibly have any problem with anything that has happened to me?
I wasn’t born with this conscious willingness to endure a situation I didn’t choose — it was thrust upon me the moment I left the womb. As a child, I naturally fought it and wished my life could be different.
As an adult, this is the moment of redemption — the moment when we consciously and clearly see the ultimate cross we have been called to bear and accept it just as it is. We surrender to our suffering knowing it’s what we must endure to experience our joy and fulfillment. It is the Ultimate Surrender to Reality as it is.
In this surrender, our suffering is no longer a problem to solve or anything we’re trying to make go away.
In fact, we see the beauty and perfection in it because we see how our suffering has served humanity. I am a great father today precisely because of my painful experiences.
Our Ultimate Purpose is whatever brings us so much joy and fulfillment and serves other people so much that it’s worth whatever suffering we must endure to achieve it. Purpose is the tradeoff of the pain we endure to experience joy, the meaning we create by leveraging our suffering into service.
I’m curious if you know what that is for you. What moments in your life have been so meaningful and beautiful to you that you would endure any hell to experience them? What do you have today that has come at the cost of your suffering? What great purpose redeems your pain? What is your unique expression of transforming your personal suffering into service for humanity?
When we realize this, three things happen:
- Our purpose is revealed in the things in our life that are worth whatever suffering we’ve already endured.
- We are able to accept our suffering, and thus heal our wounds from the past.
- Because we have found the thing that makes the journey worth it, the thing for which we will live and die, we are motivated to move into our purpose with greater clarity, focus, and power.
If nothing in our lives so far has given us enough joy and fulfillment to accept our pain and suffering, then we get to create what that is.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl shares the story of an elderly gentlemen who came to him in a deep depression. His wife had died a couple years earlier and he was terribly lonely.
Frankl presented him with a question: “What would have happened if you had died first and your wife would have had to survive you?”
The man answered, “Oh, for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”
Frankl replied, “You see, such suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.”
The man said not a word but shook Frankl’s hand and walked out of his office. With one shift in his perspective, he now had a purpose to live for.
We make peace with our past by living our purpose in the present. Whatever hell we’ve endured can be redeemed in the simple acceptance that it has been worth it to make life better and more meaningful for others.
Tonight, three beautiful, precious little girls will fall asleep knowing they are loved. I have paid a price for their certainty. And it’s a price I’d pay over and over again. Because in their joy, my pain is redeemed, my purpose revealed.