Did We Win? Finding Your Purpose

“Did we win?”

These were Damar Hamlin’s first words upon regaining consciousness after a cardiac arrest during the Buffalo Bills game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

They weren’t the first words he said (he wrote them), but they were his first communication.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl references this quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche and incorporates its message throughout the book and throughout the therapy he devised.

You may be wondering about the point. What do an NFL player and a German philosopher (as quoted by an Austrian psychiatrist) have to do with supporting your wellbeing during the practice of medicine?

Meaning and purpose.

In both of these examples, coping with traumatic situations became more feasible because of a strong connection with purpose.

This isn’t about toxic positivity and subsuming your needs. This is also not about someone else defining your meaning or purpose for you, or using your commitment to excuse deplorable working conditions. This is about you, of your own volition, reconnecting with purpose and meaning in order to reduce your own suffering during difficult times.

Why do you do what you do?

Identify it, remember it, and hold it close.

You may remember from the discussion about reframing that one of the ways you can reclaim your agency and reduce your distress is through reframing “have to” to “choose to.” This reframing tool is particularly helpful when used in connection with a strong sense of purpose. It is far easier to see that we are choosing to do something when that something is in service to our larger goal, and when we hold that larger goal in mind as we take steps towards it.

Also, when you have a strong connection to your meaning and purpose, this helps inform how to set your boundaries. As noted in the last piece, setting boundaries is a value-driven process and one that is highly individualized. 

I’m going to weave these threads together in a personal example. 

Once when I was getting a massage, the massage therapist was more talkative than I prefer. Only a few minutes into the session, she told me about the very recent suicide attempt of someone she loved. I made a few comforting noises then chose silence for the rest of the hour.

This is not something I think about often; it’s important in caregiving work not to get trapped in needing to be a martyr or a savior. And It could not possibly have been more clear that I was not the one working at that moment. Still, the times that I reflect upon this, I have some regret about not doing more. It was perfectly correct to respond kindly but briefly, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. Someone handed me their pain, unguarded and shivering, and I just handed it right back with courtesies. 

Obviously, I’m not going to launch into a therapy session in these circumstances. But maybe I didn’t need to be so short. I didn’t have to do anything more, but I could have chosen to do something (like provide a hotline number or other resources). Choosing to do something would have been a more flexible boundary, and one informed by the meaning I get from how I view being a psychologist.

Using reconnection with purpose to reduce your distress can be tricky. There’s not a formula to follow or a step-by-step guide that can move you through the process. It is more of an organic exploration of your thoughts, feelings, and deepest drives.

Why do you do what you do?

Not just at work but in all aspects of your life.

And while you’re thinking about why you do what you do, I invite you to consider moving away from thinking about work-life balance and towards thinking about work-life harmony.

Work is not something that happens in a box over on the side while the rest of your life waits patiently for your attention. 

Some days it will need more time, some days your non-work passions and priorities will need more time, and that is okay. You don’t need to struggle to balance these.

I want to close with a quotation from motivational author Simon Sinek:

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”

I invite you to take some time to reconnect with your purpose and to allow that reconnection to help you flourish.


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