What’s Next: Pursuing Purpose Post-American Dream
There’s rarely time to watch television with the hustle and bustle of life, but as I watch Bravo’s newest offering, “To Rome with Love”, I’m compelled to question how far we will go to find happiness in our relationships, careers, and life in general. Many of us have been bombarded since childhood with messages that insist we can do it all, be it all, and have it all. However, the question persists - can we really?
For over ten years, I’ve been satisfied with my professional career and its current trajectory. I’ve been satisfied with my marriage. I’ve also experienced immense gratification from bringing two wonderful children into the world. Recently I realized that something was still missing. There is a space within me that I’ve tried to fill with odds and ends over the years by working on a public commission to protect vulnerable populations and serving as a Girl Scout troop leader to reach back to young girls who would follow behind me. While these things have purpose, somehow I knew they were not my true purpose.
I had long since held a passion for reading and the written word. I vividly remember sneaking books into my bed at a young age, long after my mother had admonished me and my sister to go to sleep for the night. With covers over my head I held a flashlight between my chin and chest as I read the newest edition of the “The Babysitters’ Club.” I frequently imagined myself as the lead character, though the lead character was rarely a black girl with curly hair. Looking back now, I realized the signs were there. Teachers would complement my written submissions and classmates would remark on my portion of group projects. I secretly smiled, but would shrug it off, knowing that stacks of journals filled with stories waited for me at home. I had created characters, written short stories and poetry, but had never shared them with anyone. These journals served as my outlet. The only limitation was the bounds of my imagination. However, reality pulled me away from my dreams. College was quickly followed by a budding career. Marriage and children came sooner than expected. Without even realizing it, my journals were packed away and in their place were baby strollers, bills, and work projects.
Like a vine grows toward sunlight, a calling eventually finds its way to the surface. A decade passed before I picked up my journals again (I’d found them one day while cleaning out my mother’s house). From the moment I rediscovered them, I couldn’t deny my true purpose any longer. A spark was re-ignited as I read poignant words from my sixteen year-old self. Wow, I was talented! “Whatever happened to that girl?”, I wondered to myself.
The answer was simple: Life happened. This is where the record scratches and freezes and I tell you how for five years, my husband and I were thrown off-kilter by our young son’s cancer diagnosis, then struggled through his hospitalizations, follow-up appointments, and his chemotherapy side effects while raising a newborn. That is a story for another blog post. Skipping ahead, we were able to move forward successfully and eventually get to a much better place.
However, after experiencing the fragility of life, I decided I could not wait a second longer to pursue my purpose. When a bright idea formed, I used my children’s nap time (because that was the only time the house was quiet) to open my laptop and I began to type.
That was four years ago. Since then I’ve completed a three-book fantasy series featuring a young woman of color as the lead. I’ve also started a separate fantasy series, and I am currently working on the second installment of that series. I’ve started to build my brand and actively shop my work to publishers. If you’re anything like me, you may find it hard to stop once you get started. I run full tilt once I get a good idea in my head. Every waking moment is spent thinking about when I can get back to working on my passion or taking my work to the next level. It’s hard to put something that drives me on the back burner for a few hours, days, or weeks. However, with my responsibilities, the time actually spent working on my current novel is quite limited and often-interrupted.
There is a cost associated with fulfilling my true purpose. I sleep less because I’m eager to jump back into the world of characters I’ve created. Sometimes I sacrifice meeting with friends because I’d rather spend time perfecting my craft. Dedication to one’s passion means having to be purposeful about every minute, and it can be difficult to put your passion on the shelf to engage in mundane activities like doing laundry, grocery shopping and keeping the household running. I constantly question the trade-offs I’m making. Is it worth my sleep? Is it worth the time I could be spending with friends, my children, and my husband? The reality is that pursuing my purpose requires me to confront competing priorities. I’ve discovered that my choices are rarely easy.
Many of us spend a good portion of our lives attempting to secure our most basic needs while dreaming about our larger desires. It can be frustrating to be unclear about your true purpose. However, if you know what you’re called to do then you must go for it. Your true purpose rests at the top of the mountain for a reason. You have to climb to get there. It’s a daily struggle to continue climbing toward my mountaintop. However, I take comfort in knowing that somewhere out there is a young girl, who reads beneath her covers and wishes there were more stories featuring a lead who looks like her. Therefore, I keep typing and climbing. I hope to see you up there alongside me one day soon.
Paulissa Earl, MPA is a wife and mother of two beautiful children. As a Policy Analyst in the D.C. area, she produces independent and objective recommendations for the U.S. Congress to improve the operation of government. In her personal time, she is an aspiring writer. Recently, an author of two fantasy series, "The Promises We Keep" and "Day Break", her passion for the written word is unmistakable.