I’ve been having many conversations about “purpose” recently. As in, one’s purpose in life. Personally, I’ve thought many different things about this through the years. I’ve been “certain” about what it is, but as I spoke about it on three different occasions to people in the past week, I realised that my perception of it had shifted again.
For context, I’ve always been quite driven. I was probably around 10 years old the first time someone told me that my dreams were too big. At the time, I must have been in my astronomy phase, where everything was about starts, planets, asteroids, the universe. I read books, I watched videos, and nothing felt more exciting than to figure out the universe. Even at that age, I understood that my dream would entail me leaving my hometown and my family behind, and go somewhere abroad, probably the USA. Interestingly enough, I also thought my dreams were too big. Not too big for me though; but too big for the people around me. And then the arts and creativity came into my life in a big way: dance, singing, writing, performing. It was the early 2000s, and my dream morphed into wanting to be an international pop star. People didn’t seem to be too excited about this, at all! Yes, I was attracted to it due to the bubble gum pop explosion of that era, but when revisiting the songs I used to write and compose back then, it is very interesting to notice that there was a very clear intention to explore serious issues. Yes, I was quite an intense teenager!
I remember having this feeling of wanting “to help people through my music”, and as my dream morphed from pop star to actor, from politician to humanitarian, from activist to therapist, this feeling was the thing that remained throughout those transformations: helping others. Even from my days of wanting to be an astronomer, I carry this life perspective of macro dynamics, of bigger picture, of understanding the individual by understanding the collective. Anyone who knows me really well, knows how much I can actually struggle with day to day life interactions, but get me talking about, or exploring, or working through the bigger picture of anything, and I’m happy and engaged. I guess that’s why the majority of those dreams were in the form of a profession or role that entailed macro dynamics. And then I ended up becoming a therapist, which is really about the intimate relationship between therapist and client. It made sense in terms of the helping people, but not so much in terms of the macro dynamics. At least, not at first. But after a few years of seeing clients, I began to discern the macro from the micro, as patterns and life stories began to merge into these collective narratives of the human experience. It’s not necessarily that we are all screwed up, but actually, yes we are! I mean, everyone has attachment issues. Validation issues. Relationship issues. Confidence issues. Everyone has been emotionally wounded by someone else, and everyone has inflicted emotional wounds on someone else. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to know that they matter. What’s really so different about all of us?
Through these professional developments and my own personal spiritual studies, I’d come to the comfortable conclusion that I was indeed here to help others. This was my life’s work, my life’s purpose, and everything I did was about that. But then questions started to creep in: how exactly am I helping others? Through Dramatherapy or spirituality? Through both, perhaps? And who are these others that I’m helping? Just my clients, or also my friends, my family, my acquaintances? By helping, do I mean saving? Isn’t that a bit too conceited? Did they ask for my help? Why do I want to help them? Where does this need of helping others comes from? What am I trying to prove, or validate? Why do I like to be around such darkness and chaos all day long? And why can’t I seem to help myself? Am I a hypocrite?
At first, most of these questions were quiet. And they would pop up only every now and then, and only one or two at a time. And as they became louder, I began to actively ignore them. I mean, I had now discovered the macro dynamics in my work, and I was slowly on the way to develop some kind of grand theory and methodology in psychotherapy that I would present to the world via a Doctorate, and finally become the Doctor my family always expected me to be! Yep! My work with my clients was somehow contributing to the deep validation I needed from my family. And from authority figures in general. And then I realised that I was in a co-dependent relationship with work, where my work was to help people through their own co-dependencies. Yikes! For those of you who used to follow my old blog and have read some of my newest posts, you know what happened next. Breakdown, existential crisis, falling apart, going away, confusion, loss, grief, death, rebirth.
Amazingly, I hadn’t really noticed the rebirth until this past week. Last Sunday, during one of my private practice sessions, one of my clients said to me: “You know Ryan, I’ve been actively looking for my purpose for years, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to think that perhaps my purpose is to just be me, the best me I can possibly be. You know?” Hearing that resonated deeply throughout my whole being. Yes, indeed! What if our purpose is really to just be the best we, we can possibly be? Not helping people, or saving people, or creating this, or changing that. But to just be present enough in your life, where you can genuinely and deeply say that “I’ve lived!” What if that’s it?
A few days later, someone else I know was having a hard day as they questioned what their purpose in life might be, as they perused through social media and looked at the apparent “success” of all these people they knew. And it was in that moment that I realised that my views on purpose had completely shifted post-breakdown. That I wasn’t looking to do this or that with my life, or through my work, or anything at all. I looked into the horizon of my own life and saw a completely blank canvas, rid of expectations of what that horizon should look like, or could look like. There were no specific plans, no visions. Most importantly, there were no expectations or hidden agendas about hardly anything. It was an inner freedom I had never experienced before, and I realised that for the past few weeks I had been living in the present moment of each day without many expectations. I was talking about this process to another friend yesterday, and I just find it remarkable that life actually feels so peaceful right now, in comparison to even two months ago.
The thing is, I surrendered. I woke up one morning in mid-November, after 6 months of inner strife and helplessness, and told myself that I was going to stop. No more being a therapist, no more living in London, no more to the future that I thought I was entitled to live, no more to the purpose of helping others and the world. I closed my private practice, my third sector HIV practice, and started reaching out to people in Lisbon about job opportunities. I truly let go of everything and surrendered. I had come to a place where I felt there was nothing else I could do, besides letting go. In that moment, last November, I felt the biggest relief I’d felt in a very long time, and felt, for the first time, that it was okay not to know anything about what my future would look like. All I had, truly, was each day, and my only purpose under those circumstances, was to pay attention to each day. Therein lies my shift in perspective. I no longer see my life as having purpose, my life is the purpose. Being myself is my purpose.
Ryan Campinho Valadas