When Life Asks Its Most Urgent Question

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When did you know you were meant to live for more?

I remember the lights going off in the theatre, the shaky handheld footage, and the audience being completely captivated. I will never forget the way I felt by the end of the film.

I was in high school watching a documentary about the conflict in Darfur. More specifically, the film highlighted the way children were being forced to fight as soldiers in the war, being forced through some unimaginably traumatic experiences.

This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this. I was astounded at how horrific some things in this world could be. But the film also highlighted the efforts of a few people who were working to end this crisis and to build justice in Central Africa.

At the time, I had actually been going through a pretty rough patch of depression. Life felt a little empty and I questioned if there was anything that made my time on Earth really worthwhile. After that moment in the theatre, I felt like I had an awakening. Life wasn’t about seeking my own pleasures, it was about serving something bigger. I felt like I finally understood what Martin Luther King meant when he said that life’s most urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”

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What was that moment for you?

Think of a time in your life when you realized the old way of things wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Think of a time when comfort started to feel uncomfortable, when you realized that we were meant for much, much more.

Maybe you took a trip somewhere that completely blew up your perspective. Maybe you met somebody who was a walking example of what a beautiful life looked like. Maybe you experienced a life changing incident that gave you no option to go back to being who you were.

Sometimes this moment isn’t even a moment. Sometimes it’s a string of incidents that seem to awaken some other sort of awareness in you. A conversation with a friend. An article that came across your newsfeed that you couldn’t stop thinking about. A thought provoking book.

No matter what your call-to-action was like, it left you with a desire to do something that mattered. You could no longer be satisfied just living for your own enjoyment or comfort. You needed to go beyond. You suddenly realized your need for purpose.

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It isn’t about knowing all the next steps

After the credits of the documentary had rolled, I realized the impact that a well told story had on me. The film was both eye opening, and artistically bold. I had always been a little bit interested in doing something creative in the future. Now I started to think it would be much more fulfilling to use those creative interests to direct people’s attention towards important issues that weren’t getting enough focus.

I now work as the main creative person at an international humanitarian organization.

The path that connects these two points, however, is far from linear. My moment in the theatre didn’t tell me what I should study in school. It didn’t reveal to me whether or not I should eventually do grad school. It didn’t point directly to any of the internships I ended up taking or any of the time I spent abroad. All that came later.

Instead, it simply showed me that the old way wasn’t working. It showed me that I needed to find something bigger than myself to live for. It didn’t show me all the next steps that would lead to my purpose. It would simply show me the direction I should start walking.


Remind yourself often of why you began

I often let myself flashback to that moment in the theatre. I get the chance to share my story a lot and that’s a pretty pivotal scene. It set into motion the things I now do every day.

I think it’s important for anyone who does important work to frequently remind themselves of why they began. When you’re working to make an impact, it isn’t all mountain-top experiences. In fact, some of the most important work being done around the world consists of a bunch of small actions taken day after day.

If that describes you, then it can be a little too easy to lose sight of why the things you do every day matter. It’s easy to let the daily grind obscure the bigger vision. Reminding yourself of why you got started can help breathe life back into those daily activities.

And if you feel like you’ve just set off on your journey- it sometimes takes a while before your moment of awakening turns into everyday life. Don’t rush the process, because it’s a beautiful one. But if you ever feel stuck working an odd job while saving up for the next step, if you ever feel like finding the right opportunity is taking too long, or if you ever start to consider taking the safer route you know deep down isn’t for you, simply do this:

Remember why you started, when life asked you its most urgent question.

Philippe Lazaro