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Purpose and Connection in the Pandemic

| September 15, 2020

by Latha Nagarajan

Purpose and Connection in the Pandemic

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Latha Nagarajan, Salesforce Business Partner, Stanford University. She is a recent MOR program alum.  Latha may be reached at [email protected].]

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. – Paul Coelho

In the great fiction classic, The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho sends us on a magical journey of the heart in which a shepherd boy named Santiago attempts to find a special treasure. Santiago’s journey is a journey of the heart. It’s about realizing your purpose and living it to the fullest each day of your life.

When I sat down to draft this reflection, I remembered the nagging question with which it all started. What am I doing with my life?  How can I make it more fulfilling and meaningful? Like countless other people, these were my thoughts during the initial days of the pandemic, and I felt paralyzed not knowing how to answer my inner voice. What is my calling? Every article I read or speaker I watched articulated the importance of finding a purpose, yet we all struggle to discover our purpose in life.

Finding purpose through service

As suggested by research, crises can motivate in us the desire to help others as well as find  new senses of purpose in our own lives. During the first few months of the pandemic, like others, I saw many food banks and non-profits in the Bay Area becoming overwhelmed with an unprecedented increase in demand for support and services. I felt a deep urge to do something about it rather than being on the sidelines and feeling useless. I contacted family shelters, food banks, and pediatric facilities to find out what their needs were. Although their needs were enormous, I felt energized and motivated after each conversation. I soon realized that I wouldn’t be able to successfully make a difference on my own, so I decided to involve my entire neighborhood. I organized a community-wide drive-thru donation drive, collecting more than 200 boxes of essential supplies, children’s books, hygiene items, and PPE to assist struggling families.

One of the four I’s in building relationships is to inquire. To inquire involves expressing a genuine interest in learning about the other person. Every conversation of mine with a family shelter always included a question about the well-being of the children to understand their specific needs and situations. One common request I heard was the urgent need for headphones that children could use during online educational and recreational activities. Inspired by the success of our previous donations, I worked with headphone companies and raised funds to collect more than 400 headphones necessary for remote learning. Although I’m only halfway to reaching my target of 800, I’ve discovered a passion that gives me a sense of purpose: helping disadvantaged children.

Making purposeful connections

Purpose grows from making connections with others. It is said that once you find your path, you’ll almost certainly find others traveling alongside you, hoping to reach the same destination—a community.  A few months ago, I reached out to my retired physician and recognized that we both had a common desire to help children from underprivileged families. In a matter of days, we connected with a couple of retired school principals and volunteers to start a video read-aloud program. Since our first meeting in July, we have teamed up with a low-income school district to launch a book read-aloud program for elementary school children. Through storytelling, we will focus on themes around building safe communities, strong friendships, and empathy in order to provide some form of normalcy for these children. The program’s still in its infancy, but through the past couple months, I’ve found a group of like-minded change-makers ready to make a difference with me.

So, what can we discover about ourselves?  As written in The Alchemist, life sends us messages, and we must pay attention to those clues if we want to follow our dreams. The best time to realize our dreams and start our journeys is now in this very moment. The adventure is new and may not be easy.  For me, I’m grateful that I have taken the first step to listen to my heart and discover the joy and fulfillment by helping families, especially children, during these extremely difficult times. 

Like Santiago’s journey, what can you do in the midst of our current uncertainty to more completely realize purpose and live each day to the fullest?