Sometime in my late 20s, I lamented to my boss that I was having a mid-life crisis. I think this had something to do with the Olympic games that were being held that year. I loved watching gymnastics and couldn’t help but think that it should be me on television in a leotard flipping and flopping and flying on behalf of my country. Never mind that I had yet to take a single gymnastics lesson in my life. My heart ached to do something with so much passion that it would literally propel me skyward — while also managing to land me firmly on my feet. Plus, I liked the sequins.
At the time, I was married with no kids. With a career in fundraising for a children’s hospital, the work I did was inherently meaningful – and we have already established that I had a kind boss tolerant of premature mid-life crises. I had a house, some cats, a dog, a good husband, and a job. And yet, I had this nagging feeling that if not an Olympic gold medalist, wasn’t I meant for more?
The question of purpose arises intermittently like a bad stomach virus that leaves me longing for the merciful reprieve of a saltine cracker. Life’s epic search for meaning seems like it should take a straight path hurdling over obstacles, dismounting into some profound contribution to humanity, and landing with the specter of triumph (and yes, maybe even a gold medal around one’s neck.) Instead, it throws me off-balance like a gymnast teetering on the brink of a disastrous fall. My trajectory towards something meaningful can feel like an angsty wobble of futility leaving me more frustrated than fulfilled. The great mercy in having been through this multiple times is that I now realize our contributions to the world aren’t always noticeable — even to ourselves. That’s the humility of it.