I was determined not to be like her. Working all day as a maid (THE HELP) and still attending to daddy’s every need. She’d cook his dinner and express deliver it to him, as he sat expectantly in his recliner. Always running around the house picking up after the ten of us—never having time for herself, Mama was a gifted caretaker. I loved my mother, but I just couldn’t see myself waiting on anyone the way that she did. Not me!
I took every opportunity to make my life look different, chased one degree after another…one promotion after another; I simply refused to give in to her life. I developed a laser-like focus centered on building a career. I established myself as a wife, mother, and a career woman with the highest degree in the land. Still, I couldn’t breathe—cloaked by sadness, paralyzed by the realization that I was in the wrong race. I kept thinking, “What in the hell is wrong with me? Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?” I found myself crying on the floor of my closet, pleading to God to give me my passion back.
God didn’t answer my plea. Not that night anyway. I attended a leadership conference sponsored by my company. At the close of the session, I was chatting with friends when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw my supervisor and the head of human resources standing there. Having worked with these people, I was familiar with what happened after the shoulder tap. “Barbara…Can we find a place to talk?” my supervisor asked.
We went into an empty room. There just “happened” to be a table set with three chairs—clearly, this was planned.
He explained, “Well, we’ve interviewed quite a few candidates for the director’s position (a position below mine), and we just can’t find the right fit.” I chuckled inside. I had been a part of the interview team for every single interview and he was never in the room…but OK…proceed.
He went on to say that they felt I had a unique skill set, and they needed me to turn the division around. My supervisor and I had been at odds since he’d taken over, so I was sure this was his doing. In disbelief, I uttered, “So…are you telling me that I’m being demoted?” Neither offered a reasonable response. I’d seen this strategy before. I felt sick to my stomach! Everything I had worked for—unmatched results and an exemplary track record—tarnished.
The mosaic of my identity—a meshing of my role as a wife, mother, and a leader in my field—suddenly seemed unidentifiable. Darn it! There it was again, that sadness that I’d experienced earlier. This was my “why am I here” moment. I started to examine my life. Grappling with the questions: What is it all for? Why am I here? Just what was I sent here to do? These questions led me back to the tears on my closet floor and pointed directly to my mother’s life, the one I didn’t want.
But looking at my mother’s life more closely, I realized that Mama served in the way that she did because she understood that her purpose was outside of herself. She recognized that she was sent to this earth to use her gift of nurturing to be of service to others. Mama wasn’t THE help. She knew she was here TO help.
I decided to go and introduce myself to the new staff. From the moment I started speaking, sharing my story, and encouraging them to tell theirs, they clung to every word. I could tell that they were moved by what I was saying. I remember thinking, “These people are counting on me. Barbara, this is not about you! It’s so much bigger!”
Getting the tap on the shoulder that day was God’s response to my “in the closet” plea for passion. It wasn’t that I had lost my passion, it was that I was disconnected from purpose. By most accounts, I had achieved a great deal of success, but no career or degree can fill the hole meant to be filled by purpose. My heart longed for significance. So, I switched races and am no longer chasing after things with waning value, things that won’t matter after I leave this earth. These days, I am hawking down purpose! Being intentional in making somebody’s day better. Using my gift of words, writing, and commitment to shift perspective and inspire others to be the best version of themselves—operating in their purpose from any position.
This feature was submitted by Dr. Barbara Swinney
My name is Dr. Barbara Swinney…and I am here to serve. Certified Personal Leadership Coach with more than twenty years of experience as an educational leader and a student of personal growth and self-improvement; speaker, teacher, and writer inspiring forward thinking and living. I’m committed to challenging you to go D.E.E.P.E.R. so that your life can go higher!
Featured Image provided by Dr. Barbara Swinney