A River Speaks—A Trip Down the Colorado River and a Wake-up Call
How to lead a purposeful life? We were all set—Saturday, 8 am, a group of friends planned to meet at the Colorado River. Indeed, the temperatures were hot that summer in Yuma, Arizona. A float down the Colorado River sounded like a great idea! My family had just relocated from Minnesota to continue my career working in Agriculture. I’d spent the previous seven years attending various colleges throughout the Midwest, and inside grain elevators throughout the Twin Cities area. I had no thought of living a purposeful life.
The work at the grain elevators involved manual labor. This was to be my first salary position. Yuma, Arizona is an agriculturally intense region, providing leafy greens, alfalfa, and the best quality Durum Wheat in the world. I had progressed from air-conditioned office space to wrapping rubber bands around my jeans over my boots to avoid rats and mice from running up my legs. I thought life was good!
We had arrived at the river feeling jubilant. The air was beginning to warm already, temperatures would be well over 100 degrees. We were ready with coolers in hand. Our friends all arrived early and ready to play. No one was thinking about living a purposeful life.
Something Was Off With the Water
The morning float began easily and effortlessly and the laughter started early. However, something was off. The water wasn’t what I anticipated. It was brownish-black and flowed more like a murky slide than a river. I dismissed the observation and went back to putting my attention on a good time.
The trip lasted about four hours and was a perfect way to start the day. I remember pulling my inner tube up to the shore, saying goodbyes, and getting into the car. During the drive home, I noticed a burning. My legs had become reddish. I mentioned this to my partner at the time and quickly realized that the skin that had been exposed to the water had developed a rash. The rash was intense and caused me to think about where it had come from and what had it come into contact with.
A Growing Feeling of Disconnect to My Purposeful Life
The weekend passed, and I went back to work Monday. Clearly, the work wasn’t what I had always wanted to do. Previously, I wanted to go into Psychology and even had a chance during my first year of college. Nope, business is what I landed on and here I was going to a workplace that I didn’t feel connected to.
During the week, while my legs were still burning and itching, I began to think about the water. I began to think about what I was doing. I began to think about how my work was contributing to the poison in the water, and I went home to my children each day.
A few days passed. I began to grow even more disenchanted at work and felt a lack of integrity with what I was doing and what I knew. It became increasingly difficult to care about work. At the same time, I asked myself if this is the world I wanted to provide for my kids. If I made all the money in the world, but they didn’t have clean water, what was the point?
A Sense of Purpose Discovered
I had to do something about what I saw as a real problem. According to the EPA, (Environmental Protection Agency) greenhouse gas emissions had increased by twelve percent since 1990. The burning of fossil fuels to apply synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides was not supportable. I was a part of the problem and I had to do something about it. I had to become a part of the solution if my life were to count for something.
My mind began to race about the ways in which I could become a part of the solution and work for a purpose. I wanted my work to support something that I loved and believed in and hopefully with a community of people that believed the same way. The discomfort within me grew and I had to figure things out. Could I work for the Sierra Club or Greenpeace? Could I go back to school to become an environmental lawyer? I even thought about becoming an Eco-activist, though that seemed a bit extreme and was not the way in which I intended to change what I felt was sick.
From an early age, I have known that true change happens from within, and creates a lasting change that impacts future generations. I wasn’t trying to fight against what I disagreed with. I wanted to understand and discern what was the best action to take . . . to work for what I love.
A Shocking Wake-Up Call and Message For Living a Purposeful Life
I recall driving my motorcycle to work on this particular day while running my mind about all of the things I could do. As well as, what I wanted to do and I should do. While these thoughts raced in and out, I was not paying attention and came upon the back end of the pickup truck in front of me. Luckily, I came to a screeching stop in time. My awareness quickly shifted to the license plate in front of me.
Do you believe that God communicates with us? In truth, I believe that God is communicating with all of us all of the time. We are in a relationship with God in words that resonate with us, as well as, in being near other people, animals, plants, and minerals. The license plate, directly in front of my face, provided a clear message
Immediately I knew that I had to let go of the desire to figure it all out. I knew that I needed to let go and to pay attention to what was in front of my face. I needed to realize that the answer to the question about what my purpose was, what I was here to do with my life, would appear to me and be placed right in front of my face.
In fact, it would come at the perfect time and when it happened, I would know it.
On the same day of the motorcycle event, the workday started out as most did—with coffee! The guys all said hellos and spoke briefly about the current affairs and we walked back to our offices. On this particular day, my boss appeared at my door, walked over to my desk, and handed me a magazine.
Organic Food, A Purposeful Life
At this time, in the latter ’90s, the Milling & Baking News was what we relied on for industry information. I began to peruse the magazine. I scrolled through the pages, somewhat mindlessly, until something caught my attention.
In the ’90s, Organic foods were less than 1 percent of US total food consumption. It was a small niche, and, some would say, an irrelevant market. It was small relative to the worldwide supply and demand for the commodities markets.
How do you know when you know? I knew this was it. I felt called and compelled to act. One percent meant 99 percent opportunity for growth! What was this type of agriculture that I had never heard of? Was it legitimate? To be fair, I am a jumper when it comes to when I know that I need to do something. I did not hesitate. I needed to go on this adventure, to cross over, and embark on the Hero’s Journey and purposeful life.
It took me less than 30 seconds to decide that I was going to learn everything about Certified Organic foods. The more I learned, the more I liked, and began the craft of drafting a resume. Within a week, I had sent more than 20 resumes to various Certified Organic Food companies thought out the country.
Thankfully, the demand was growing for organic and the need for people with it. Within a couple of years, I would help start the Certified Organic Foods business with Annie’s Mac ’n Cheese, supplying them with their first pound of Certified Organic pasta that many of us parents have grown familiar with.
Success: A Purposeful Life Meaning
We started supplying them with one truck of Organic Durum. By the end of my career in the Organic Foods industry, we were importing vessels from various parts of the world. We had helped them to grow their business from a truckload of wheat, into a company that required over 75,000 acres of Certified Organic land to grow their wheat. Furthermore, we facilitated their sale to General Mills for $800 million.
We had finally accomplished our goal, to get inside, and specifically effect change from within. Not to fight against the evil empire, but rather to love what we were doing so much until we were invited inside where transformation on a large scale takes place.
I am an agent for positive change that supports the health of systems.
When we let go of the need to figure it out and pay attention to what is right in front of our faces, the answer to the question about purpose will appear. You will know it. You will feel compelled to act and take action. Chasing your purpose will not work. You must stop, become aware, and see what is right in front of you. It may just be the start of your transformation.
I’ve learned that even when life is difficult, work is mundanely boring, and I feel stuck, I am being prepared. That anxiety, or the fear of the unknown and inability to control it, is best worked through by creating boundaries around what I stand for. And then working in the right action.
I’ve learned that living a purposeful life, full of contemplation, and courageous acts of faith, enables me to embody a miraculously purposeful life.
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Blog by Troy DeSmet