Dear Rachel,

I’m almost 60 years old. I’ve held many jobs and followed many career paths in my life, but it’s only now that I feel that I’ve found my life’s purpose.

A few years ago, through really a fluke, I started doing arts-and-crafts projects with all kinds of populations (young and old) as art therapy. I absolutely love it! And after every class, I feel really fulfilled and gratified that these art projects have helped young girls (or old ladies) feel happy and productive. I have gotten great feedback from them, and my classes have grown exponentially. I feel I have finally found my life’s calling. I’m just wondering why it had to take so long. Why did I have to waste so much time when I could have been doing this all along—something I love that contributes to others?

Feeling Wasted

Dear Blossoming,

First of all, I just want to say it’s wonderful that you feel you are living a life of purpose and fulfillment, and I wish you continued joy and satisfaction in pursuing your idealistic vision.

People tend to see their lives as linear and destination-oriented, while in truth, life is actually made up of concentric circles, with our paths dotted by many guideposts and milestones, each of which is a necessary stepping stone to our ultimate purpose.

Look at Moses, for example. His ultimate purpose was to lead the Jewish people out of bondage into nationhood, and to be the vessel through which the Torah was transmitted to the entire nation. He was the greatest prophet of all time, speaking to G‑d face-to-face. But all this started when he was already 80 years old. He spent 60 years as a noble in Pharaoh’s court, and then 20 years as a shepherd in the desert. Why? Because these experiences were formative, and gave him the necessary tools for his ultimate role.

Another example is Rabbi Akiva, the greatest Torah sage of all time. He didn’t even know how to read until the age of 40. Then he studied for 24 years to become the great Torah scholar he is now known to have been. All his students died in a plague, and he started again with only five disciples. These are but two examples; there are hundreds more!

Each of us has to have many experiences—some of which seem disconnected—in order to reach the place where we ultimately achieve our life’s purpose. They’re not a waste of time; they’re the process we need to undergo to get to our ultimate destination. And the longer it takes us to reach our goal, the more experience and wisdom we’ve accumulated.

And I’ll tell you something else. Although you see where you are now as your ultimate destination, it may turn out down the line, in another 5 or 10 years, that you’re somewhere new doing something else that you will define at that later stage as your ultimate purpose. Where you are now is a necessary step to get there.

It’s important to remember, every moment, that you are where you are meant to be. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, at every twist and turn in the road we have the means and the opportunity to serve G‑d—and that is really our ultimate purpose.

Wishing you much creativity, spirituality and fulfillment,