THE BLOG
06/25/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2014

Purpose Can Be Something New

I quit my job almost exactly two months ago with the intention of working on Letters to Our Former Selves full-time. Very quickly though, a problem emerged. I had no structure to my days; they disappeared before I realized where they had gone. A few weeks went by and I had done very little. I made a website, so I told myself that I was being productive. The reality was that I would work for a few hours and then get distracted and play NBA2k14 or read a book or go on Reddit. My deadlines were self-imposed, and so they could be stretched without much repercussion.

Anyone I told about the project thought it was a great idea. I received invitations to speak about it, interest from literary agents, and had enough connections that I thought I could coast. I fooled myself into thinking that getting recognition for an idea was just as valuable as acting upon it. I wasn't actually doing the work. I was being an amateur.

Something else happened. People started to actually write letters. They got vulnerable, and in their vulnerability provided an opportunity for others to relate to their experience. It wasn't until this week though, when I read a particular letter, that the reality of what going this deep with one another on a large scale could look like. And feel like.

"Z" wrote to himself soon after he moved to the U.S. from China, when he was being bullied because he was foreign. I think it's great writing, so I was excited to read it to my mom when I saw her for the first time in a little while. I had obviously read it before, but as I read it aloud, a wave of emotion hit me for which I was completely unprepared.

"Stop hiding your chopsticks, you're not convincing anybody by using a fork. The kid sitting next to you won't stop throwing his pencil at you if you try to act more American. They're not going to stop calling you names everyday when you walk through the door, they're not going to stop hating you if you pretend to be more like them."

At this point I had to give my mom the computer because I was full on crying. What's even happening right now? I haven't cried like this in years.

"Be strong, Z. Pick up your chopsticks, and eat your lunch. Eat it proudly, eat it with your back straight and your head held high. Because you'll live to eat lunches made by grand chefs, lunches fit for kings, and lunches in exotic lands. But they'll never taste as sweet as the lunch you ate the day you learned to take pride in yourself."

When she finished reading, I looked at my mom. If I was this affected by one letter, what would it look like scaled up?

"This could change thousands of lives," I said.

My mom looked at me, seriously.

"Honey, it could just change one."

So for me, that's the turning point. In encouraging people to be honest in their letters, in cerebrally understanding how important vulnerability is to what I'm trying to do, I didn't understand what it actually meant until reading a letter made me more vulnerable. More open. More willing to connect with the people around me. Thirsty for more.

For the first time in my life, I am filled with a sense of purpose. And it feels pretty great.