Live with purpose. Find a higher calling. Chase the right prize.
After retiring from 50 years in public education as a teacher, principal and superintendent for Boston Public Schools, Dr. Domenic Amara still needs to wake up every day with a purpose. One of his newest passions is creating opportunities for students and teachers to bring more of the world into their lives through his role as board member for United Planet.
I recently had the pleasure of watching Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity: Water, tell about his life story. After a decade of decadence as a nightlife promoter, often abusing drugs and alcohol and frequently not remembering what happened the night before, Scott decided to devote himself to a higher cause after volunteering in Africa. Scott described his volunteer experience as transformational. Scott harnessed his life-changing volunteer experience in Africa to create a transformational impact for the world when he tapped into his higher calling.
I, myself, worked in the business world after university for a short while before setting out to pursue my dream of seeing the world. I traveled on a shoestring budget with only a backpack and tent. On the small South Pacific Island of Aitutaki, I met a Japanese friend named Miho, over a meal, after the local fishermen gave us some of their fish. Japan had not been on my itinerary at all, but Miho invited me to do a home stay with her family there. I decided to take Miho up on her kind offer. Fortunately, I was able to add Japan and fly from Australia to Japan for only $15 additional dollars as part of my around-the-world ticket. An airline representative later told me how lucky I had been because the agent in New Zealand should have charged me the regular fare of $500-plus to fly to Japan since I had a southern hemisphere-only ticket. (Had this been the case, I would have never been able to afford the trip!)
Miho's family welcomed me with open arms. One day, Miho's grandfather who had fought in WWII and lost many family members, discovered my presence and became fearful. He immediately asked that I leave. That night I went to Miho's uncle's house. The whole neighborhood -- from the attendant at the local gas station to the family next door-- seemed to gather around as Miho's uncle and asked me questions. "Why are you traveling and not back in your own country working?" they asked among many others.
Fortunately, Miho's Uncle was an open-minded professor at one of Tokyo's universities. He understood the value of gaining a broader view of the world and building friendships and understanding beyond borders. That night, Miho's uncle took me in during a desperate situation. A few days later, he invited me to live with his family for half a year. They had a son my age and they thought it would be a unique opportunity for them to learn about my culture, and for me to learn about theirs. They wanted nothing from me. When I pressed the father about how I wanted to give him something for his generosity, he said only, "Pass on your experiences to others."
When I returned to the U.S. after nine years in Japan (marriage brought me back!), I had the opportunity to start a completely new life, with a clean slate. I looked back at my life -- my childhood experience in Russia as an exchange student when I met a Russian woman at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow who was terrified about Americans and the threat of nuclear war, my study abroad and home stay experience in Spain, my time in Japan, my travels around the world. Most importantly, I looked back at my friendships with people from different cultures, especially from a young age. I remembered Tong and Derek, two students who joined my elementary school class after crises in Asia. They both struggled to speak English and fit in. I feel fortunate to have become their friend and I enjoyed birthday parties and many fun times with their families.
All these experiences gave me the inspiration to start United Planet. From day one, it has been a team effort. I am most grateful to the team, volunteers, supporters and board with whom I have had the privilege to work over these years. United Planet has given me a purpose -- it has enriched my life. Through serving, I have received far more than I have ever given.
Whether you are a student just setting out on your life's path, a professional who might be struggling in a job you may or may not love or a retiree looking to start again, find your purpose -- find your passion and follow it. Win or lose, you will live more fully. You will live more honestly according to the callings of your heart. And perhaps, no matter how much you ultimately give, you will find that you gain infinitely more.