STRENGTH & FOCUS: Finding purpose in the unhappiest place in America – Part 1
My name is Rich Perry, and the reason I’m writing this story is to inspire you to find your purpose in life.
In my private coaching programs, the people I work with have a sincere desire to find their true calling and want to reach a personal level of success doing something that they are passionate about. However, they find themselves struggling in the beginning stages or stuck at some midpoint along the way. Either they’re still searching for a professional – or even personal – identity or they’ve found their niche, but they’re wrestling with an unhealthy mindset that is blocking them from going any further.
In this three-part series, I’ll share my own journey and provide a few simple exercises that you can use to not only find your purpose in life, but also transform your mindset so that you can move forward and start seeing the results you want. This is how I lead, and it’s an honor to share how I found purpose in the “unhappiest” place in America.
When I was a child, my family moved from New York City to a small town in the Northeastern region of Pennsylvania. According to my parents, we moved because they wanted a change from city life and felt it would be good to raise a family in a nice rural area. Unlike the city, our new home had plenty of outdoor activities, long trails for hiking and rivers for rafting, and gorgeous scenery, especially with the change of the seasons. It’s a beautiful place to just get away; plus, it’s still within driving distance of New York City and Philadelphia for day trips or to catch touring shows. But with all the scenic splendor of Northeastern Pennsylvania, or NEPA as locals refer to it, the area has a dark spot – it’s the “unhappiest region in America,” according to studies and polls.
Despite this unattractive title, I will wholeheartedly admit that I loved growing up here. I enjoyed the fresh air, hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter, and all of the other outdoor opportunities that the area provided. As a youth, my two major activities were martial arts and Boy Scouts. Both taught respect for self and others, discipline, and being a person of good moral standing and value. As you surely know, scouting focuses heavily on community service and helping others, which were common lessons from my sensei (martial arts teacher) as well. I credit both with instilling excellent life lessons and for laying the foundation in my desire to serve others professionally. I’m forever grateful for my upbringing. These two influential activities, plus the loving support of my parents, absolutely molded me into the person that I am today.
Outside of these positive arenas, however, something just seemed off. As a kid and even a teenager, I couldn’t put my finger on it, probably because I lacked the perspective needed to truly understand the social environment surrounding me but, intuitively, I knew that there was something wrong about the way many people thought and spoke. Then, in college, a professor referred to the area as, “the armpit of America,” which got me thinking about all of the signs I recognized over the years, and I’m not simply referring to the confederate flags flying on lawns or other displays of closed-minded hate-mongering that exist around the country and aren’t necessarily specific to this particular region. Taking this professor’s comment into consideration, the theme that really stuck out was the overall negative mindset of the people living here. There seemed to be a “can’t do” attitude and view of lack over abundance. I can remember sharing ideas with authority figures multiple times growing up and having those adults try to discourage those ideas and advise me not to bother trying. Wait, what? Why? I also remember countless times as a young adult having ideas bashed by authority figures or peers who considered my dreams to be absurd; they felt it was their duty to thwart aspirations of high achievement in order to save me the heartache of failure.
Three quick supporting facts:
1. In 2014, researchers from Harvard University and the University of British Columbia found Scranton to be the least happy region in America. For supplementary info, watch this short documentary, “Half-Empty: Life in America’s Unhappiest City,” by indie filmmaker Kenny Luck.
2. Wilkes-Barre has found itself on the “Top 30 Murder Capitals of the U.S.” list more than once.
3. The “Kids for Cash” scandal in Wilkes-Barre shook the nation in 2008 after judges and officials arranged for juveniles to be sentenced to youth detention centers in exchange for millions of dollars in kickbacks. It later became the subject of a 2013 documentary.
During my senior year of high school, I decided to follow my heart and find a career path dedicated to helping others. My intention was to study psychology and become a therapist to work with people who needed help. In scouts, I had always maintained a leadership position and thought that I could easily use these skills in the professional world. Eventually, I landed a job working in children’s mental and behavioral health and stayed there for seven years. Although there wasn’t much room for growth and it didn’t allow for certain opportunities, the job was still rewarding and, for a while, I felt like I was really making a difference.
Then an odd thing happened around the midpoint of that seven-year period. Every day felt the same, like I was just going through the motions, and I no longer felt like I was making a difference. I found myself in and out of bad relationships, my attitude was poor, and I was spending lots of free time in bars. This led to a lack of energy, hopelessness, hollowness, overall feelings of unhappiness, and general disappointment in myself. Suffice it to say that I was extremely frustrated and beating myself up because I felt like I wasn’t living up to my full potential.
Don’t get me wrong – being a therapist is an honorable profession. I know that I helped a lot of kids during my time there, and I know that my friends who are still employed there or elsewhere in the field are truly doing a great service to their clients. However, I also know that I wasn’t meant to stay there. I realized that when it came to finding my purpose in life, just being “in the ballpark” wasn’t good enough.
It was clear to me that I needed a change, and that change had to come from within. This change had to be self-initiated, and it needed to be something that I did for my sole benefit. I wanted to get back on track and return to my old joyful self with a renewed perspective on life, and to do that, I had to change my thoughts and behaviors.
And, I needed to do some soul searching to find my purpose in life.
Look for Part 2 next week.
Would you like to gain some clarity with your purpose in life? Listen to this short audio and I’ll guide you through an exercise:
Would you like to dive deeper and speak with me one-on-one about finding your purpose in life? Schedule a free 30-min strategy call here.
Photo by Sophia Kowalczyk
by Rich Perry
Rich is a Master Coach of NLP, consultant, speaker, musician, trainer, student of life, and an all-around great guy. He also claims to make the most amazing hummus in the universe.