Your “Why” Should Make You Cry™

You may not know me, but I know you because we share something in common; we’ve both had to face adversity, tragedy, and challenges in our lives. How do I know? Because no one is immune. If you’ve achieved any number of years, you will be, or already have been faced with constant transition, challenges, and change.

Born out of these challenges is an opportunity for greatness. Everyone wants to leave a mark on the world, and everyone has something of value. We’re all on a quest to find that one thing that we can finally say “Ah, that’s why! That was my purpose for living.”

How fortunate Oprah knew. She knew long before any of us realized what she was doing. She decided long ago her purpose was to be a teacher. Not a news reporter, or a typical talk-show host, or a superstar. She carefully wove her path of teaching by enlisting us first, as her attentive audience. After years of watching her, our trust grew, and somewhere along the way we became her loyal students.

As a little girl growing up in Monterey, California, I was often teased and called names because of my fiery red hair, white skin, and freckles. Oh, how I hated the way I looked! I often spent 6th grade lunchtime in the bathroom, hiding because one cruel boy spit in my face and bellowed, “I’d rather be dead than red!” I was bullied, and those feelings of being exposed as “different” made me cry.

Somewhere in those torturous transformational pubescent years, I found strength in dreaming of doing something unique and remarkable, even if I did have red hair. That whisper of a new path came to fruition when a musical group called Up With People toured my hometown with songs of hope, honesty, and love.

It was the time in our country when we’d just lost our beloved President, John F. Kennedy, we were in the throes of war in Vietnam, the Hippie culture preached “Free Love and Peace,” and drugs seduced us into an altered state.

The show offered me something different. It was my “Glee” and it was the catalyst for lighting the fire in me to perform and fueled my passion to live life with purpose.

At the age of 16, I flew to New York to audition for the national cast. I toured the world, and more importantly, I learned about different cultures, learned their language, involved myself in the understanding of their politics, their beliefs, and family values. Yet, through my travels, my innocent eyes were opened to oppression, prejudice, and the aftermath of war. And that realization made me cry.

We toured Italy from the north to south and played in Theaters, Opera Houses, and Piazas.! We learned the entire show in Italian and found ourselves ensconced in the culture and awakened to sensory delights. Eating the food there changed my palate forever! I discovered cappuccinos long before anyone ever heard of Starbucks!

While touring Italy in the Spring of 1968, our cast received the tragic news of the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. As a teenager, I couldn’t define the impact of this grief. It was a different kind of sad than when my grandmother died. It shook the very core of my belief in the future.

Those tragedies brought us all to common ground as we profoundly mourned the loss of our heroes and the demise of the future with those men as guiding lights.

Our cast finished the tour in Italy and returned to the wounded spirit of the USA. We launched our new show in New York with a stronger commitment to our positive message and resilience.

We learned the entire performance in French, Swahili, and Lingala (Bantu language), and then flew to the Congo (formerly the Belgian Congo) to tour the country for two months.

The contrast in cultural awakening was astounding. One night, we performed for the heads of the African Nations at the OAU, feasting on a lavish steak dinner and dramatically finishing with flaming Cherries Jubilee.

The next day, we journeyed deep into the heart of the bush country where thousands of bush people showed up to see us perform in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t derive the purpose in performing a show for starving people who lived in third world wilderness. Why?

I met little swollen bellied children surrounded by flies trying to nurse every bit of liquid from their hollow eyes. Those malnourished children were hungry and we were well fed. The contrast made me cry.

They huddled around me, curious and delighted with my bright red hair! They grabbed my arms, studied my freckles, and stroked my hair. They giggled, bashfully hugging me. On that day, my shame was transformed. The bush children loved me for being different…especially my red hair.

I remember seeing Oprah’s “Favorite Guest,” Dr. Tererai Trent, a Zimbabwean woman who was not allowed to have an education. Married at 11, she had three children by 18, and her husband beat her every day.
One day, Jo Luck, the head of an aid group, Heifer International, came to the village, and told the women they should go after their dreams and change their lives.

Trent wrote down her dreams and buried them underneath a tree. She wanted to move to America and earn a college degree. She did all of that, and more…in fact, she earned her PHD. The Jo Luck, Missionary simply awakened Tererai to possibility.

Her story aroused memories long forgotten. I thought about singing for those swollen bellied children deep in the heart of the Congolese bush country. Could my presence in the Congo have had an impact on their lives!?

Perhaps Up With People was the catalyst that awakened their heart’s desire for breaking out of a life condemned to poverty, hunger and illness. Perhaps those children who touched my red hair, and my heart, are now adults with an education! And that thought made me cry.

It was yet another stepping-stone for leaving my mark on our planet. Even at 16, I was building a life that mattered.

Here are my tools for building a life that matters:

1. Allow change to be a driving force in your life. Often, the loss of a dream is the launching pad for discovering your destiny.

2. Sometimes, the thing that makes you different is the very thing that people will remember in a positive way.

3. Find a mentor you admire. Let that mentor believe in you until you believe in yourself. Successful people are proud of themselves! It makes them happy to be able to share their story and change people’s lives. By asking, you’ve given them purpose.

4. What are you waiting for? Discover what’s holding you back. People will change when they’ve suffered enough. Recognize how far you’re willing to go before making a change. Think of Dr. Tererai Trent, living a life of limitation and oppression in a third world country. She declared she’d had enough. If she can rise above her limitation…my dear God…anything is possible.

5. If money weren’t an issue, what would you be doing? I know for a fact, I would still be writing, even if I had millions in the bank. Writing fuels my passion for life.

6. If you were to leave this planet…what would you wish you’d said before leaving? I remember my Grandma would always make applesauce when she visited. When she died, I remember thinking…but Grandma…you forgot to tell me how to make the applesauce.” To this day, the smell of apples cooking, reminds me of her and I feel tears at the memory of her.

7. Obstacles create possibilities. As the years go by, more and more, I realize we’re told too often that our world is one of limitations. I’m looking at those roadblocks as opportunities to find a new way home. By home…I mean finding my purpose in life. If you’ve ever read the little book, “Who Moved My Cheese,” its message is one of being flexible and finding new ways to the door that feeds you. Look at all the small businesses that have cropped up because major companies have let go of so many talented, industrious people.

8. Write a list of all the things you’ve accomplished and brought joy to you and others. A few years ago, my life was at a crossroads. I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment or purpose. I looked to my very wise mentor and coach. He said, “Sandy, you’re in transition. Write a list of all the things you’ve accomplished. From that list, you’ll know you’ve made a difference, and keep doing that.” That’s exactly what I did, and what I urge you to do. It will be a resource of inspiration to carry you into the next decades of your life. You’ll feel a sense of having mattered…and isn’t that what life is all about?

9. Your “Why” should make you cry. Above all, your mind, your heart, and your soul will know when you’ve found your “Why,” because the emotion will pool deep from within and will bring you tears of knowing….and…you will cry.

Along the path, I’ve learned those early years scheduled my destiny. After my tour, I could no longer look the other way and live a life in a perfect little microcosm. I awakened to obligation and appreciation for the life I was given, even if it included challenges along the way. My “Why” came in many forms.

When my daughter was born with a facial defect, a deforming cleft, I realized it was my calling to educate. I wrote two children’s books for children with special needs. I had a profound purpose…to pave the way for my child.

Through the miracle of modern surgery, my daughter’s face is transformed. It was a process of many surgeries and orthodontic care. Today, my daughter is 23 and beautiful, but she always was.

She recently revealed to me that she used to hide in the bathroom at lunchtime in 6th grade because kids would tease her about her face. How remarkable we both spent 6th grade in self-doubt, shame, and feelings of being different.

My daughter taught me everything about the beauty of imperfection. If only I had that insight when I was that young red-haired little girl who hated the way she looked.

If you ask yourself, “What is my why?” I promise you, all will be revealed if you let it. Strive to be what your spirit calls you to do. Be open to the possibility there may be more than just one thing that summarizes your “why.”

Look to your past for clues to guide you. Life is not a linear journey. It has ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs. Taking those lessons and facing them head-on is the very thing that keeps our spirit alive. It transforms us to a higher level.

I recognize that now, and that thought makes me cry.

Author's Bio: 

Sandy Peckinpah is an author of 3 published books, a staff writer for Vintage Scene Magazine, and also co-hosts, a radio show about designing a life of passion, called Passion By Design.. She writes, speaks, and coaches on an array of inspiring subjects including transformation, grief, and resilience, and career changes. Her blog is