The Purpose of it All

-A  Final Reflection from Julia Sleeper-Whiting, Founder Executive Director-

Growing up I always told everyone I wanted to be a veterinarian. This was the “dream” I held on to for so long that it took me all the way to an acceptance at Bates College and nearly declaring a major in Biology freshman year. The hilarious and ironic part of this “dream” was that I’m actually super allergic to cats and dogs, was absolutely horrible at my science classes, and even though our gracious local vet allowed me to “job shadow” him in high school, I could never remember half of what he taught me or challenged me to remember. I began to realize as I cusped into adulthood that this so-called “dream” was not really real at all, or at least not my true purpose. 


I don’t know the origin of the phrase that “your purpose in life is where your skills/interests intersect with the world’s greatest need” but I do remember hearing this from time to time as a young adult. I was fairly confident that I knew my skill sets, but I was severely lacking in knowledge about the world’s greatest needs. But really, how does one determine that? And is it arrogant or elitist to try to do that? After all who am I to judge what the world or others need? But as I matured and sought answers, I began to realize the difference between striving to address “needs in the world” and striving for “a cause.” Don’t get me wrong, both are noble and important, but I have found needs leads you to purpose where “a cause” often leads you to merely a position. 


Purpose is fluid; it evolves, taking shape in different ways as life progresses. It’s not grounded in a title or a specific career path but rather works towards creating more or less of something existing in the world. 


It took me a long time to accept that a life of purpose was my dream and not my career path.  After almost 10 years as the founder and Executive Director of Tree Street Youth, people still ask me when I will move on to “a real job?” But I think I get it now. When people ask this question, they are trying to determine for themselves the difference between dreams of purpose and dreams of pathways. We are definitely also not great as a society in promoting purpose vs. specific career paths which I think sometimes trips up young people who truly want to explore or just truly don’t know what they want to “become.”


As I reflect about the three Samara Stories we shared in the past few weeks Dream Big Section, each was a powerful expression of purpose. Our storytellers did not lock themselves into a certain pathway or a rigid plan. Bravery at its essence… something I strive for each day. 

Anna, who perfectly represents to me the importance of the concept of cultivating skills in her music regardless of where she is or how her pathway changed.


Jake who recognized the importance of honoring the legacy and values instilled in him as a young child by his family is what led him to identify a need in the world around safe space to heal after loss.

Or Angela’s story that so powerfully honors the tale of her mother’s life and legacy and how the importance and modeling she showed her children by following her passion despite the multitude of reasons that might have led her to stop.



With this being the last chapter of 2020’s Samara Stories, I think it’s important to lift up and celebrate all of the remarkable people who were willing to share their wisdom with us all. These are the stories of individuals who honored their family’s legacies, identified needs in the world, found or are finding purpose, and are truly dreaming big in a time where it is so easy to lose oneself to the despair or complexity of the world. 


This experience with Samara Stories helped me realize encouraging, collecting, and sharing these stories is am important step for me personally in my journey to discover my own purpose. The world needs more inspiration, love, and stories told by “regular people” leading boldly, finding strength to overcome obstacles, chase dreams, and believing in themselves and those around them.


After all…When it really comes down to it, isn’t finding purpose the purpose of it all?