What is My Purpose in Life?

[fa icon="calendar"] Mar 7, 2017 6:00:00 AM / by John MacDougall


Most people ask this at some point in their lives. I started out confused. I came from a crazy, violent alcoholic family in the 1950’s that also had upper middle class Republican Party professional values. I was expected to do well in school, go to college and graduate school, have a profession and be a success. I was also torn to shreds, physically and emotionally for any real or imaginary flaw. I drank and drugged every hour of every day from age 10 to age 40. Thirty years of struggle to be somebody. I collected an education and a profession, one confused academic credit at a time. Then I got sober and suddenly, I was fully conscious. Now, what?

In my first year of sobriety, I studied at Hazelden to be both a counselor and a chaplain. At that time, they gave training medallions. One side said “Hazelden”. The other side said, “We are here to serve others.” That was an important clue. My first A.A. sponsor taught me to read the Big Book and to do what it says. It said “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” It also said, “Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful.” It described our spiritual awakening as a personality change sufficient to produce recovery.

Gradually I realized that all I had to do was quit drinking and drugging, and change everything else about my life, and I would be fine! This is what had to change: It was as if I had to pull a giant lever and change gears.

Everything about me had been geared to getting everything I can. I had to pull that giant lever and change, so that everything about me now would be geared to see what I could contribute to life. A.A. calls this “seeing what we could pack into the stream of life.” I found a wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, in the preface to one of his plays. It sounds as if it was written for us alcoholics:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Frederick Buechner, in his book “Wishful Thinking” wrote that avarice, or greed, is based on the mathematical truism that, the more you get, the more you have. However, the more you give away in love, the more you are.

I remember Thanksgiving weekend, 2012. I spoke at the A.A. Roundup in Las Vegas. It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever had, thousands of alcoholics in a casino ballroom. I was talking to one of the organizers about my speaking schedule, because I did, and I still do a lot of service speaking, to A.A. groups and professional groups. He said, “John, don’t you ever stay home? I said “I’m at A.A. I am home.

When I am home with my wife, I am fully there for her, because I’d rather be with her than do something else. I have discovered that love is not just a sentiment, it is a full range of consistently loving behaviors.

When we’re using chemicals, we love things and we use people. When we get sober in A.A. we learn to love people, and we use things. We make a complete change.

In a few weeks, I will be 68 years old. I pray that in my remaining years I will live out my purpose of love and service everywhere I go.


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Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, AA Big Book, Drug Rehab, Recovery Program, Drugs Adiction

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

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