After I finished residency, I went to work as a psychiatrist in corporate medicine. But within two years, I realized that this career path was not my calling. Twenty years ago, I began devoting my spare time to giving talks on LGBTQ+ rights, equality, and suicide reduction. And I discovered my true passion, which was being an advocate, mentor, and role model for LGBTQ youth and young adults.
I wanted to become the person who could have helped me when I was young and struggling with my sexuality. This advocacy turned out to be the most satisfying path in my life.
My path in advocacy has not been linear or planned in advance, but I have learned a lot along the way. So I want to share five things I have learned as an advocate. My hope is that they might help you advocate for the things you’re passionate about.
1. Know who you are
It’s important to know who you are, beyond your professional title. I’m referring to your ‘why’ in life. What is your true purpose? What were you put on this earth to achieve? If you’re currently doing something in life that you love to do, regardless if you get paid for it, then you have found your ‘why.’ If this doesn’t describe you, it’s OK, but please don’t settle. Keep searching.
You’ll know when you find your ‘why.’
I knew my ‘why’ shortly after I gave my first talk in Nebraska in 2000. After sharing my coming out story to a small class of college students, the professor of the class wrote me to say one his students came out to him and joined the college’s PRIDE group for support.
My talk gave that student the courage to live her truth. Each and every time I hear from students on how I have impacted them just reaffirms my ‘why.’
2. There are many ways to serve
A few obvious routes for service include volunteering, donating money, advocacy, being a role model and mentoring others. For me, I found that a combination of these different forms of service filled my soul.
Although volunteering and giving presentations were my first steps toward service, they were certainly not my last. I also donated money, mentored youth, served as a role model, and wrote books, including LGBTQ+ affirmative coloring books.
Service can come in many different forms. Each one builds upon the other. And you can’t necessarily plan your path ahead of time because service is often an organic process. It unfolds and leads you along the way.
It’s important that you stay alert. Notice if what you’re doing feels right to you at the moment and brings you joy while doing it.
Being a busy physician doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for a cause that is near and dear to your heart. Easy steps can include donating money, joining a local group and developing an advocacy action plan. It’s OK if you can’t advocate as much as you’d like at first. It’s more important to simply get started.
3. Take baby steps
When you initially discover your passion and become more involved, you may not know where or how to start. Taking baby steps is the best way forward when it comes to following your destiny.
The key is to not get overwhelmed. Just take the next step that feels right to you.
Remain open to a change in direction. As you continue down your path, the next step may not feel so right after all. And that’s helpful feedback. You can always take a step back and then go another direction that does feel right.
4. The dots will connect for you
In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs commented that a person cannot connect the dots looking forward … a person can only connect the dots looking back.
My path has had many twists and turns. My current LGBTQ+ advocacy was certainly not planned or where I thought I’d be. But looking back, the dots have connected for me.
As long as you are coming from an authentic place, your path will lead you where you need to be.
5. Trust that the doors will open
When you bring passion to serving others, the world takes notice. Doors will open that would never have existed otherwise.
An example of a door opening far and wide for me was in January 2018 when the Ellen Degeneres Show contacted me after I wrote in informing them of my advocacy. I was invited to be part of Ellen’s “Million Acts of Kindness” audience for her 60th birthday show taping.
Each audience member received prize money; I used mine to start a GoFundMe campaign, which allowed me to get 6,000 copies of my PRIDE coloring book into the hands of 175 nonprofits across the U.S. and Canada.
I may not know what’s next for me in life, but I do know this: When I wake each morning and realize my service in life means more to someone else other than me, then I have a purpose. And if I don’t follow that purpose, others will suffer, including myself.
So if you have not yet found your soul’s purpose through service, don’t settle. Keep looking.
The world will be better off because of it.