Tragedy Can Help Us Find Our Life’s Purpose


“Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus.” ~Robert Brault

Just over two decades ago, I happened to be planted in the Midwest. Chicago. The southside to be exact. A location once recognized as a haven for successful black people handling their business while their kids frolicked throughout the streets, making up secret handshakes, basking in the sun and enjoying their youth.

And then, as the years progressed, things began to change; our haven was becoming less safe.

As if a nebulous cloud began to form over our neighborhood with a torrential rainstorm of bullets impending, some parents forced their children to stay inside as the lightening and thundering began to rain down.

The unfortunate news is that some children of varying generations were left out in the storm, with many, many lives lost due to senseless violence. And I wondered, “Why me?” Why do I deserve such shelter while so many of my brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles must brave the storm and suffer?

“Why was I so blessed?”

You see, I may not have grown up with the riches of the world, but I was indeed wealthy—inundated with support, guidance, education, and love. I was recognized as “one who would make it out,” and indeed I did, but not without the scars, physically and emotionally, to show for it.

As I journeyed forward, attending a top twenty university, my erudite persona led many of my classmates to believe that my younger years were a cake walk—that I must have come from a rich, wealthy and white neighborhood. But in fact, I was born amongst my own, tender brown, beautiful skin.

But still, my peers did not believe me. I was in a battle. Lest did I know, it was much with myself.

So I began to fear and hate where I was from so much that I often cried to my mother, screaming that I did not want to return home during the summer months. But I had to anyway. So I did—in mental steel shackles—going straight from work to the gym to home everyday in fear, feeding the hunger of my hatred even more.

I was such a frustrated young man who had the world in the palm of his hands, but who had not yet recognized its power.

It wasn’t until I began traversing that palm that I realized there was a much bigger world out there and that many more people had gone through far more than me, and interestingly enough, still had enough umph to persist and fight on.

So I decided to give it a shot. Try it out. Test it out and venture to places, near and far away, discovering more of the world while discovery myself. As I did, the pain of Chicago traveled with me. A few years ago, right after I moved to the Dominican Republic, I received this email on January 7, 2010 from my mother:

Hey babe. Some sad news, Cody was killed on Sunday right down the street. He was with Marlon in a car and a guy walked up and shot them both, but Cody died on Monday with 14 gunshot wounds. So sad. I love you.

And then later again that year, a few days after I followed my dreams of moving to Los Angeles, I received a phone call from my mother stating these words:

Marlon was killed just up the block from our house. He was with some people and someone came up and shot him in the neck and back. Be Careful. Love you.

Out of all the people in my life that had passed on, why were these two more significant?

Sure, we did not stay in the best of contact past high school, but we shared something much stronger—something much more powerful: childhood dreams. 

As we played football and baseball in the abandoned lot directly across the street from my house, we dreamed of growing up to become the likes of Randy Moss and Derek Jeter. We had huge dreams—dreams that we knew would one day come true.

But after I lost both of them, the dream deflated and the big question: “why me—why am I so freakishly blessed?” returned, until I was asked an even greater question: “Why not you, Alex?”

Instead of counting your blessings and asking why you are so blessed, why don’t you live a life focused more on sharing those blessings?’

“Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus.”

I cried a lot and it was not until others helped me meditate upon it and realize that all the bad and unfortunate events in my life could be leveraged as lessons to help me, instead of destroy me. And indeed, they did, but it took time—years.

The shedding of those tears did in fact help me find my life’s purpose while understanding life’s purpose, which is to teach us, to expand us, to challenge us, to grow us—to evolve us to show us that nothing is permanent in life, and to be grateful for this year, this day, this moment.

Gratitude, once taken into practice, can change your life.

And now, I can honestly look back with a better understanding of my past while holding gratitude for what was and what is. I choose to trust the struggle moving forward, because the more I go through and learn, the more I can help others.

And the same goes for you. You have the power to help others.

We are not only here to share our stories of heroism, happiness, and jubilance, but also to share our stories of hurt, pain, and sadness to be an extra shoulder to cry on and to show others that there is someone out there that not only knows their pain, but also feels it.

So today, I ask you: what lessons have you learned from the hardest times of your life and what would you say to the person who is going through something similar right now?

Because I guarantee there are some individuals reading your comments that could really use the love and encouragement.

This article is dedicated to Cody, Marlon, to the children of Chicago (of all generations) and to the world.

Photo by Leland Francisco

About Alex Echols

Currently traveling the world with the intention of building a stronger foundation in order to better serve those around him, Alex Echols is considered to be quite the adventurer. He is a published author, coach, and the creator of the One Life Brand and his adventures can be followed at and instagram: alex_echols.

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  • Debbie

    Alex, good for you and thank you for sharing your story. Yes, we all have our stories, some are worse than others. We all need to appreciate where we came from, because it makes us into who we are. i had a father that was a weekend drunk and always thought I had it tough. Now that I hear others stories, I realize just how lucky I was and am.
    Thanks again for sharing, you are right in that those stories can help others see that there is a rainbow waiting to come out, if we just take the time to put the piece of the puzzle together and let the sun shine through
    Blessing to you,debbie

  • Hey Alex, Thanks for sharing !
    I absolutely agree with what you wrote here.
    Sometimes all the bad things that happen to us are simply a way for us to grow within and find the right path for us 🙂

  • Phoebe

    I don’t know if I found my purpose through tragedy but I definitely found my inner strength. After the sudden death of my Father my family found itself adrift and without our main source of guidance – he was the undoubted leader and foundation of our family and our extended family as well. While the missing him never goes away, learning to survive without him transformed me. What I came to realize was, I wasn’t as lost and helpless as I thought, quite the opposite. All of the years spent with him at the helm of our ship were ingrained in me. His wisdom wasn’t lost, but passed on, and it allowed me to navigate my world independently. It was like finding pieces of him everywhere which not only eased my grief but allowed me to build my own confidence in myself. I’m able to honor him by taking up his reigns – even when it’s daunting. Appreciating all of what I have just b/c I was fortunate enough to call him “mine” instead of despairing over the things I lost.

  • growthguided

    That is a beautiful message. Thank you for sharing this story with us!

  • Thanks for delivering a great message, really powerful. I am sure we will all at some point in our lives be stimulated to think about life from situations of death. I went through a stage of reflecting about “what if I were on my death bed” and picturing the way I felt, was quite a powerful life changing reflection as it made me realise that I wasn’t living my life purpose and had an empty feeling inside, from that moment I decided to start living my true path and start making a contribution to the world. This article reinforces that change in my life, much love, Aaron

  • Joy

    You will be o.k 🙂

  • Alex Echols

    Debbie, I totally agree – as long as we are cognizant and don’t rush things with the expectation that the puzzle pieces will fall perfectly in place on our time, an understanding as to why something happened, is formed. Thanks for your message and the support. Take care.

  • Alex Echols

    It’s great to be amongst so many like minded people. Thank you for reading and have an awesome day!

  • Alex Echols

    Thank you for reading Joy.

  • Alex Echols

    My pleasure, I am glad you enjoyed it, Kael. Thanks for reading it!

  • Alex Echols

    Aaron, I am very happy to hear that you are living a life of purpose, passion and awareness. Keep moving forward making great contributions. Take care.

  • Alex Echols

    Phoebe, such a wonderful and beautiful anecdote. I hope you continue to appreciate all you have and lead a life of purpose and compassion. Have a great day.

  • Samadhi

    Adversity, frustration, contempt, and dissatisfaction are tremendous forces in shaping the characters of those who push for positive movements. BUT, following dreams isn’t enough. One must ask as the Earth is walked, what is it that will be left behind? Will it be ephemeral, or will it be concrete? To leave behind concreteness, one must build. To build, one must sacrifice. To sacrifice, one must make choices. To make choices, one must be considerate. To be considerate, one must embrace clarity. To embrace clarity, one must maximize innate potential. To maximize innate potential, one must look inward. To look inward, one must give outward. To give outward, one must find the source. To find the source, one must stop all movement and take time. The source is not material, and the source is not ephemeral. The source is not words nor is it consolation or reflection. The source is impersonal creation. Ruthless, relentless creation. Positive creation. Participatory creation. Concrete creation. Seek not to offer that which falls through the hands of watchers and listeners like a liquid in loose hands. Find instead the resources to bring to others what they need to create concreteness. Concreteness, having eliminated negativity and having been provided with purely polarized positivity to achieve this solid state, becomes infinite substance. Infinite substance, to those who assisted in its creation, is maximized potential. Infinite substance is that which can be held and grasped, can be looked upon close and far, can be scrutinized, criticized, improved upon, added to, and results in further building. The concreteness of infinite substance is the building block for eternality. Create eternality through an infinite substance that others can use to become eternal. The eternality that is shaped while participating in the building of infinite substance serves as a tool for another to build their own infinite substance, and is the way to leave behind the timeless substance that is your own for another to take as their own, whether in the present or for countless years in the future.

  • Jacqueline

    You are amazing Alex, so incredibly proud of you, inspired by you, and grateful that you are in my life. Loved this and looking forward to reading more 🙂

  • magical8487

    This is awesome, Alex! 🙂

  • Alex Echols

    Thank you!

  • Alex Echols

    Thank you so much Jackie 🙂

  • Alex Echols

    Thank you for sharing your words Samadhi

  • Rachael

    Thank you, very helpful. I am going through a complete nightmare in my life. I feel all of the negativity trying to suffocate my basic goodness. I am encouraged to know that many others have found strength, wisdom, and inner peace on the other side of tragedy.

  • Alex Echols

    I am happy you found some inspiration in this post. Keep fighting and moving forward to find more strength, wisdom and inner peace for yourself. Take care.

  • robyn

    Well, Alex…we share some similarity in our stories. I too have been incredibly blessed with the course of events that have transpired in my life. I went through a period where I asked “Why me?” alot, but now I simply understand that regardless of the path that I have walked, I have an obligation (a driven desire) to help others selflessly..and herein lies the joy of my life. I love fiercely and open my heart to all. I cannot be anything else. Much love on your onward journey. 🙂