What is your life’s purpose?
My life’s purpose is to experience change, and grow—and to be grateful for each opportunity to do so.
How are you living your purpose?
By not being afraid of intelligent change. I love what George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change. And those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Midlife is a good time to change our minds. Changing our minds changes our lives!
Since I’m a writer, I write stories. Everyone has a story; their life is a story. In my humorous novel, You Lucky Dog, you’ll find two profound underpinnings of my seemingly lighthearted book. They are the purpose to change and the power of love. Writing books and articles, hearing the life stories of people I meet, being kind to animals especially our best friends our dogs, trying new experiences, making others happy, helping those who seem to be in need, learning skills, visiting faraway places, creating beautiful spaces to live in, writing song lyrics—all this makes me change for the better. The purpose to experience change joyfully opens vistas and encompasses so much.
It’s not a simplistic purpose. On the contrary, I experienced pain and loss early in life. My father died suddenly when I was seven years old. My mother was left to cope alone in a foreign country far from her family. She was a young widow raising two little girls without much emotional or financial support. But she accomplished it by changing and finding joy in doing so. And she showed me that’s why we were put on this earth, to be happy—as she used to say, what else is the point of being here?
How did you find your purpose?
I moved to L.A. to attend UCLA. I got married before graduation, had a baby and enjoyed living there. After a few years, I realized it was time for a change. After much research and preparation, moving from California to the East Coast proved a better place to raise my son and a better opportunity for my husband’s work.
A few years later, I decided to change my career. I was a journalist at the time in Washington D.C. and had grown disenchanted with the path journalism was taking around 1999. I enrolled in an Art History Master’s program in New York City. The idea for my first novel was born there. Mademoiselle Victorine, was published by Random House and translated into many foreign languages.
The next big change was moving to Paris full time—fulfilling a lifelong dream. With each major change in my life, another book was born. I’ve written three, the newest one is You Lucky Dog. Not being afraid of change led to a purposeful life. And if sometimes a change was a mistake, well, it taught me something and I grew from it. Sheryl Sandberg said, “Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me.”
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
That’s easy. Become very still, close your eyes and say to yourself, what would I do if I could do anything in the world? Imagine yourself with no limits. Say to yourself, what would I do if I won the lottery and money was not a problem? If I could be ten years younger? If I had nobody to burden me, no worries and responsibilities? Then whatever answer comes to you, that’s your purpose in life. And those things that seem to be limiting you—lack of money, advanced age, people in your life holding you back— should be as nothing to you. Because you have to live your life. And after all, it’s your story, and you only get one chance. Although, if you read You Lucky Dog, tell me, do you think maybe we get more than one chance at life?
What resources do you recommend?
A blog that I think is wonderful is yours, Hélène! I recommend it because it speaks to our generation of women and men too. I like both your inspirational insights and practical, concrete solutions to problems.
I also enjoy an online magazine called My French Life and its French sister, Vie Française. Both are filled with stories about women who are leaders in their field. Also, French history and customs, and inspiration on how to “Frenchify” your life.
A book I love and changed my life (literally) is called A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century by Professor Cristina Nehring. I began reading it as a research aide for a complicated love triangle I was writing in my second novel, Shadow War. Just to give you an idea, here’s a snippet from the New York Times Book Review, “Nehring admires (these) flamboyant men and women for the creative force of their affairs, for their ability to live outside the lines, for the ferocity of their feelings. She sees our modern goals of marriage, security and comfort as limited and sad, and quotes approvingly Heloise’s statement to Abelard: ‘I looked for no marriage bond,’ she flashed. ‘I never sought anything in you but yourself.’” As I began to read the first page, I couldn’t put this book down. Every chapter held a delightful insight. Cristina Nehring’s erudite writing and her scholarly study of romantic love, illustrated by the greatest literature of our civilization, illuminated questions I had posed all my life. And now I re-read it from time to time just for the sheer pleasure of it.
I also recommend two books by the Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen: Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives and Gods in Everyman: Archetypes That Shape Men’s Lives. The book about goddess archetypes opens doors for women to discover which classical archetypes are foremost at different moments in their individual lives. From a synopsis of the book: “Depending on which goddess is more active within, one woman might be more committed to achieving professional success, while another more fulfilled as a wife and mother. From the autonomous Artemis and the cool Athena to the nurturing Demeter and the creative Aphrodite, she (Bolen) teaches women how to decide which to cultivate and which to overcome, and how to tap the power of these enduring archetypes to become a better ‘heroine’ in their own life story.” So, we come full circle to answer that first question you posed, “What is your life’s purpose?”
Debra Finerman is an American writer who lives part-time in Paris. She is the author of three novels. You Lucky Dog, her latest book, is a humorous novel for dog lovers and human lovers.
Shadow War, her second book, is a WWII novel inspired by plaques seen on walls throughout Paris dedicated to the brave Resistance Fighters who died on the spot, shot by Nazi patrols. During research for this book, she traveled to the Imperial War Museum, London and Resistance Museums in France. She met former members of Resistance groups. Espionage is familiar to her as her uncle was a CIA agent.
Her first novel, Mademoiselle Victorine, published by Random House Three Rivers Press, has been translated into six languages worldwide. Debra is a former journalist for Capital Style, The Hollywood Reporter monthly magazine, Beverly Hills Today and Beverly Hills Magazine. Her articles about France are published in the online magazine, My French Life™.
A graduate of UCLA, she earned her academic degree in Art History and Connoisseurship at Christie’s, New York.