What to do when everything isn't awesome

How one veteran restored his sense of hope and purpose

It was cold and still outside, but inside, Legoland was bustling with energetic children and parents who were building and racing their cars and other creations on wheels. Beyond the ramps, down the Lego-lined paths, was a seemingly happy-go-lucky young man. He was the gatekeeper for a massive play structure that took up the entire back wall of Legoland.

This young-looking gatekeeper was not your average college student. He was actually a two-time war veteran on 80% disability. During a firefight, as a 63H, Jeff (not his real name), was connecting a broken-down Bradley to a tow truck when his knee got pinched between the two vehicles. His right kneecap was shattered. As a result of his service, he sustained multiple injuries including a shoulder dislocation and a fractured lower vertebra.

At the end of his contract with the military, Jeff landed on the couch, overweight, broken and without purpose. His life changed the day Wounded Warriors paid a house visit.  They encouraged Jeff to get off the couch and do something that he wanted to do.

As a Lego enthusiast who would build with his small son via Skype during deployments, Jeff applied to Legoland. Within nine months he moved up to the position of Master Builder. Jeff began getting paid to build oversized Lego structures like Turner Field for Miniland and Lego iPad cases, much to the delight of visiting children and family members.

“When I landed this job,” said Jeff, “I felt like I had direction.”

Jeff also decided to apply for school. He’s currently working on his degree in engineering. In five years, Jeff says he will be doing something with his engineering degree. In the meantime, Jeff found hope and purpose in his current situation.

Jeff’s two golden rules for a turnaround after a life-altering event:

  • Build a big network of people. Jeff says, “They don’t always have to be family.” He works alongside a few fellow veterans at Legoland.
  • Be open. “Talk to somebody,” Jeff continued, “anybody.” Although he is a very open person, Jeff mostly confides in his parents who are both former Soldiers as well as other veterans.

Charles R. Swindoll said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

At the age of 27, Jeff is on 80% disability. It didn’t stop him from trying again. Jeff has had three surgeries to fix his shattered knee. He lives in constant pain and gets shots in his knee every two weeks in order to bear the pain of the day-to-day activity. He wears a leg brace under his uniform. Sometimes, when the pain is unbearable, he walks with a cane and sleeps in his leg brace.

Eventually, Jeff would like to get a full knee replacement. For now he lives and works with the pain. Jeff looks at what he can do – he doesn’t focus on his limitations. Jeff finds joy being around smiling children and family members at Legoland. He finds purpose in building. He knows it’s not his ultimate destination, but Jeff is enjoying the journey.

Purpose comes in waves. Waves come in tides. Tides continue to change.

Jeff’s first wave of purpose was to grab on to hope. He made a decision to step out of isolation and find hope in community and work. He found that joy is contagious.

Jeff found another wave of purpose when he began speaking to other young Soldiers who came out of the military without direction. He uses his own transformational story as a way to connect and inspire. Like how Wounded Warriors helped him, he now helps infuse others with hope and direction.

His next wave was college.

Jeff isn’t sure what is in store for his future. However, one thing is certain, Jeff has a purpose right here in the “now.” He found hope doing something he loves.

What is your “now” purpose? Perhaps, you need to focus on intentionally restoring hope to your life. Maybe you need to find joy in the little things. You may need to take the next step in learning a new trade or job.

It doesn’t come all at once. Purpose comes in waves over time. If you can find purpose and satisfaction with where you are now, you’ve won half the battle. The other half is continuing to find and ride new waves. I challenge you to select one focus area and go for it. Things may not go liked you imagined but if you can change the way you think about your circumstances, you can reclaim your sense of purpose and joy – right now.