Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

The Purpose of Life

Without much research, I dare to say that when it comes to answering the existential question of the purpose of one’s life, there are four kinds of people:

  1. Those that don’t care. Or better yet: Don’t think there is one. For them there is only one life, and after that there’s nothing. Therefore, living this life and reaching happiness in the present is the only thing that makes sense to them… My dad, I *think*.
  2. Those that care deeply, and spend their whole life on a quest trying to find out the truth of all… My mom.
  3. Those that care, and at several points of their lives think about it, but are so busy trying to live life, that in order to move on, create some vague notion of what they believe, and live on that assumption without dogma… Me.
  4. And then, there are those who believe exactly what their religion, guru, or spiritual leader tells them to believe.

So, since I care and choose to believe that there is some purpose to my life, I’m usually interested when I hear a new interpretation or theory on existential questions. For instance, almost nine years ago, while reading The Celestine Prophecy, I found an interesting idea in the 6th insight.

The insight discusses the different ways how people struggle for power, and calls them “personal dramas”. They are: intimidator (threatens you to get your energy), interrogator (finds faults and undermines your world), aloof (acts mysterious and secretive to get you to wonder what’s going on with them), and poor me (implies that you might be responsible for what’s happening to them). The insight argues that every person’s drama is shaped during childhood, from the interaction of a child with his/her parents, and the observation of the power struggle in the family. When you understand the dynamics on your family, you can understand why you were born to it: Your existence begins in a position between your parents’ truths. You must discover what each of them taught you and what you think they could have done better… What you would change about each of them. The insight reveals that your whole life is about combining these two approaches. This is your evolutionary question, the problem you must solve, and your quest in this lifetime.

I find this idea interesting. Whether some high force in the universe crafted things so that people’s mission is to become a more perfect version of their ancestors and contribute to a collective evolution of spirits, or not, this theory sounds to me very consistent with psychology. And whether it tells me what I should do with my life, or it simply explains the underlying forces behind my psyche, I took on the challenge and decided to analyze my interpretation of my parent’s truths, and see if mine is somewhat in the middle.

I did this nine years ago, at a time when I was in graduate school pursuing an MBA degree after having worked in the real world for 1.5 years. The risk I run by sharing it with the world is that my parents may read it one day and disagree with my interpretations. And that would be fine. What I’ll say about my parents on this post is not the absolute truth about them. It’s probably not their current truth either (They may have changed during this time). It simply is what I interpreted. Right or wrong, it’s what my inner child learned to reconcile during the time I lived with them.

Approaching life and the cruel world

Dad’s general approach to life is: You have to do what you must. The world is what it is, and you must accept it and deal with it. You must solve the problem… Fulfill your responsibilities.

Dad needs to feel in control, solve problems and have everything moving in perfect order, without insurrection, without questioning. His responsibility is providing for his family. He believes that as long as the material aspect is solved, everything else should be ok. He becomes frustrated when his efforts don’t result in what they were supposed to result: When people around him bring emotional chaos to his life.

Mom’s approach is: You must go beyond the ordinary conscience, find TRUTH, find your personal quest. You must evolve… Must become better.

Mom looses balance when she fears losing her material anchor… When she must face the cruel world. She moves around problems and solves them, but considers them a heavy burden. One that brings her back down to the ground, against her wishes to lift to her spiritual world of inner search… A world she believes is more real and true in the long run.

Taking risk and making things happen

Dad takes risk, and if he loses he’s certain that he can recover the loss. If he loses, well… he loses. “That’s life”. He accepts this and keeps working with twice the effort to get it back.

Mom hates taking risk because she fears she won’t be able to recover any losses. She hates losing in the first place. Whenever something goes wrong, she thinks of all the things that could’ve been done to avoid the problem: “If we would’ve”… “We should’ve”… “We could’ve”…

Dad is a warrior. He takes action in his hands. He doesn’t wait for good things to happen to him. Instead, he goes out and makes them happen. Without paralyzing fear, he lets go of what he has, and brings to his life whatever it is that he wants.

Mom is in continuous search. Dad is hands in work on the material reality. He survives the cruel world. Mom wants to survive the spiritual world. She wants to make it into the world that comes after this life. She needs the material aspect to be solved so she can live, but on her own, she feels incapable to make it work. She wishes she could, and wants me to have such power so I can be free. She wants to liberate me from any burdens, family and even herself, so that I can freely walk my path. So does dad. He wants to arm me with all the tools I need to make the material world work on my own. But if I can’t, he’s there for me. He will always provide for me.

Me (Nine Years Ago)

I share mom’s fundamental fear. However, I don’t want to feel as powerless as she does. I want to have dad’s power to conquer the practical world. I want to feel as capable as him; he is my measure of success. I compare myself with dad and feel that if I’m not as “executive” as he is, I am LESS. I don’t want fear to stop me. That’s why I keep trying to prove myself that I can get into Management Consulting. I want to have the peace of knowing that if I don’t become some big corporate executive it’s not because I couldn’t do it, but because I chose not to after having tried.

And then, I also know that the life of a corporate executive won’t fill me. In reality, I need to feed on something else… Not on practical reality (which in a certain way I disdain). I want to control this reality, only so that I can look for happiness somewhere else. I find happiness in things that don’t have much impact on the material world; instead they simply make me FEEL. I find happiness in things that charge me with energy and give me inner peace, like painting, like music, like creating beautiful things that others may think are a waste of time.

I want to have it all: Fulfilled material needs AND my happiness. And I want MYSELF to be the architect of both. I would like to have a combination of dad’s professional success and domain over the material world, and mom’s peace and time and means to fill herself spiritually and evolve.

Me (Today)

I don’t believe I’m a more perfect version of either of my parents: I am less successful and powerful than my dad, and less spiritual and flexible than my mom. Yet, I do have to say that looking back, I can see how my truth lies between both of them. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know…

After business school, I went far ahead at work that I could’ve gotten into the track to corporate leadership roles. And I chose not to. When I told my parents that I wanted to quit my job and switch careers, mom worried about my economical survival (web designers make less than MBAs). I argued that I couldn’t be happy where I was, and dad warned me that life is hard, and so is work, and some times you just have to suck it up. Despite all my fears, I did it anyway. And although I do make much less money now than I did back then, I make enough to live and BE HAPPY.

In a vague way, I believe that a big part in the purpose of my life has to do with conquering personal fears. I have so many fears!… Some come in my genes, some come from the stars, some come from previous lives and universes, and others from childhood traumas… who knows… Little by little, I try to work on a few of them, to become better… to evolve… So that the spirit leaving my body at the end will be different than the one that came first. And if it all ends there, oh well… I won’t know. But if I go somewhere else, my hope is that I won’t have to deal again with the same personal challenges. I have a few of them down, and now it’s time to work on other much big ones.


  1. On , Jennifer wrote:

    I find your observations of your father most interesting in that I feel I may not be reading you correctly. You state he is of the manner: “The world is what it is, and you must accept it and deal with it.”

    Then later you say, “He doesn’t wait for good things to happen to him. Instead, he goes out and makes them happen. Without paralyzing fear, he lets go of what he has, and brings to his life whatever it is that he wants.”

    I feel those two statements sort of contradict one another in that the first makes it sound as if he really is of the “That’s life” mentality, whereas the latter sounds a bit more spiritual. By that I mean, if he doesn’t wait for good things to happen, it doesn’t seem that he’s strictly a “that’s life” guy. Also, by “bringing life to whatever it is he wants,” he is conquering a world that may not have been predefined.

    Anyway, those were the thoughts I had as I read your article.

    Finally, you do sound a lot like your father in how you chose to change careers. You accepted life for what it was for you and went with it. You brought life to the things you wanted. So, you are both of your parents, very clearly, to me :)


  2. On , Maria wrote:

    Ah. Let me clarify:

    Say, my dad is second in command, but he wants to be first. He wants to run the show, but the guy above him seems like will never leave. I know many people that would stay there… waiting for something or somebody to promote them. Instead, dad will find an opportunity to become first without losing. He’ll go somewhere else, or do something (never hurting the guy above him). For instance, one thing he did in this case was to come up with a new business for the company and convince everyone that he should run it. And so he did.

    “That’s life” comes up for events out of his control. Or for personal feelings that go against fulfilling your responsibilities. While my mom will think of how some problem should’ve been avoided, dad thinks “Oh well… I can fix it” (if he can), or “Oh well… I have to suck it up” (if it is completely out of his control).

    “That’s life” also comes up when Mom and I get engaged on philosophical conversations about how things should be. “Countries shouldn’t get in war”, “People shouldn’t steal”, “My boss hates me”, etc. Dad’s response to that kind of ponderings is always along the lines of “suck it up… that’s life”. He doesn’t “waste” his time thinking of how he could fix the crazy world. He believes you just have to deal with it.

    I hope I’m not making it sound like my dad is awesome and my mom isn’t… They are both masters of different (and opposing) domains, and looking back at my adult life, it’s clear to me that I’ve kept doing things to reach some balance between both of those worlds.

  3. On , Marla wrote:

    Interesting thoughts. I do believe that we are grown from our roots and our roots are our parents and those who have a hand in raising us. If we don’t evaluate what those people have given us, good and bad, then we don’t really discover who we are or why we should be different.

    I discovered this young. My father was not the kind of husband a woman would want, especially a woman far from home with two small children. When my parents divorced, the bitterness my mother felt toward my father was palpable and when my mother would say things that parents say like “You’re just like your father!”, it would offend me. So my personal pendulum would swing away from everything he was. Except that I was missing one key thing, he was part of me and so I cut out a piece of myself possibly ugly but ultimately, not MY reality.

    Being a bad husband translated in some ways into being a bad father, but he wasn’t a bad father in my world. I only knew my mother’s point of view. After I realized that, I strove to understand the good in him. To understand that they both SURVIVED in different ways. Mom survived abuse at many hands, including verbal abuse from my father, and my father survived the Vietnam war and personally, I think he never fully recovered from the aspects of war that no one is truly equipped to manage. Neither, in my opinion have moved very far beyond their survival and to me, life is more than that. It HAS to be more than that, because I’ve lived in survival mode and it’s kind of a dark place.

    I live in a world between them and beyond them, for my beliefs are not truly theirs. I hope that I have learned what the best of them is and plucked that from the rest and then added a dash of the things I’ve learned throughout my life, including my Faith in Christ, to plant the seeds of life in myself and in my offspring.

    I use that knowledge to form my foundation and test who I am. To leap or stay put. And I see that our daughter does the same based on her own reality that her world is stable and she can move forward knowing there is some place for her to come back to quickly and easily. I LOVE that.

    It’s not about happiness to me; happiness is transient. It’s about fulfillment. I was not happy when my baby died. But in a strange way I will not be able to understand, Christ stepped in and filled the emptiness, with a fullness that is so much more than having that baby in my arms. A trust that extended past my small grief. Believe me, I felt the emptiness and wallowed in the dark places during the time of his death, but in the end, life was affirmed and fulfilled. Happiness comes and goes but I always know that my life has purpose whether I know that purpose or not and that is what keeps me going from day to day.

  4. On , Maria wrote:

    I agree with you Marla, and would like to correct: When I said “happiness”, I really meant personal fulfillment. I’m not an eternally happy person (though I’ve had a few short periods of true joy and appreciation for life). But I do, constantly look for fulfillment, and inner peace.

    Your mention of Olivia reminds me of a thought I had as soon as finished this post: I wonder what my [not yet conceived] children’s perception of my essence will be. Wonder what I’ll pass to them… The strength, and the weakness that they’ll “understand” about me. Joey and I come from very different places, and I wonder what are those two poles that our children will learn to reconcile.

  5. On , Jennifer wrote:

    Thanks for the clarification! And, btw, I totally think your mother sounds awesome. I just got the feeling that you felt you weren’t as much like your dad as you would like, but that it sounded like you were ;)


  6. On , Kim Rodriguez wrote:

    very interesting perspectives which I can truly appreciate knowing both of them from “outside” the family and yet with some of the knowledge of all the family heritage and “baggage”! It’s a great thing to be able to go back and look at our parents with wisened eyes and experience and see just how much of what we thought we’d never be does somehow rub off! I also often think i would love to know what my kids impressions are as they look back….what jewels do they carry with them? It would make for an interesting discussion someday when they have been longer out of the nest!