I realized that I missed my calling as I woke up in the post-surgical room after a colonoscopy when I was 49 years old. I was always a good student and was interested in the human body. My father was a doctor and I was being groomed to follow suit. At 12, I wrote a report called “Who Am I?”. In it I said… “when I grow up I want to be a doctor. If not a doctor, then an artist…” I didn’t see my father enough growing up because he worked so much and that discouraged me from following his path. When I was 17 and heading to college, I told my mother that I wanted to study Spanish. She snapped, “What are you going to do with Spanish?” When I told her I wanted to study art, again she remarked, “You’re too smart for art.” So, I studied biomedical engineering instead. You can imagine the confusion as a result of parental and societal pressures, as an immigrant I had to pursue a stable career; I didn’t have the privilege to study art. Perhaps cleared of the sh!t in my body… I realized I actually should have been a doctor if I had followed my calling.
But this blog is not about “your calling”, it’s about your purpose which may run much deeper. When I was 20 years old, a mediocre biomedical engineering student yet captain of my tennis team, I was involved in a near fatal car accident. Barely surviving and almost losing both my legs from the knee down, I was air vacced to a local trauma center and underwent a 12-hour miracle surgery to save my legs. Consequently, I had 7 more surgeries while in hospital for a month, was in full leg casts for almost 4 months, learned how to walk again, in leg braces for another 9 months and withstood another 7 operations over the next 10 years – 15 total! This week will mark the 33-year anniversary since that tragic day when a car rolled over my legs.
I won’t go into all the details of what happened next. Just to say that I was a mess. I lost everything. Everything I knew I was, how I looked and felt and any semblance of what I thought my future would be. The loss of one identity and possible re-building of another is a writing unto itself. Jiddu Krishnamurti says, in so many words, “We suffer in order to realize who we are.” After many years of pain and struggle, a self-imploding depression, grasping onto anything that gave me hope, additional trauma, and being fired from a research assistant job with the boss telling me on my way out… “you should get an automated job”, at 27, I landed in Florence, Italy where I studied art with 2 teacher angels who helped me get back on my feet. I painted self-portraits including ones of my legs, broken bones; regurgitated in paint all the pain I was feeling. A cathartic process that helped me just a little… feel more whole.
On returning to the States after 2 years in Italy, I continued to search… working as an interpreter and an art teacher… no longer hindered by my parents’ projections, I drove out to California to get my masters degree in fine arts. After about a year, I started Numi with my brother. A fluke idea we had on a walk in the Grand Canyon… I was 32. Numi created a whole other set of obstacles and challenges. A new belief in myself. I took it moment by moment, day by day. I remember calling my girlfriend once telling her, “Do you realize I have been walking to the same post office box collecting the mail every morning for the past 5 years?” Before that, I couldn’t plan my life for more than 3 months at a time.
Twenty-two years later I still wake up every morning and check my Numi e-mail. Numi landed on me not because I pursued my purpose. It’s because I brought purpose and meaning to anything I did. Maybe I was born that way… or maybe my accident drove me deeper… but what I’ve learned is that you can do what you set yourself to overcome. The keys are… trust, belief, and not second guessing yourself. Confidence in Italian is confidenza, with trust. So perhaps “purpose” is an ever-deepening belief in yourself. A peeling of the layers of self-doubt. That you have value. That you were born with inherent value. Otherwise, why would you have been born?
Numi’s higher purpose is to create and catalyze change in the world. Through our teas which in themselves are life transforming. Organic and carefully curated, I believe they are made with love. That’s why they taste so good. We believe in better in ourselves and the world and hence bring meaning and responsibility to whatever we do… from sustainable packaging to equitable wages, water access and sanitation for farmers to our food relief response for families in Oakland after Covid, our deeper care for the world resonates. Numi encourages you, our consumers to activate your purpose in wherever you find yourself in life. When you do, you will make yourself and the world more whole. My circuitous life led me to Numi. Not sure where it will lead me next. But I know now I will bring my purpose with me…
Co-Founder & Chief Brand Officer, Numi