What is your life’s purpose?
Connecting people through stories to strengthen community.
How are you living your purpose?
I write books that reveal the lives and personalities or people we often don’t think about—the global poor, garment factory workers, and farmers. In Where am I Wearing? I went to the places my clothes were made to meet the people who made them. In Where Am I Eating? I followed a few of my favorite items of food to meet the farmers who produce them. Every day, we are connected to people around the world and we have very little idea what their lives are actually like. In my work, I put faces behind the labels.
I also co-founded The Facing Project, a community storytelling model. Think about the most challenging thing you faced in your life. Remember how alone you felt in that moment? But really you were surrounded by people who’ve faced the same challenges. You just didn’t realize it. Or maybe there are people in your community facing something you can’t even imagine.
The Facing Project is a nonprofit that empowers communities to champion these stories through acts of empathy—storytelling, listening, writing, and theatre. We help communities face topics such as poverty, homelessness, racism, and addiction by connecting neighbors in the storytelling process. Over the past five years, The Facing Project has worked with 75 communities and 7,500 volunteers to bring to life 1,500 stories.
How did you find your purpose?
After college, I put my anthropology degree to use as a SCUBA instructor in Key West. I’d save up my money and blow it all traveling. I started writing about my travels and before I knew I was getting paid 10s of dollars a month! It was the world’s most expensive hobby and I loved it. I’d save up money, travel, repeat.
I was looking for the next place to go and I had this T-shirt that had a picture of a guy named Tattoo from a TV how in the ‘80s (Fantasy Island). It read: Come with me to my tropical paradise. I decided I would go wherever the shirt was made, so off I went to Honduras. After SCUBA diving and jungle hiking, I decided I should at least go to the factory where the shirt was made. While there, I met a guy, Amilcar, who was about my same age. That’s when things go real and the focus of my writing and travel shifted from having adventures to telling the stories of people who often go unheard.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Leave. Book a ticket right now to Central America or Southeast Asia or Africa. Not Europe. Find yourself in some village teaching kids to throw a Frisbee. Meet people who speak a different language, worship a different god, and live vastly different lives than your own. Leaving helps us know our homes and ourselves better, and we evaluate what is most important in our own lives.
What resources do you recommend?
Read and subscribe to your local newspaper no matter how bad it is. Be a part of your community.
Read The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty by Peter Singer and visit his website. He makes us ask tough questions of ourselves.
80000hours.org — the best career guide I’ve seen.
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam to examine the decline of community in American culture.
Kelsey Timmerman is the New York Times Bestselling author of Where am I Wearing?: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes and Where Am I Eating?: An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy. His writing has appeared in places such as the Christian Science Monitor and has aired on NPR. Kelsey is also the co-founder of the Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community.