In the first Agape Latte held at SLU, Dean of Students Dr. Mona Hicks sang, cried, laughed and loved. During midterms week, the audience was skimpy, but attentive. Dr. Hicks shared that her bedtime is normally not too far from the event’s 8:30 p.m. start time, but she accepted the invitation to speak to students because, as she phrased it, opportunities like Agape Latte are the most important things she does in life. The talk was aimed at helping students find their personal mission, which is actually exactly what drove Dr. Hicks to ultimately go from a biology and pre-med student-athlete at St. Edward’s University, to an executive position in higher education at SLU.
Dr. Hicks’ talk was neither a lecture nor an informational workshop. It was the sort of talk that comes every once in a while from someone who really cares, a heart-to-heart sometimes difficult to find on a busy, hectic college campus. It takes a special person to fill the space of a part college cafeteria, part sports bar, part night club that the Bill Grill seems to try and fit. In fact, the multi-function use of the space seemed to parallel Dr. Hick’s own personal interests of food, sports and music. Dr. Hick’s used the song, “Joyful, Joyful” to help open her time with the 50 or so students scattering among the tables and booths in the Bill Grill. When the food service staff intermittently interrupted to announce the next order ready at the counter, Dr. Hick’s jokingly repeated the number, ready to swing between humor and honesty as seamlessly as a successful executive would.
Far from the dorky Ph.D. type that might trip over his or her own shoelaces, Dr. Hicks looks like she can still score the winning penalty kick for her college soccer team. But as the 40 minutes or so of sharing went on, it became clear that is far from how Dr. Hicks see herself now. In fact, having recently discovered that she has a wellness age of 90, Dr. Hicks embraced the report and daydreamed, in a very Ignatian way, of what her 90-year-old self might have to share both with herself and the students gathered. The “cigar-smoking, Diet Coke-drinking, patent-leather-Birkin-bag-carrying Hicks with a dope afro” would probably have at least four things to share, she decided. What follows are four ways for anyone to find their own personal mission in life.
First, find an opportunity to understand joy. That is, identify joy for yourself. As much as other people may try, only you can know what it is that brings you joy. The answers could be as diverse and as many as the kinds and number of people on the planet. Perhaps a simpler question is to ask, “What brings you peace?” Peace is different than happiness, according to Dr. Hicks, because happiness is but a moment in time. This means that happiness, to be substantive and enduring, must be generated all the time, which is exactly the sort of angle companies use to market their products and services. The pursuit of happiness becomes an endless rat race of more, more, more.
The search for joy and peace was personal for Dr. Hicks since, as a precocious child, she was able to recognize how “unwell” her father was. Quite literally a genius, Dr. Hicks’ father was on the design teams for the first cordless phone, the Frito Lay logo and the K-Car, the world’s first sedan. The success in the engineering labs and boardrooms did not necessarily carry over into the Hicks home life. Dr. Hicks’ father filled his struggle, his emptiness, with drugs. This struggle at home only brought greater purpose to Dr. Hicks’ own life and role in her family.
The second way to find your mission, according to Dr. Hicks, is to find your purpose in life, or perhaps first, become convinced that you have a purpose. For Dr. Hicks, her father created the void that had to be filled in her family. It would be Dr. Hicks who would raise her younger brother, Willy. While any older sibling might be expected to help with his or her siblings, like changing a diaper, running an errand, or offering brotherly or sisterly advice, for Hicks, this reality culminated in her brother refusing to leave her side when she moved in as a freshman at college. Dr. Hicks’ introduction to the “college nightlife” was comforting her younger brother until 2 a.m., when he was finally convinced to leave. For that emotional day, “every sharp corner became magnetized to his head.” Willy struggled to see his older sister go because she was more than just an older sister, but also the loving parent that was missing in his life. Dr. Hicks shared that her family lived from paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes from meal to meal. Dr. Hicks shared how this upbringing makes her extremely open and receptive to the stories she hears from students today.
The challenges of the college years were hardly limited to move-in day. After an assault just before her senior year of college, Dr. Hicks found herself going from hospital, to courtroom, to taking a semester off from college altogether. In this time of trial, Dr. Hicks actually felt comfortable telling her story, because people needed to hear it. This gave her purpose, and what gives her purpose now, she shared, was coming to work and seeing students in need. Dr. Hicks shared that it is family and friends who often so clearly see the purpose in a student’s life, so finding your purpose does not happen in a vacuum, but through experience and conversation with those who know you best.
Thirdly, one seeking to find their personal mission in life must also constantly seek opportunities for meaningfulness and passion. For Dr. Hicks, the Agape Latte event was a case in point. While she normally might already be sleeping by the time the event finished, she knew that her 90-year-old self was challenging her to accept the opportunity, the opportunity for meaningfulness and passion. Dr. Hicks mentioned that in order to seek opportunities for meaningfulness, one must be willing to be in meaningful spaces. For her, and the students in attendance, that meant the Bill Grill on a late Tuesday evening. The event was an opportunity for Dr. Hicks to tell her story and to offer students a chance to hear it and relate to it.
Lastly, Dr. Hicks shared that authenticity, too, was a way to find your personal mission in life. The Agape Latte event itself was another illustration of this point. Dr. Hicks shared how she was trying to be 100 percent transparent, “which is really hard to do right now.” She recognized the role that others, and in this case the students in attendance, continually play in that endeavor, saying, “I am here for you to check me.” Authenticity, for Dr. Hicks, is simply the intersection of one’s head, heart and hands. That is, the overlapping of one’s thoughts, beliefs or feelings, and the way one fuses and connects the two. Sadly, Dr. Hicks shared, too many people do not have the time to integrate their beliefs and feelings with the other two aspects of authenticity.
Dr. Hicks shared that she felt “blessed to be a blessing.” Her conviction that she is supposed to live and tell her story will only guarantee that she continues to bless SLU’s campus and students with her wisdom and sincere love, all while bringing her own life joy, purpose, passion and authenticity.