I found this article the other day and was incredibly inspired by it. I’ve heard of existentialism before but never fully understood what it was. For years I have grappled with what to do with myself, where I should focus my time, what talents can be most profitably developed, and what career can fit all those criteria.
It’s interesting, though, because this article is titled “On Finding Your Purpose” and one of the major conclusions I’ve come to in recent years is that life purpose doesn’t exist. And I was quite thrilled that the article seemed to mostly come to that same conclusion.
The thing is, I thought my life had a purpose for a really long time – a religious purpose. I was supposed to bring people to god and Mormonism and be a good wife and mom so I could go to heaven someday. Then when I dropped that, I realized that having a purpose is incredibly stressful and not a lot of fun. I wanted to draw my own destiny.
The thing is, most people kind of powl around looking for such a “life purpose” as if it’s something outside of themselves that will come find them or will one day be revealed to them or found in a psychic reading or fortune cookie. And I was taught that for so long that, even now, I have a hard time letting go of that perspective.
But there’s nothing logical about a pre-destined life purpose. Nothing existed in us when we were born except skin and organs – anything we’ve become since then was created by us. So if we have a life purpose, it’s something we decided ourselves. It was chosen, even if not deliberately.
I think we like to believe a life purpose is floating out there waiting for us to find it because that’s interesting and a lot more exciting. You know what’s hard and NOT very exciting? Choosing from a million different options on the “life purpose” spectrum, living through trial and error, and choosing various activities and careers that are probably not perfect but good enough for now.
Because that’s what the world looks like when you choose your own life purpose – or just choose your own life (not a fan of the word “purpose” in general). Nothing you choose to do is magical or “meant for you” – it’s just there and you picked it. And it’s not perfect, it’s effort and sweat and blood and demotivation and wanting to give up without really knowing if that decision will be right in the end. I mean, come on, if you Know it’s your life purpose, you’d never give up, right? But what if it’s just something you picked? You could quit any time and it doesn’t matter. The world won’t be any different whether or not you do it so why the hell should you commit the time and energy?
And that, I think, is why I’m so annoyed with life purpose. Because a lack of life purpose means freedom. Guess what? If you have a life purpose, it may be easier to stick it out through the hard times, but it also means you kind of have to stick it out through the hard times. Because who the hell would give up on something they knew was meant to be? Your path is clear, but you are trapped.
And I refuse to be trapped, especially by an idea built of pretend fairies and magical thinking. If I believed in god I might believe I had a life purpose… no, actually, not even then. Because only a cruel god would build a world based on free agency and then throw in some fate and meant-to-be’s just to fuck with us. We are born a clean slate, so to speak. From there, there are only choices.
So now, the challenge hasn’t necessarily gotten easier. The questions are just different and the pressure is gone. Instead of asking the universe what my life purpose is, I’m trying to better connect with my inner self. What do I want? What do I need? What will make me happy on a daily basis over an extended period of time? What do I yearn for less often?
These questions are much harder to answer because they require a level of self-examination I didn’t used to have to do. They might sound easy, but I find them quite difficult. In a world where we’re continually told what our desires and wants and needs should be (tv, religion, government, parents, social mores, etc), it’s really hard to block out the noise and just listen to what’s happening on the inside. And then on top of that, be ready and open for adjustment. Because let’s face it, my wants and needs and desires today are completely different than they were 10 years ago.
And that’s where Hunter S Thompson really wins me over. I mean, he had me at “Writer” but still, even then you have to prove your metal. He says that the goal should serve the person and not the other way around.
Fascinating! In my mind, I interpret that to mean follow your goals, dreams, visions, until they no longer serve you. And when they no longer serve you, let go of your commitment to then and pivot.
That’s tough to do. It even makes it difficult to want to start on a goal knowing it could potentially change halfway through. But you know, I think I – and most of us – already sort of live this way. How many projects have we left unfinished? I go from dedicated novelist to singer-songwriter to poet to boxer to pole dancer like a speed train sometimes. Sometimes I stay in one area for a full six months or year, but sometimes it’s a few days or even a few hours.
So what? What’s the problem? Why are we so obsessed with finishing things? Follow what you enjoy, what you want, until you don’t want it anymore and then follow something else. This gets much more complicated with careers and that’s where I’m grateful to be married to someone who can kindly remind me of the financial commitment. Backup plans, savings accounts, prioritization, planning, timing – that’s what these things are for. To prepare you for the possibility that the next career doesn’t sustain you for as long as you’d hoped. That’s also, by the way, what hobbies are for. I enjoy my day job in marketing quite a bit, but there are other things I’d love to do if I could make enough financially. Right now, I can’t. So those things are hobbies when I can fit them in and I plan and save for the day when I can make them work – or when I can decide on what I want to do, lol (I’m a lot more impatient than I make it sound, in case you’re wondering…)
Anyways, those are my thoughts on the article. I reject life purpose and embrace life choice. I’m done chasing the golden snitch and instead looking inside to better understand what I really love, what kind of life I want to have, what kind of schedule I want to have, and how I can support that financially someday. Maybe the answer is doing exactly what I’m doing right now. Maybe it’s waiting until the kids are old enough to watch themselves and then buying a franchise or building a mobile coffee shop – who knows! But the key is that right now I don’t know. And I won’t know until I know myself better. So I’m focusing on that peace and when I know myself well enough to follow my intuition, I’ll branch out into the big bad world with my big bad self.