Disclaimer: Rash language is used in this post.
There’s a very popular question in the self-help world, which is that of life purpose. What is my life purpose? How do I find my life purpose? As if it’s sitting under a fucking rock out there or something.
I never liked the term life purpose. It sounds all cosmic and theological, like there’s this universal purpose that each one of us is born for and we have to go on a cosmic journey to find it.
It just feels very self-important and bullshitty. I think a better way to think about this question is how can I use my time in a way that feels important? Because ultimately, that’s what we’re asking.
When young people email me asking, “What should I do with my life?” Or middle-aged people are like, “I haven’t found my purpose. “Why am I in this life?” Really what everybody’s saying is how do I use my time well? How do I use my time in a way that I don’t feel like an asshole afterwards? And it’s an important question.
It’s not easy to answer. And I think generally the best advice you find on this topic sees it in a similar way.
There’s a great commencement speech that used to get shared a lot by Steve Jobs, where he said that every morning he would stand in the mirror and ask himself, “If this was the last day of my life, “would I feel good about what I’m doing today?”
And he said that if he ever answered the question no too many days in a row, he would sit down and have a big think.
And I think ultimately that’s kind of the most useful way to approach this, is if you were gonna die in a week or a month or whatever, would you change anything? Would you see anything that you’re doing differently? Would it change your mind about your priorities at all?
It’s a tough question, but it’s probably one that we should be asking. I think ultimately if you’re trying to figure out what the hell to do with yourself, you wanna find an intersection of three important things.
1. Find something that you enjoy doing. We’ve all got a passion even if it’s masturbating the rabbit porn. Hey man, if that’s your thing, go for it.
2. Find something you’re good at or have a particular talent for. Now, sometimes I get people who are like, “I’m not good at anything.” And it’s like, “Well, maybe you haven’t tried enough stuff yet. “Maybe you’re trying the wrong things. “Maybe you’re just doing a bunch of shit “other people told you to do “and you’re not actually exploring your interests “and your talents genuinely.”
3. Find something that other people value, that they might pay you for at some point. Now, find where those three things overlap.
Generally, we all got stuff that we like doing but other people don’t really appreciate it. I.e rabbit porn. Generally, we’ve all found something we’re good at, but to get to the point where you’re able to be paid for something, it takes a certain amount of time and dedication and expertise.
Now, the problem is some people have a really hard time answering these questions. And for many years it kind of dumbfounded me. It’s like, how do you not know what you like to do? That’s so weird.
Generally, people who’ve struggled with this question, it is because they’ve always prioritized things that other people want and not themselves.
If everything you do is to keep your parents happy, then you don’t actually know what you’re good at. Because you didn’t try anything else.
So there’s a weird connection here of the classic life purpose crisis and just run of the mill co-dependence. People who have not actively lived for themselves or lived out of their own interest, have trouble answering these questions.
And so then they interpreted as, “Well, my life purpose must be out there somewhere. “Maybe somebody else will tell me where it is.” No, we don’t fucking know. I don’t know. Nobody can tell you. You got to go find it yourself, man.
And yeah, it’s hard. It’s an arduous process. It involves fucking up a lot of times, but each step of the way, you get a little bit closer. One metaphor you can use is imagine seeing something on the horizon.
You see it on the horizon, you start walking towards it, but you walk a few miles and you realize like, “Oh shit, it’s actually over there.” So you adjust course. You start walking towards the horizon. A few miles later, you realize, “Oh, it’s actually over here.” Adjust course.
I guess what I’m saying is very, very few people get it right the first time. And I think it’s just this unrealistic expectation that we often have that we should.
The other thing that’s important to keep in mind is that ultimately this question, it’s a pretty privileged question. And I don’t mean that, trust me, I’m not getting preachy and moralistic here.
I’m just saying that if you grow up in the middle of nowhere with dirt floors and no electricity, you don’t really think about your purpose. You just think about getting some fucking food and some fucking electricity.
Generally this question of higher existential meaning in our lives, is not even a question that we feel liberated to ask until things are gone well enough that we can ask it. Let’s put it this way.
On the old Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you gotta be safe and secure. You gotta have some food, you gotta have friends and people who actually give a shit about you. You need to be able to do something decently so you have self-esteem. Then you get to ask the self-actualization question.
You don’t go straight to the top of the pyramid, man. You start at the bottom and you build up. So I guess my point is that if you’re even in a position you get to ask this, you’re already ahead of like 95% of humanity.
So (applause) good fucking job. Good for you. Now, is that supposed to make you feel better? No. Because this question doesn’t go away. You know what? That’s the harsh truth of the day.
The harsh truth of the day is that this life purpose question, it never gets solved. Even if you do find something that you’re good at, and other people value, and you really enjoy doing, five, 10 years go by, things change.
Maybe you’re not so into the fucking people in bunny costumes anymore, maybe the video game industry completely changes and their weird unions that fuck up your pay scheme and you decide that everything’s derivative and you want to go live in Zimbabwe, in farm beets. Who knows? These things change.
Right now, I love writing articles, but Hey, five years from now I might get sick of writing articles. Maybe I’ll wanna write a novel. Maybe I’ll have a kid and I’ll just be like, “Fuck work.” The point is we don’t know. Circumstances change. Life changes. The world changes.
Basically, that essential question of what feels like a valuable use of my time? Well, what we consider valuable changes as time goes on, therefore, the question of purpose and what to do with your life changes as well.
So the key is not answering the question. The key is to consistently ask the question. And I encourage you to ask the proper questions today. So leave a comment saying what you find to be a valuable use of time.
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