Have you found your purpose yet?
And here’s another question for you.
When you hear people talk about Your Life Purpose, what’s your response? Do you get all excited and immediately feel some sort of greater connection to the bigger something of life? Or do you roll your eyes and stand up to go refill your bourbon?
I guess I fall somewhere closer to that second option. Except I’m refilling my Scotch.
But I must clarify.
See, it’s not so much that I don’t think this life is filled with purpose. It’s that I think this life is filled with so much more purpose that what the tagline ‘Your Life Purpose’ tends to include.
I’m not the only one. James Altucher also rags on the life purpose bullshit in his book Choose Yourself. Fantastic book. If you haven’t read it, go read it. I mean, finish reading this first, and then go read it.
It includes a chapter on “Finding Your Purpose in Life.” And in that chapter, Altucher gives us fourteen examples of very successful and famous people who didn’t reach their pinnacle until later in life. One of them is his personal hero Colonel Sanders, you know, the finger-lickin-good chicken guy.
Let me share:
A lot of people say to me, “I’m twenty-five years old and still have no idea what my purpose in life should be.” When Colonel Sanders was twenty-five, he still had yet to be a fireman, a streetcar conductor, a farmer, a steamboat operator, and finally proprietor of a service station, where he sold chicken. The chicken was great and people loved it but he didn’t start making real money until he started franchising at the age of sixty-five. That’s the age he was when he found his “purpose” in life.
I don’t like the word purpose. It implies that somewhere in the future I will find something that will make me happy, and until then, I will be unhappy. People fool themselves into thinking that the currency of unhappiness will buy them happiness. That we have to “pay our dues,” go on some sort of ride, and then get dropped off at a big location called our “purpose,” where now we can be happy. (74-75)
And then this is where Altucher gives us another thirteen or so examples of people who spent their lives doing lots of different things before discovering Their Big Thing—their Life Purpose. Altucher tells us he’s still not sure what his own Life Purpose will end up being.
Now we could certainly spend time talking about people like Benjamin Franklin and their evolving careers. Altucher doesn’t talk about Franklin, but he might be my favorite. Franklin was a scientist and an inventor, a printer and an author, a postmaster and political theorist, a civil activist, statesman, and diplomat. And of course he also did important things like being one of our nation’s Founding Fathers. These stories are fascinating. And they help bring hope to my many friends who are former religious leaders trying to rebuild lives beyond faith. There’s always hope for a new chapter.
But my real concern here on this lovely Tuesday morning concerns this idea of Life Purpose.
I suppose my concern comes from a different vantage point than Altucher’s. And my aggravation with the term is for apparently different reasons. But, hey, this world will eat you up if you don’t build alliances. And I like this Altucher guy, so why the hell not.
When you come from the religious world of Christian evangelicalism like so many of us do, you’re used to hearing about purpose. But in this world, purpose has less to do with what-makes-you-happy and more to do with what-God-has-intended-or-purposed-your-particular-life-for. It concerns the fundamental reason God had put you on earth. You were not given life to be lived on your own accord. God put you here for a particular reason. It’s not loosey-goosey. Nor is it actually your decision. God has a reason and your first task is to discern the clues he has given you so you can discover what that reason for your particular existence may be. And then your purpose is to live that purpose out. Your divinely constructed Life Purpose.
Disbelievers and non-religionists such as myself are constantly told that it is impossible for us to ever find purpose in life. In fact, we are regularly instructed that if we don’t believe in the existence of a god, that it is incompatible to believe there is any purpose or meaning in any of life.
It is said that in order for something to have a purpose or intent it has to have been created by a creator that created it for a particular reason. And that that intent is fulfilled as the created object does what it was created to fulfill.
And it is said that if we look around and fail to find evidence of a creator, then this must mean we were not explicitly created by anything or anyone. And that if we were not explicitly created, we could not have been created with intention. Which means humanity itself lacks a purpose.
If you pay attention, you’ll even hear people say this fear itself is evidence that there must be a god. Hmm…
But here’s my point. My point is that regardless of whether or not humanity itself was created with some sort of big picture intention within the story of the universe—and I admit that it seems not to—either way, we can still live purpose-filled lives individually.
I can hear the religionists already preparing to come at me full-board.
So here’s how.
Do you remember how when you were younger and living under your parents’ roof and you’d be on summer break and your dad would tell you that you needed to mow the lawn the next day? Mine often had a list of tasks that needed to get done each day around the house grounds. Cleaning the garage, weeding the gardens, etc. I mowed all three acres of lawn twice a week.
Anyway, in a very real way, those tasks were my purpose for the day. On Mondays and Thursdays, my purpose was mowing the lawn. It took about three and a half hours. Then I’d do my other chores. Then I could relax. My dad said so.
And then I grew up and got a job. I’d show up to work and my boss would tell me when and how long I needed to do whatever and in whichever way. That was my purpose. It’s why I had arrived. If I wasn’t going to fulfill my purpose, I might as well not even be there.
A lot of us like to think of a god as our father or mother or employer or schoolmaster. Do we have schoolmasters anymore—what a fun word. And we get up each day and look to our divine schoolmaster and take a knee in prayer to decide what we feel we should do each day. And that is our purpose.
As nonbelievers, our days still have purpose. But as a child who has grown up and out of his father’s house, as an adult who has finished school and is now self-employed, we get to set the agenda of each day ourselves. I wake up and set my own intent.
And as a humanist, each of those days is brimming with intention. There is a whole world of fellow-humans out there for me to intentionally form community with, to interact and build relationships with, to watch-their-backs-as-they-watch-mine with. As a humanist I have a responsibility to make the most of this life and to model that making-the-most-of-it for my fellow humanity.
This world and each of its days are filled with purpose. Wide-eyed majestic and wondrous purpose.
And just as every teenager looks forward to finally becoming an adult and getting out into the real world and being able to think and act for themselves, so the great thing about living in The Real World is realizing I get to set and enjoy my own purpose. Not just for an afternoon. But for each and every day of this marvelous existence.
I have to be honest, when I hear people talk about Life Purpose, my default reaction is to back away and automatically assume they’re looking for some sort of whoo-hoo divine approval. And I have to be honest, this makes me want to avoid the term with great stride.
But if I’m honest, I must also confess that I actually really love the term. And I love the idea and I love the sense of hope and satisfaction brimming up within it.
So what’s your purpose today?
Mine started off with the purpose of writing a little article-thingy on something really important. Now my purpose for the rest of the day is shifting toward working on a big and new project of mine and then it will shift again toward other things. Somewhere in there I intend to get out for a great walk in the amazing sunshine that is now blazing through my windows. I can also pick up that Lake Michigan seabreeze wafting from across the park, so that will probably work its way more fully into my day’s purpose as it almost always does.
Basically my purpose is to make much of life. But it’s my life and my agenda to set. If anything, this makes my Life Purpose all the more meaningful. Because it’s mine. It’s not forced or fabricated. It’s genuine. I own it and am committed to it.
This day is yours as well. So please do us all a favor and make much of it. You owe it to humanity, and you owe it to yourself.