Finding purpose is hard.
A lazy thought process would lead us to believe that there is no big purpose to our existence, so why spend time finding it anyway. Zooming out and thinking about the vastness of the universe, the unfathomable highs, unmeasurable breadths very well makes me realise that, I am but a tiny drop in the ocean. Then does it absolve me from finding a purpose because what effect will it have on this enormous vacuum filled with uncounted celestial objects?
This sounds okay in the beginning but quickly leads to a spiral of everything becoming purposeless and meaningless. Which I believe is not a very good place to be in. Finding purpose and creating a meaning to attach to it is hard but not undoable. It is hard for a generation living through structural changes, being caused both by an unending pandemic and nationalist leaders to find a meaning that keeps the brain at peace. Peace is the end result of defining a purpose. It might not sound like much, but at 24 and a half, finding a purpose has become my most important pursuit for the last 4 months. It hasn’t led me to anything concrete yet, but it has taken me to mind alleys which I never thought ever existed.
Why is it tough to find purpose?
- Pursuit of Shine: From as long as I can remember, the community seems to always appreciate the shiniest of things. Getting into shiny colleges, getting shiny jobs, shiny cars and shiny homes. It has transformed into an epidemic of its own with the advent of social media. Shiny profiles get the most likes. Wanting to be shiny has never been more in demand. But once you start growing up and realise the adage “not all that glitters is gold”, is when the trouble starts. Everything you see being craved by an entire population of people starts to lose sheen. And once that happens, you question
“Is it me who is not thinking straight, cause it cannot be that all of this consensus about chasing shine is wrong”.
- Validation: Being told what is worth pursuing in this life is good. Learning from the wisdom of the others is a perfect way to avoid the dangerous pitfalls saves time and eases the process. However, it can quickly turn on its head into a conversation in your head about seeking validation. From a very young age, we’ve been running on treadmill. Most of us, afaik. The core loop that we have worked in is.
But after a point in time, there are no more tests to take. No more syllabi to cover. It becomes a greenfield and then the purpose which was always set in front of us, getting good ranks, defeating bunch of people in competitions, loses meaning. And then it starts becoming uneasy, cause there is no more medals to be had. There are of course medals to be had, but they do not come by following a set pattern, but by moving boundaries, which people thought could never be broken. (Field’s medal, nobel prizes etc.).
- Social Conditioning: Thinking for ourselves doesn’t come naturally to us. Starting to think for yourself is tough. Choosing from the dreams of others and making them your own is easier. This is the reason, why a lot of people don’t find comfort in the corporate jobs. We try to convince ourselves, if x number of humans can happily go about doing this thing, I also can. Maybe the ideas in my brain are a distraction. We pump ourselves up with confidence, ready to take on the world. Talking to a person who actually enjoys the corporate world stems anxiety, as you try to keep up with fake motivation, but keep battling distractions in your head. Popular beliefs have shaped our life. A bunch of popular beliefs of the past are made fun of in today’s times, and a lot of the popular beliefs of today will be comedic tomorrow. Hence, a break from this social conditioning is of utmost importance for having a self defined peaceful purpose.
Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off. – Fight Club
What about Money?
Earning money is a major pursuit in the 21st century. Words like millionaire and billionaire are talk of the town. People are not known by their names but by their CTCs. We care about money because we fear to place ourselves in the shoes of the ones who do not have it. It is a fear well taken. But we never define what is enough. Money as an instrument has been very well defined by the human race. The trickiest part is, there is not upper limit to the scale of measuring wealth. Numbers beyond a point stop making sense. I read “Jeff Bezos has so much money that if he spends million dollars everyday, he will not be able to exhaust his wealth in the course of his life”. Okay. So ?
Statements like these will always make you feel that you’re not earning enough. And the next action item you take is, what I can do to earn more? Money as a purpose of life starts becoming dangerously perilous, because it is never enough. A simple rule of thumb I have written down and want to follow is, “A purpose whose best performing output metric is money in the bank, then it is not a very good purpose to have”.
Money is often, wrongly understood as a proxy for ambition. If you’re not thinking about how to become richer each day, then you lack ambition. A misplaced concept which only drives small optimisations about how much you earn this year vs the last year. A question I ask myself is why do I need this? The answer is simple. There will be new tech next year, and my friends will be using it and talking about it. I cannot stay behind on my old machines, looking like a caveman. I need to earn more to spend more. Technology and comfort, far from taking us out of the earn-burn circle, tries to keep us in it for longer. Earning money is good. But like everything in life, having a finish line to this goal, which doesn’t shift as you approach it helps you finish the race at your own pace, as you can approach it like a marathon rather than a sprint (financial freedom at 35 ftw) and enjoy a bunch of other things on the side as well.
If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing thing you don’t like doing, which is stupid. – Alan Watts
Elon Musk also follows his heart. He calls it: “thinking from first principles”. When asked how he came up with the ideas for Tesla, SpaceX and Paypal, Elon looked inside. He asked himself what are the biggest problems that humanity is currently facing? And thought about solutions to those problems. Meanwhile, most people are caught up with the crowd, trying to ride market trends. Let’s do cryptocurrency for dogs!
People learn to earn money on their path of success. Starting with that metric seems wrong. At least today, to me.
So what can be done ?
Having spent considerable amount of time, fiddling through my diary, writing pros and cons and making a spreadsheet to project my life, looking at the BIG picture has helped in defining a longer set perspective in life.
Bigger goals inspire to go out of the way to achieve them. Short term goals are like candies. They finish quickly and you crave for more. They make teeth go bad. Long term, goals with big meanings are like cakes. It is tough to bake a perfect one, but when you do, it doesn’t take more than one to get satiated.
Clean your slate and be honest with yourself when you write, how you want to live your life. It had to be devoid of :
- What the society wants you to do
- What your close people want you to become
- What is glamorous today
It is tough to do and I haven’t been able to do it yet, but I believe I am reaching there. Having tenets to live your life on, are the best ways to define purpose.
Purpose will not always make a dent in the universe, but it will allow you to love the time you spend on the planet, trying to make that dent. A lot of times, obligation of time/age will make you settle for your purpose much earlier than is optimal. Everyone lives their life on their own timelines, and you have to accept and respect this. Reaching a place where the purpose is defined is sweet, but the journey to reach there is sweeter.
We spend time on perfecting our hobbies, on choosing a vacation destination, a car, a house, a job, a friend, a partner. Not so much on perfecting our purpose. I believe it is the most important thing for me to do today. Go on to discover my purpose, which I want to live for here on earth. And lastly, I do believe, if the cosmic universe could conspire to create life, least of the probabilities from big bang, it would love for us to have a purpose that we strive towards. Ending with a quote from a hero of mine
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truely satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle. – Steve Jobs
The blog is to write my thoughts down and declutter it from the everyday thoughtless motions that I involve myself in. This is not intended to provide a framework for others, on how to lead their lives 🙂
A graduate from BITS Pilani, class of 2019, I am currently working as a Product Manager at Flipkart. I like to write about things that get stuck in my head. By writing I make sure everyone knows what absurd thoughts I have :P Thanks for visiting.