I remember watching this movie called Fight Club many years ago, and I came across this:
“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’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
And if you think about it – it makes sense.
Everything about living in the modern world is easy.
I have access to the best food, the best entertainment, the best of the best of everything that my ancestors a few generations ago couldn’t even dream of.
There was a time when if you didn’t work hard at whatever you did – you’d starve.
You could actually die of starvation.
Modern day, that’s as good as impossible.
If you’re reading this article, it shows that 1) You can understand English (i.e. you are somewhat educated) and 2) You have access to the internet.
That means it no matter how bad your life can get – it’s virtually impossible that it’d get so bad that you’d face a real threat of death by starvation.
Originally, the purpose of life was survival.
Survival and Procreation.
You’d work to feed yourself and your family, have children, and then work some more to feed your children.
People would have upwards of 10 children, and spend most of their non-work life raising them.
A fraction of the children would survive long enough to become adults, and the rest would succumb to disease or malnutrition.
Life was hard. People found spiritual solace in gods and religion.
Education was rare, and if you were a doctor or a teacher, you’d still be occupied with your profession all day.
You literally could not be bored – there was always work you needed to do. In fact, boredom, as a word and as a concept came into existence in 1768, right around the time when the industrial revolution was getting started.
Life became more and more comfortable – you could get more resources by doing less.
You can now get by (i.e. have enough food and shelter to survive) by doing very little.
It’s the age of abundance.
The survival instinct to get things done is now gone.
This has lead to a generation of people who for the first time in history have access to a life where they can live purposelessly:
- Watch literally 5 hours of TV a day to satisfy their desire for entertainment and human connection
- Use porn to satisfy their sexual desires
- Eat cheap junk food to satisfy their tongue and stomach
and face no immediate consequences.
Sure, it’s bad for them in the long run, but in an immediate sense – their needs are satisfied.
The freedom from the need to ensure survival enables people to live a life based around a continuous stream of short term pleasure – any time they want it and every time they want it.
This creates “zombie” like existence – where people wonder why they exist, why are they dissatisfied even though they have everything they could possibly need, and what is the purpose or meaning of life?
Did they exist solely to work a job, eat chips, watch TV and some time later, die and cease to exist?
A life of perpetual entertainment yet perpetual boredom?
It brings them question if such a hedonistic life is a life worth living after all?
Gautama Buddha was a prince who had access to everything he could possibly want or need. His father, the king saw to it that Gautama faced no problems or difficulties in his life.
If he said he wanted something, he’d get it. If he wanted something to change, it’d change.
A true royal, so to speak.
And yet, he was frustrated.
He would later renounce everything and create a religion now known as Buddhism, a way of life centered over discipline, self-control, and a lack of attachment to the “material”.
One thing is clear – no matter what the purpose of life is – it is not in chasing pleasure and material.
The movie Fight Club (the one I quoted in the beginning) advocates Nihilism, a belief that nothing has meaning, and everything is baseless – in other words, it denies the existence of any purpose of human life completely.
Nihilism is fundamentally flawed. Things do have meaning.
Ask a new mother what her purpose is and she will tell you.
Nihilism is not an explanation for a world without purpose, it is the byproduct of one.
So far, we’re concluded that things do have purpose – and that purpose has nothing do with material and immediate sense gratification.
When one thinks of “purpose”, one is usually reminded of movies where the protagonist is severely wronged by someone as a child, and dedicates his life to vengeance, and in his quest for vengeance, he meets a girl, and over time he beats those who wronged him, marries the girl and lives happily ever after.
(People who’ve come across Bollywood know exactly what I’m talking about.)
And when asked “what is your purpose”, most people don’t recall being significantly wronged by anyone to devote their life to vengeance of any kind.
“I don’t have a purpose” / “I don’t know what my purpose is”
It compels me to bring up a quote by Carl Jung:
“The world will ask you who you are, and if you don’t know, the world will tell you.”
Let’s drop the word “purpose” for now.
The problem with the word purpose is that it implies a singular focus of life – everything revolves around achieving this one goal – which is simply not a reality in a multifaceted life.
Let’s first ask this question:
Who are you?
You are not your name. Your name is just a sound used to identify you.
What you are is a function of your genetics (nature) and your life’s journey so far (nurture).
Let’s go back in time to when you were a child. Remember those days?
What did you want to become when you were a child?
For most people, the answer is going to be something that involved a sense of adventure, creativity, and excitement.
An astronaut, a scientist, an actor, or maybe even a doctor? Maybe something to do with dinosaurs or rockets or cars?
And for most kids, the story goes: society says “Well you can’t do that. What do you really want to become?” or worse “we’ve decided you’re going to become a xyz” (the Asian parent meme).
And so it went, they made a “grown up” choice (or it was made for them) – they picked something they thought they could do, even if they didn’t enjoy it (but didn’t completely hate it either) and now life seems like a drag – a boring, colorless reality.
Unfulfilled, they realize that if their child self knew how his life would turn out, he would be extremely disappointed.
But they also notice the stark reality – they can’t go back in time.
I wanted to become an astronaut. And while it’s a great fantasy, it’s practically impossible for me to become one now. My life has drifted far too starkly for me to ever hope to intersect with a path that might take me to space.
And that’s okay. I’m not asking you this question to make you feel bad.
What you liked when you were a kid is an indication of the fields you’re *naturally* interested in – before society got into your head telling you to do “what makes sense”.
It isn’t your purpose, but it’s a guiding post telling you which direction your purpose might lie.
The answer to the question “what did you want to be when you were a child?” tells us the things you will enjoy pursuing spiritually. Its a general area of things that will be fulfilling for your mind, body, and soul.
Let’s also bring in an important aspect – what are you good at?
If you pursue something but you’re not talented at it – you’re not going to do well. Life will be a struggle, like the lives of the 30-something-old actors who’ve been fetching me my sugar-less coffee whenever I want it.
Fortunately, there’s a silver lining. The things you are good at are the things you will like doing.
I liked playing chess as a kid, not because I had a special love for the game at the age of three – I liked it because I was good at it.
I was almost unbeatable as a child. And who doesn’t like something they’re very good at?
When you were a child, what were you good at?
Naturally talented, you just got it without a lot of effort – something you could just do without a lot of instruction that made you extraordinary in comparison to other children.
Naval calls this specific knowledge.
It could be that you were great at sales and convincing people to see your point of view, or you had an incredible talent for music, or you were really great with video games (so you have a great understanding of game theory and probabilities), maybe you were heavily into reading (and have a skill for writing or creating video content), or that you were great with numbers and solving logical problems (tech).
It wasn’t something you built up purposely – it was something that was a part of your DNA and your upbringing – your natural talents, so to speak.
Let’s combine the answers to the two questions and look for a way where you can leverage your natural talents (that you enjoy doing because you’re good at it) to do something you find fulfilling.
In other words, we’re looking for something you can be passionate about. I’m not saying that you need to be passionate about it today, but something you can be passionate about – something with that potential.
A natural talent for numbers and an interest in mathematics can make a great candidate for a stock trader (quant).
A natural talent for sales and an interest in talking to many people (extroversion) will make a great candidate for a realtor.
A natural talent for storytelling and an interest in cinema will make a great candidate for creating motion pictures.
[Even this website is a product of my interest in writing (I’ve read countless books over the years, and I read at least 25 books a year, every year) and my natural talent for being provocative.]
Remember, not all paths will make sense to you. That’s the point. You’re looking for the right way for yourself.
Do what works for you – even if it sounds illogical to everyone else.
Let’s factor in another factor – can you make money doing it?
99.999% of the time, the answer is yes.
In the internet world, if you really enjoy doing something, and you are really good at it, you can find a way to make money with it.
It might take some time for the money to be rolling in, but it probably can be done.
It doesn’t have to billions of dollars. It’s far better to make OK money doing something you enjoy and find spiritually fulfilling than make a lot of money doing something that makes you want to kill yourself every time you wake up.
It should have a potential to make a good living though. There is no dignity in being a broke artist.
If you’re interested in and are good with some obscure thing that no one will pay for, then unfortunately, you’ve stumbled upon a potential hobby, but not a purpose.
But don’t be discouraged. Remember, the internet makes a lot of things possible. I distinctly remember someone who makes quite a bit of money by selling hand drawn pictures of comic cats.
And once you have an intersection of “Thing you enjoy”, “Thing you are good at” and “Thing that can fill the fridge” – well congratulations, you’ve found a purpose.
Or to be more exact, you’ve found the stub of your purpose.
You can follow that path and create your purpose and meaning of life.
The more you do it, the more you like it, and the better you keep getting at it – slowly, it becomes as if this was what you were put on Earth to do. “Purpose”.
Is it going to be easy?
The modern world is still too comfortable.
Most people reading this will stay on the path for 5 days before they go back to playing their video games.
If you want to actually actualize your purpose, you have to bring back the survival instinct.
Comfortable decisions weaken men, physically and spiritually.
You have to feel the dread of the consequences of going back to your old life.
Understand that you can go back to your old life – it will be easy and comfortable – but the price you pay will be a lifetime of regrets and unfulfillment.
Inflict pain, suffering and adversity upon yourself.
You are not just the steel – you are also the one who has to heat it up and hammer it down to make it stronger.
1. Figure out what you are good at, and figure out what you are interested in – those are things you’re capable of having passion for.
2. If you can get paid for it, then it can serve as a purpose, if not, then it can serve as a great hobby.
3. The internet makes a lot of what would have otherwise been hobbies monetizable – thereby increasing the scope for a potential purpose.
4. If you chose to live a zombie life – where you drown yourself in continuous entertainment and hedonism, you’re going to find yourself depressed and unfulfilled.
Fulfillment requires self-control and discipline.
5. Purpose is not a singular objective. It is a direction and way of life.
6. Your life gets meaning as you live in the direction of your purpose.
7. The modern world is easy to live in. Comfort will get you nowhere. You have to be willing to inflict pain and suffering on yourself.
But Harsh, I’m old now, I’ve been doing something else all my life. Is it too late?
It’s never too late.
If you’re young, then you can probably switch completely and turn your life in a completely new direction. (Fortunately, most readers that come to this website are in their twenties)
If you’re old, say 35+, then it’s going to be extremely painful to completely change. In such a case I don’t recommend completely switching, but definitely do what you have found as hobby or a side business. If things click, then you know how to proceed.
Everything about this article has had to be somewhat abstract – considering that the concrete details are different for everyone. I hope I have given you some guidance to help you figure your life’s direction out.
If you have any questions or have/need any advice – leave it in the comments below. I usually read and reply to all comments that I get.
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