Do we have a purpose in life? That is a big question. It has two possible answers: yes or no, so it is not that complicated. The problem is it’s one of those questions you cannot think your way through. That’s what makes it interesting. It belongs to the realm of beliefs.
I haven’t met anyone with absolute clarity about her/his purpose in life. Or better said: I haven’t really talked in depth with anyone to get to know what they believe. But I should, and I will, because it is an obsessing topic for me.
What do I think… sorry, believe? I believe YES, we do have a purpose, but I despair because I don’t really know what mine is. I would bet this is the condition most of us share. We want to believe in purpose and meaning but struggle to find it. Is this your case too?
Under those circunstantes I’ve done a couple of things. First one: read a lot, hoping for a ray of inspiration to enlighten me. Perhaps the closest strike of illumination comes from this quote from Arthur C. Clarke that really spoke to me:
“A wise man once said that all human activity is a form of play. And the highest form of play is the search for Truth, Beauty and Love. What more is needed? Should there be a ‘meaning’ as well, that will be a bonus. If we waste time looking for life’s meaning, we may have no time to live — or to play.” — Arthur C. Clarke
There’s two messages here that I hold precious. First is the idea of Truth, Beauty and Love as the virtues we must aspire to. Truth, Beauty and Love have more meaning to me than any other list of virtues you may find out there (and there are A LOT.) If all I do in this life is come a little closer to the elusive Truth, craft something that brings Beauty to this world, and give it to others as an expression of Love, I’d be satisfied.
Admittedly, those ideas are pretty broad, but at least they give me a string to pull. And this is where the second idea in Clarke’s quote comes to play: that devoting yourself to find meaning is a sure way of wasting a lot of intellectual capacity. What should we do instead? MOVE!. Do what you love, do what triggers your curiosity, try everything that fascinates you. The key here is you have to act, not think, not talk, not even believe. Do.
Doing deserves its own post, because for the first time in human history, we inhabit a world that makes doing extraordinarily accessible but also infuriatingly frustrating. And that is a trade off that we must learn to navigate.
Meanwhile, do as Tim Urban suggests, which is probably the most accurate description of what finding life’s purpose is like:
”Say two people want to find the love of their life, Person A and Person B.
Person A never goes on dates, opting instead to sit alone debating in her head about who the exact kind of person is she will fall in love with. She scours online profiles, but never contacts anyone. Instead, her plan is to wait until she comes across the profile so perfect for her that she’ll know she’s found The One. Then and only then will she reach out to that person for a date.
Person B goes on a lot of dates, constantly meeting new people and keeping an open mind, because she knows she probably doesn’t know either herself or the type of match that makes sense for her as well as she thinks she does.
Who’s more likely to find the love of their life?”