“Follow your passion, and you’ll discover your purpose.” They say.
Once you discover it, you can live the dream!
I first read about the idea of “life purpose” in David Deida’s Way of the Superior Man. An incredible book that showed me, rather uncompromisingly, just how un-superior I actually was at the age of 24.
Since then, the concept of ‘purpose’ has spread far and wide. You can read about it in a thousand blog posts. I’ve written about it.
The idea goes something like this…
You have a life purpose. And you’ve either discovered it (in which case you just execute it and live out the dream) or you haven’t (in which case, keep reading those ‘seven steps to discovering your purpose’ blogs until you do).
It’s as if purpose is a thing, an object, which can therefore be lost or found, like a magic key.
I don’t find this characterization helpful, so I want to try a different tack.
Let’s go back to basics.
Purpose means aim
Purpose at its root simply means aim. Like you aim an arrow at a target. Or a horse at a gap in a hedge.
You can aim at anything, it’s a universal human capacity. You point yourself at something, and then you have aim (purpose).
You look at the hill over yonder, and decide you’d like to climb it. You turn your body until it’s pointed at the top of the hill. Now you’re aimed at it. And now you have a purpose: to climb the hill.
We can have more sophisticated aims. But the mechanics are the same each time.
- You picture an objective you want to reach.
- You orient yourself toward that objective.
Most of our objectives aren’t physical locations any longer. They’re not hill tops or distant lands beyond the horizon, they’re abstract ideas.
“Write a book.”
“Attract 1,000 more people to my mailing list.”
“Master multiple orgasms.”
You can’t literally see these objectives. They’re not physical locations you can look at. They are conceptual locations that you see in your mind’s eye – the ‘place’ in the future when you have what you imagined. If you close your eyes, you’ll find you can picture it quite distinctly.
And once you can see your objective, then you can point your life at it.
It’s all pointless
What we often mean when we say “I need to discover my purpose” is that we don’t know what our life is aiming at.
To be without purpose is to be aimless – you don’t know what your objective is – meandering through repetitive days, with no end in sight.
This (understandably) leads to nihilism – feelings of existential pointlessness.
“What am I trying for anyway? Life has no point. Might as well eat another tub of ice-cream, or load up Pornhub.”
If you have no aim, then by definition, it is pointless. There’s no point – no sharp end – that indicates which direction you’re heading in.
We’re designed to aim ourselves toward something. It’s why we have a front and a back. The front points forward, toward what we’re aimed at.
If you feel aimless, then it’s probably because you’re not aimed at anything. This could be true in an immediate sense (I’ve got 3 hours before my meeting, and I don’t know what to do) or in an existential sense (oh god! What am I doing with my life!?).
The solution either way is to define your objective, and aim yourself at it.
Writing it down is often best. Make it tight.
“Write 3 pages on the nature of nihilism.”
“Start a new career as an orgasm coach – have my first client in no more than 2 months.”
Aiming yourself at something is what gives you purpose.
Visualising your objective
I recently had the distinct pleasure of attending a workshop with Jordan Peterson (if you don’t know who that is – wake up). In fact, several of the ideas he presented during the day have been woven into this piece, but there’s one that really stuck with me.
When we say we have a “vision for the future” or we want to “visualise our objective”, that’s not poetic licence, that’s how it actually works – technically.
If you hold up your finger in front of your face, and look directly at it, you’ll be able to see it in great detail. It is “high definition”. You can see wrinkles, hairs, subtle textures.
But if you keep your eyes on that same point in space, and gradually move your finger to the side, its definition will decrease, until at the periphery of your vision, you can’t see it at all (unless it moves).
This is how our physical vision functions. This is also how our conceptual vision functions.
When you focus on something, everything that is not that something gets blurry. The more detail it has, the blurrier everything else becomes.
The lesson? Focus on your objective. “See” it with as much detail as possible.
Since it’s not a physical objective you can literally stare at, you’re going to need to use your imagination, and the power of language.
Picture it. Describe it. Write it down.
The more significant the objective, the more detail (words) you’ll need.
A small objective needs a tight sentence.
A ten-year vision requires pages and pages.
Both give you purpose.