"Listen, Deepak Kafka. I've read your stuff about living a meaningful life; I've followed your advice; I've even spent long evenings at dive bars, just like you recommend. But what the blazes do I do with mine? I've searched high and low, looked far wide, listened long and loud, but I still can't find anything even vaguely resembling my purpose."
Be uncool enough to love.
Real love, today, is outmoded, passé; it just isn't cool. Love your work? Love your neighborhood? Love your life? Love humanity? Love yourself? See, I just made you roll your eyes with the coolly detached irony of the mustachioed hipster overlord.
In our overly numb culture of icy cool, when we do feel something, we so often feel the opposite of love: hate, anger, fear, and envy.
Purpose is love, not just little-l love, but Big Love, the grand affair that defines a life — first between you and your better, fuller, truer, worthier self; and then between your that self and the world.
It's a cliché to say: get out of your "comfort zone". Most of us, having attempted that, end up in a no kind of no-mans'-land of the the human spirit; maybe not the arctic badlands, but surely not the lush valleys of accomplishment; an ennui-laden purgatory where we're neither satisfied, nor dissatisfied — just as aimless as before.
I do mean: immerse yourself in stuff that makes you hurt, ache — that maybe even makes your heart break a little bit (or a lot). You're feeling the stirrings of empathy — and purpose, Big Love, needs Big Empathy like the river flows to the sea.
I volunteered at a hospital for kids with life-threatening neurological illnesses, who were facing the prospect of possibly lethal brain surgery.
My friend Steve, on the other hand, spent his twenties and much of his thirties in one failed venture after another — today, finally, he's at the helm of a start-up that leaves him not just comfortable, or even "happy" — but abidingly, almost overwhelmingly, fulfilled.
purpose is found by driving laps cleaner, closer to the textbook Platonic ideal, than the next contender — and so achieving a faster time.
But in truth, the creation of purpose is less the construction of the Platonic ideal of the perfect life, and more like NASCAR: a bruising contest of wills, cussedly defiant, often inelegant, and usually impertinent.
Here are some tougher answers, that Big Love demands: humanity, history, society, the world. Love is the process of being transformed by transformation; of a kind of reciprocity in transformation; where the subject makes the object wholer, fuller, truer, and so too, in the discovery of the fuller, truer, wholer self, the object makes the subject. It is for this reason that, when we are electrified by love, the world around us seems bigger, brighter, better — because, in truth, it is.
purpose is a process, not a state; an ever-unfinished accomplishment, not an algorithm
Aim for forests, not fireworks. Live Little-l love is fireworks. It sparks, sizzles, flares — and fizzles. Big Love? It's the quiet, mighty unfurling of the seed into the towering Redwood. It deepens, roots itself, reaches branches to the sky. A purpose is as dynamic — and as powerful — as all that.
Finding your purpose is not a phase of life — but a way of living.
You probably can't find your purpose for you. Your purpose will — just maybe — find you. Like every kind of Big Love, it's not in your control. It strikes, finally, suddenly, when least expected, with the full fury of a hurricane.
But finding a purpose is not like shopping. The unforgiving truth us: it's a little more like boot camp. It hurts, it's hard, but you can emerge fitter, tougher, better.
Purpose beats you up; it bruises you; it's no mere shadow-boxing with "life goals" but a bare-knuckle gladiatorial contest between you, and the heavyweight champion known as a life that matters. Like Big Love, it doesn't just give you scrapes — it leaves with you scars.
that growth sometimes feels like suffering.
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Of a life, starved by insatiable self-regard, that comes to feel desperately empty — because, in truth, it has been. There is no singular, simple, final meaning to life. And it is the scars of purpose that, finally, don't just merely give meaning to life — but endow us with a greater privilege — giving life to meaning.