From a young age, many of us are faced with a seemingly simple yet life-defining question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
And as innocuous as the question might seem, the expected answer is always one of grandeur. “I want to be a doctor.” “I want to be a scientist.” “I want to be President of the United States.” It’s unacceptable to simply shoot for, “I want to be a functional human being.” or “I want to be happy.” That’s too vague. That’s not good enough.
What’s your purpose? Why were you placed on this earth? Personally, these questions have plagued me my whole life. Through my formative years, I created a future for myself that I had to inhabit, an ideal life that if not achieved, would invalidate my existence.
In elementary school, I excelled in my studies to the point that I was considered a “gifted” student. In high school, the veneer began to fade. But though I couldn’t coast as easily through school as I once had, my innate ability to bullshit my way through essays and multiple choice exams propelled me to graduate as a slightly above-average student.
It didn’t matter though. I had my purpose. I was to become a world-famous author, a best-seller, rich and comfortable. And no matter what reality threw my way, whatever setbacks and failures beset me, the dream sustained me. The idea that I was destined for great things carried me time and again through the bad times… until it couldn’t anymore.
When you really think about it, the idea of having a purpose is silly.
The amount of time, matter, and infinitesimal chance that need to align perfectly to create you as you are is beyond human comprehension. To believe that after all that, after such a miracle, that you need further justification for existing is, in a word, absurd.
We are placed on this planet to live for as long as we can, as well as we can. That’s the truth I am beginning to come to terms with. We can make plans for ourselves, we can set goals, we can make our own purpose and there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But I no longer believe that having a purpose is a requirement for happiness or even contentment.
I wonder if others have made the same realization too late that the only worthy pursuit is that of happiness. Then again, I feel like some of us don’t really understand what it is that makes us truly happy until we’ve taken a fair amount of steps down the path of life. I think a lot of us are led to believe that along with having a worthy purpose, that being happy requires a big house, a nice car, a healthy retirement fund when, in reality, none of these things will necessarily make us happy. On the contrary, the unchecked pursuit of acquiring wealth and nice things could lead to a cycle of consistently delaying pleasure in favor of unfulfilling work with the misconception that physical possessions are the key to joy.
As for my purpose, my idea of me as a writer, I haven’t let go of it but I have significantly scaled down my expectations of what I hope to achieve. I don’t care about fame or riches, I only wish to live comfortably now. I’d much rather pursue new experiences over tangible displays of wealth. It’s hard to let go of the old mentality though, that I have to be something more than I am already.
It’s hard to accept some days that simply waking up and being alive for another day is a tremendous achievement all on its own. But I am trying.