Thursday, September 30, 2010

Living Life Backwards

I've been struggling lately with my purpose. I think all of us go through this kind of existential crisis from time to time. Why I am here? What should I do? What is my contribution to make to the world? It can be depressing to feel as if you are wandering about with no direction. It's our instinct to think there's a map out there--that all we have to do is find it.

I've spent some time looking at this recently, and it occurred to me that maybe I have it backwards. Do we find our purpose, and then do things consistent with that purpose? Or does our purpose emerge based on the things we do?

If you feel drawn to a cohesive set of actions, that's great. But for the rest of us, we can use our apparent lack of purpose as an excuse not to engage with life. And in doing that, we can keep ourselves from doing things that we want because of the risk that we might make a mistake. After all, without that map, how do you know you are headed in the right direction?

But wait a minute. Where is there to go? We are here, now, and we will always be here. There is no other place to go. There is no other place we can be. In that sense, there is no wrong direction. There are no mistakes--there is only what is happening--and whether we label it a mistake or a success or a learning opportunity is something we do after the fact, not before.

We are going to do what we do, probably because we want to, or maybe for reasons we cannot identify or understand. What we make of it is based on the story that we tell ourselves. And again, we tell ourselves why after the fact. Not before.

So tell yourself whatever story you want about your life so far. If you feel you have a purpose, that's great. Do things consistent with that purpose. But if you have no idea what your purpose is, don't let it get in the way of doing everything you want to do anyway.

Mapmakers can only draw the places they have already been. Ahead is uncharted territory.


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