What do Nietzsche, Buddha, and Dostoyevsky all have in common?
Don’t you wish kids came with instructions? A QR code on the bottom of their left foot would work. You could scan it and get a menu of all the important product information. What foods they are allergic to; suitable sports and activities; gender identity(!); and of course, the best career for them to achieve success and happiness; their purpose in life.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. At least my 2 kids do not seem to have any labels or manuals attached to them. We have to figure it all out as we go along. There is a lot of trial and error and we can only hope that we are making choices that give our kids a brighter future. We hardly ever know though. Maybe letting him quit the violin would have been OK when he was 10 or signing her up for that soccer league instead of basketball.
What if an angel or alien or L. Ron Hubbard (whatever you believe in) appeared to you and stated unequivocally that you were meant to be a doctor or forest ranger or whatever. They explained that there is a master plan and you are a key part of it and if you follow your designated vocation you will not only find happiness and a certain amount of success but also you will contribute to humanity's journey through the universe. You are not meaningless at all!
Have you ever met someone who has a purpose? Someone who is convinced that building the next Facebook or saving the planet through eliminating Pez Dispensers is what they were put on this earth to accomplish? Their confidence is unassailable and they have a single-minded focus on achieving their goal. In addition, they usually seem happy with their lot in life. Almost like the uncertainty of life is what makes us unhappy. Nietzsche had a nice turn of phrase that resonates here, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
The problem for me is that I do not believe it. I don't think there is a master plan. I am not religious but even if I were, I do not think I would buy into a God who planned everything out ahead of time. What would be the point? So if there is no plan and we (and our kids) are not on this earth for a specific reason then how do we take advantage of this powerful drive that comes with having a purpose? I did a quick search and the word "focus" came up 28 times so far in my past articles. "Goal" or "goals" came up 71 times. It makes a difference if our kids are driven for something.
Having a purpose, a defining purpose. Something so strong that you can say that you were put on this earth in order to do it. Purpose with a strong feeling of inevitability to it. That kind of feeling and belief is hard to compete with. Amazing things can be accomplished with that kind of dedication and persistance.
I found a few good quotes while researching this article. Here is another one, this time from Buddha, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” With all due respect to Buddha, I think he could have said it differently and it would have been more empowering if he just changed "find" to "choose".
What if you could choose your purpose in life? If we are all here through random chance and apart from the biological imperatives of survival and procreation there are no specific tasks assigned to any of us, then why not choose? There is a certain freedom that comes with replacing "find" with "choose". Find implies that there is already something specifically for you. We need to find the right thing to focus on or we are wasting our life. Bullsh*@, to speak bluntly. There is no one right path to choose. I would go so far as to say that there might be an infinite number of right paths. Rather than feeling the debilitating stress and fear that we might be choosing the 2nd best or worse, the wrong direction, free yourself and your kids by starting with the premise that the 1 you choose is the right one because you chose it.
So the message to my kids (starting tonight) will be:
You were put on this earth for a reason. Everyone, including you, have a purpose in life. The magical thing about this purpose though is that you get to choose. And, you cannot make the wrong choice because whatever you decide will be the right way for you. There are no wrong choices about purpose. Strive for something that you choose to believe in and you will be a star.
One last quote to wrap things up. I am going to change his wording as well since Dostoyevsky struggled with the same societal/religious challenges as Buddha.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in
finding choosing something to live for.”