I often say the purpose of my life is to serve as a cautionary tale to others. It seems to be how it’s working out, so I’m going with it. I think about the notion of purpose more and more as the time for me to leave the security of a salaried job behind draws closer. I know what I’m walking away from, but what I’m walking toward is still a mystery.
Maybe it’s the times we’re living in. There are big questions out there being asked on a global level. Are we all really alone in this journey through life, or does our basic humanity require us to help one another to lift the common condition? How do we reconcile the power of great wealth with the needs of great poverty? Will we ever know for sure who it was who let the dogs out? It’s been more than 15 years, people. Can’t we at least find this answer?
I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that people aren’t very good at articulating why they do what they do. My favorite example of this is mentioned in a lengthy 1977 Psychological Review article by psychologists Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson. In it, they describe an experiment where people were asked to judge the quality of different items. What the subjects didn’t know is that the items they were judging (nightgowns and stockings) were actually identical. People had no problem choosing one. They tended to pick whatever item was on the far right, even though the items were mixed up between tests. When asked why the item they chose was better, the subjects would give all kinds of answers — except the fact that they picked the last item they looked at. That was the only thing the items chosen actually had in common. When this was pointed out to them, the subjects would deny it as a possibility.
I wonder, but do not claim to know, how often this runs in the other direction. I say “this is what I’m about” or “this is my purpose” and then proceed to act in ways that may or may not have any relationship to that purpose. When asked why I did what I did, I attribute it to that larger purpose. “Why are you leaving your job?” is another way of asking “What purpose does it serve to give up the security of a regular paycheck to make a living project to project?” I really don’t have an answer for that. Somewhere inside me I have a feeling it’s what I have to do, but I’m loathe to try to articulate it any further. I don’t know that anything I’d come up with would really be accurate and it might send me down a rabbit hole I could avoid by not overthinking it.
On a more mundane level, I am a mere 12 days into what is supposed to be 365 consecutive posts. The fact that I was willing to go “purpose/porpoise” with a Baja Men reference in just 12 days tells me I think I’m probably going to make it. I have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no depth to which I am unwilling to sink in order to make a stupid joke.
Maybe that’s my purpose.