Saturday, September 29, 2012


Do you have a central purpose in your life? Do you know what it is? Can you define it clearly? Are you very familiar with that definition? Do you know thyself, as Socrates admonished?

When you were a child, someone probably asked you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Now that you are, presumably, grown up, the question becomes retrospective: "Are you happy doing what you are doing, being what and who you are?"

Having a central purpose to your life – and being able to do that thing as your life's work – is probably what brings happiness. I've talked about happiness before on this blog. I've maintained that happiness can't really be set as a goal like concrete things: "I want a nice house." "I want a new 4x4 truck." "I want to be happy." I want to work at Walmart."


Happiness? Happiness is not a "thing," so it doesn't translate very well into the step-by-step attainment of goals you've written down. Happiness isn't a thing; it's a condition. When you are doing something that brings you joy, happiness "ensues." This is old territory for this blog, but it bears rehashing from time to time.

So, happiness is not the thing you feel so much when you actually attain a long-term goal (indeed, some people have even felt a sense of sorrow or let-down when the goal was attained and there was nothing to go to work on in the morning), but rather a life-long feeling of joy when you are STRIVING in some worthwhile endeavor.

Now we return to, "What is your central purpose in life?" Maybe you really enjoy playing in the mud with your new 4x4. Maybe it really makes you happy when you do that. But is playing in the mud with  your cool 4x4 really your central purpose in life? Probably not.

To me, a "central purpose in life" is something you gravitate towards, if at all possible, to earn your livelihood from. At the very least, you try to incorporate some of it into your livelihood. You mostly get a good feeling when you are doing this thing, because it just seems "natural."

Are we born with come sort of "purpose" wired in our genes? Maybe. I wasn't, that I know of, although, looking back, I can think of things that I have always done ever since I can remember. I envy, or used to, the people who seemed to be born knowing what they were supposed to be doing. I think of musical prodigies, like Mozart who did nothing but play and compose music all his life. Then I think of his father MAKING him do that as a child, and I wonder. I can't imagine Picasso doing anything with his life other than painting. Pavarotti. Yeats. Shakespeare. Dickens.

I read where W.B. Yeats went to medical school, even getting his apothecary credential. But he didn't practice medicine. His life's passion wasn't medicine. "I'm a poet," he explained to those who asked why. Could YOU turn down financial security because you had a burning desire to write poetry? Was  poetry in Yeat's genes? Maybe. I don't think he wrote any serious poetry until he was 19 or so, so it wasn't something he was obsessed with in childhood.

So, some people seem to know what they are "meant" to do from childhood, and do nothing else. And some (many) stumble through various things until they "hit upon" the right thing that makes them sing. Or dance. Or do math. Whatever.

How do YOU find out what your purpose in life is? I'm not going to use the word "vocation" because that means "calling" – and calling implies a Caller, and this post is not about religion. I think you find out over time, just by recognizing what it is you enjoy doing. Then, theoretically, you think up a way to make a livelihood from that thing or group of things, or activity. Or, if you are a poet, maybe you just keep your day job. Dunno about that one.

Sometimes when you walk into a person's house, you can tell right away what they like to do, even if they don't seem to know themselves. I mean, if there are three sewing machines in the spare bedroom, or a bunch of camera equipment all over, or a fancy kiln out back, those are clues to what a person likes to do which bring him or her enjoyment. Happiness.

Books, too.

Are there books all over the house? Books tell you something about what makes a person happy. No books tells you something about the person, too.

A lot of self-help books which purport to guide you to your "right livelihood" tell you to look for clues like the above. And, if there are a lot of books in the house, what kind? Fiction or non-fiction? What kind of fiction? What kind of non-fiction? I know, I know – self-help books. Ha!

With me it is books that tell the history of some event or person, or books that tell how to do something, or how things really are or were. The inside story. The truth. On my own bookshelf you would also find a fair amount of books written by political people, too. Unread, mostly - started but never finished, since I really don't like politics except for the sake of argument or theorizing - but I have a failing in that I think one of them might have the answer. Not so far.

What do you want to be when you grow up?


  1. Nice post. I'm not sure I know my life's purpose but I am doing something that makes me happy.

  2. I have wanted to be a writer since high school, specifically telling stories. I still want to do that, though I'm not sure about the "when I grow up part." On the one hand, there's a strong argument for the likelihood I was never a child. And one nearly as compelling that, imagination-wise, I never grew up. Given how much of that goes into writing, growing up might not be the best way to get there. Or, in fact, the writing at all.

    But when it comes to central purpose, that comes more to mind like what I want to accomplish in my life, what I want from life, which I think of differently that my yearn to write. What I want is to take care of the people I love and to contribute only to making the world better. I don't expect to change it by myself, but I don't want to be part of the problem. I want to be tolerant and understanding and kind, not hurt anyone unnecessarily and always strive to make the world a little better than when I came here.

    I wanted to be loved, too, but, hey, no one said you get everything.

    1. Not "want" to do. Something you already do, have always done. Think simpler and more general.

  3. My dad used to tell me that if one can make a living out of what they enjoy doing that they will never have to work a day of their life. That is one of many things that he would tell me that I regret not being grown-up enough to truly appreciate while he was still with us in this world. For him, it was running heavy equipment--mostly bulldozers. For me, it is reasoning with people over critically important Spiritual matters. Although, I am yet to make a living out of it, and I no longer expect to, which does trouble me. For "I" do not consider storing up treasure in Heaven as being all that valuable with there still being so much of "me" remaining intact (just to be as honest about it as I can be).

    1. I'm sorry I didn't get your comment up for so long, Jerry. I believe what your dad said is very true, if only we could find the thing we love to do. I have always thought you were a good writer and should be making money at it somehow. Perhaps you don't think you SHOULD be making money at what you love to write about, or just haven't thought of the right way to do it.

  4. Are you kidding me? Hey, I want to be rich and famous! In all seriousness, I have struggled with knowing that most of what I have been given to say is meant for immediately before and during the reign of the antichrist and thinking that this does not mean that I cannot eek out some sort of a meager existence from what He has given me to say about what are generally considered to be more secular matters in the eyes of this world. Hopefully, He will just simply show me a way to do this. For if it comes down to me having to actually find it, there is no hope for me to be found.

  5. When I was young I didn't know what I wanted to be, and I still don't know. I agree with the 'make your work your hobby' statement (or the other way around).

    1. I think you were born to be a marauding Viking. With good taste. :)

    2. We from the Netherlands are not (I repeat NOT) part of Scandinavia :-)

    3. The U.S. isn't part of Scandinavia either but I was born to be a horned pillager. Viking is a state of mind. I retract for you. You can be a blogging historian. :)



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