Meaning & Purpose

I often wonder about what I am here for and what I’m meant to be doing with my short time on Earth.  It seems to be one of those things that everyone ponders from time to time, before giving up and then returning to their usual lives.  I don’t know why, but I’m always thinking of what I should be doing with my life and why.  I certainly seem to think about it more than anyone else I know.  It just seems shocking that life is so finite and how little time we have to do something that really matters.

Some people seem to be born with meaning.  We hear stories all the time about how someone started to play an instrument at age three, or had their first business at age 8 and sold it for a million dollars.  I am not one of these people.  My life has been a mish mash of random interests and as a child I was very curious about a large number of subjects.  I remember when I was in high school I was setting up an import export company, which ended up being illegal so I had to stop that.  I loved (and still love) playing the guitar and composing.  I don’t think there has ever been an age where I didn’t want to be a doctor.  I remember travelling to Bangladesh a lot as a child and thinking that I would like to devote my life to humanitarian endeavors.  These are just a few of the things that I have been interested in.  Everyone I meet has a similar list of subjects that have piqued their interest in the past, but which they aren’t actively pursuing.

The stories we tell ourselves and the stories that are told to us with regards to uber-successful people don’t seem legitimate or right.  The human condition demands curiosity from a young age.  Indeed, if we weren’t such avid learners we probably wouldn’t make it to adulthood.

Let’s take Mark Zuckerberg as a case study here.  He has one of those classic stories that gets told a lot.  It makes it sound like it’s all due to destiny.  The story goes like this; “Mark was a computer genius from a young age, coded as a child, went to Harvard and created a multi billion dollar company”.  The part that people miss telling is that Mark was studying Psychology as his major.  How is that possible?  Could it be that Mark Zuckerberg is also human and has an interest in a wide variety of subjects?  I am sure that if Zuckerberg became really successful in Psychology the story would read more like this all of a sudden; “Very insightful young boy, academically excellent, always had an interest in social interactions, went to Harvard, became one of the worlds leading psychologists.”

The word “synecdoche” springs to mind.  We take a small part of something and presume that this is the whole.  People aren’t two dimensional creatures.  We are complex beings in a complex world.

It seems to me that this attitude of having everything in our lives point towards a single direction is not a human way of living life.  Often we end up thinking of questions like “what am I meant to be doing with my life?” as if to say that there is a single thing that we should be doing to give us meaning and purpose.

It is my belief that this way of thinking has been largely implanted in our minds by society.  Society referring mainly to the education system but, this belief system is also perpetuated by our friends, family, work colleagues and so on.

If we take a look back through history, it strikes me that “jobs”as we know them today have only been around for two hundred years or so.  Before this time we lived in a much more human way.  When “jobs” arrived, which originally entailed working in factories we created an education system to meet the needs of industrialism.  It was a way of training people so that they could take up these new posts which had been created.  As time went on the jobs became more complex and people required more education and training.  Now all of a sudden you have to have a CV which makes it look like your life has all lead to this one moment in time.

Looking at my own CV, there’s so much that is missing in there.  Those pieces of paper do not represent me as a whole.  However, it makes it look like my whole life has all been leading smoothly to where I now am.  It essentially looks like this:  School —> High School —> Scholarship —> Medical School —> Scholarship —> Doctor.  This is a perfect CV for people who want a job, but I can guarantee that it won’t give you meaning and purpose.

If we take a look even further back in time and look at the great thinkers of the past such as Aristotle and Plato, all of a sudden we find people who have a wide variety of interests.  For their time they were masters in philosophy, science, literature, logic, ethics, aesthetics etc.  The way that the greats in history approached life is in my opinion the most human way of living life.

Letting our natural curiosity lead us, which is an absolutely normal human urge is probably the most authentic way we can live.  It doesn’t make sense to me how when we ask ourselves “what should I be doing with my life”, that we try and fill this void with one magical thing.  It is likely a combination of curiosities that we have to explore and learn from.  This also entails overcoming a lot of fear and a reluctance to settle for what we are comfortable with already.

I suppose I could summarise this essay quite succinctly:  A well lived life is a life full of curiosity, continuous exploration and learning.  Or as Henry Ford famously said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

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