How to find your purpose

Summary: Ecstatic and Erratic. Thoughts on the self, happiness and finding your own guiding principles.

Length: Short

Exclamation: Fuck “wrap it up at 50”; start it up! Why you should always start living, never wind things down, unless forced to. [inspiration Gary Vaynerchuk]

We all want to be happy, to feel (good), to be healthy.

-So I thought.

I thought the human organism made sure various neurotransmitters invariably led us toward (at least short term) pleasure and joy, through food, sex, sleep etc.

Somewhere along the way, a narrative commenced, a mind, a self awareness, a superego that kept track of the past and projected the future. A self that incessantly re-interprets facts in order to create a coherent story of an individual.

We became concerned with other kinds of fulfillment and deeper happiness than micro organisms (who live fully in the present, following the light, food or reproductive urges).

Improve and Share

I’ve thought a lot about what makes me tick.

It was easy identifying helping other people, teaching, guiding, reading, learning about technological progress, relaxing, listening to music, getting drunk, getting laid, even working out, being creative, solving problems with or just hanging out with friends, . But what was the underlying principle?

Improve and Share

I want to be stronger, better, wiser. I want to create, build, compose. I want to improve, repair and enhance (me and the world). And I want to share with others; share my ideas or offer my help, inspire and lead by example. In short, I want to Improve and Share. That’s what I want. That’s All I Need.

I’m dying to catch my breath

Oh why don’t I ever learn?

At our base we need food, sleep and shelter and want to procreate. At the other extreme, self actualization entails a higher order of pattern recognition, to see the self and cater to it, make it fully manifest itself. And, paradoxically, that very mechanism is the same that enabled the primitive organism to see patterns in the environment and detect food, threats and partners.

Don’t tear me down

For all I need

Make my heart a better place

I apologize for quoting one of my all time favorites, “All I Need” by Within Temptation. But, hey, that’s what this post is about. That, and I love that song; it’s almost all I need.

There are a few important snags; such as finding out who you really are (if there even is such a thing as an individual), as well as striking a balance between short term drives and lust, and longer term growth and deep satisfaction.

Who are you?

That is not an easy question. Walter Mischel tried to answer that with his infamous marshmallow experiment (“if you had the discipline to wait for a second marshmallow, you would become successful”). However, he himself had a completely different interpretation than the popular fatalistic version.

Mischel proved that a simple re-framing of the situation “imagine it’s not a marshmallow, it’s a picture of one” made the majority of kids able to hold out for two later, instead of one now.

Mischel theorized that a set of beliefs, expectations and assumptions that he called “the mind” (that was situation dependent) was more important than some fixed personality.

Another famous “personality” experiment is Stanley Milgram’s “fake electrical shocks”, where people were told to electrocute strangers (actors screaming). It has later been shown that certain questioning parts of the brain shut down when given an order. It’s as if “you’re not paid to think” kicks in when an authority (a supreme primate) is calling the shots.

In the Prison Experiment, Philip Zimbardo famously turned students in a role play into sadistic torturers, tormenting their former class mates for no good reason. The general interpretation of Zimbardo’s prison experiment has always been that you don’t really have a stable personality…

You are the situation, as Lee Ross puts it.

Opportunity makes the thief

We are usually embedded in stable situations (jobs, family etc.) which give rise to the illusion of a consistent personality. But change the context…

In a recent experiment (that I picked up from the book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely), research made on students at Berkely showed how their sexual preferences and morals changed significantly when aroused (including age-related issues on both extremes, drugs and gender); changes that were not at all predicted when in a cool, non-aroused state.

Well, no news there, I found out as a young adult that I liked/tolerated a whole different (and somewhat surprising) set of activities when “hot” than when “cool”. I accepted that as a fact – and took it into account (a bit like preparing living insects for dinner before starving, knowing that you will starve, and then crave anything to eat).

-Nope, no details.

However, if you are a pervert, take it slowly and gradually and just maybe your partner will transform to your liking with increased arousal. Sociopath!

Who do you marry, really?

So, if your personality is a figment of imagination, an ephemeral narrative, made up by your superego, and only relevant in a fixed context, who do you actually marry up there by the priest?

You don’t stay you

And we haven’t even begun talking physics and biology. Most cells in the body are replaced within a few months. Brain cells are not, but here atoms are (within a few years, there is not a single material shred left of who you were physically; only your thought patterns and body patterns remain). Actually not even your patterns remain, since every time you recall a memory it is distorted, erased and re-saved anew.

There is a good TED talk on change (Dan Gilbert, March 2014), on how much we change over ten years without even noticing. No wonder friends and spouses grow apart, and joys shift.

Where am I going with this?

Change is constant, embrace it, make it a way of living. Accept it rather than hope you’re a finished product.

There is no constant you, maybe not even a very distinctive you at all – rather a kind of loosely predictable (albeit changing) reaction function to various contexts. Accept taking on different roles at different times and different environments instead of trying to force manifesting a consistent you.

I feel good both in the present and in retrospect focusing on growth and sharing, first taking the oxygen mask for myself, then showing and helping others. It’s my version of Toyota’s Kaizen – continuous improvement.

Tsuyoku Naritai

-I want to be stronger

I want to be healthy, I want to be stronger, I want to be a part, I want to contribute. That makes me happy. That, and all things goth.

What do you want?

Have you thought it through? Or are you just going through the daily motions of sleep, work, food, TV, alcohol and sex, in effect just waiting for retirement (which I guarantee won’t make you the least bit happier without better habits)?


Fuck ‘wrap it up’.

Go for it! There is no time like now to start a project, to truly live and be happy. You can’t wait it out. Happiness that is.

50 is an excellent time to start a business, a venture to help people, take up a new hobby, learn something. 60 too. Not to mention 70…

Investing requires patience, but living should be done impatiently.

Do you want to be happy? Then take action. Move, change, accept the ephemeral nature of both self and context instead of clinging to a fake consistency.

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12 Replies to “How to find your purpose”

  1. So, were you talking about purpose or living?

    Funny, how your perspective is dogmatic evolutionary, but conclusion are very similar to Viktor Frankl’s (and he firmly believed in divine roots of consciousness) or Catholic Church’s :D

    “Make it a way of living”, I like that!

  2. I am 48 and recently decided to opt out of the pension accrual scheme. The marshmallow analogy is a good representation of my thought process, albeit in reverse. By imagining the first marshmallow is an illusion to help me receive two *someday*, statistically I setup the probability of never receiving any. We can’t live forever. Get on with it. For me it is leaving institutional money management and taking the plunge into change. So far that marshmallow tastes great.

  3. Great points Mike. Glad you enjoyed Dan’s book. Many great lessons on there.

    Most important is to “know yourself” and not be be guided/swayed/drawn by exciting but ultimately incompatible avenues of thought only to find yourself months or even years down a path that is unfulfilling.

    One thing that I think you left out is trust. We are social creatures and social interaction increases and is more fulfilling when adding trust. This is I think one core reason for marriage. It is, or can be the ultimate trust…where everything is known/shared and it satisfies a human need to share.

  4. Loving my retirement at slightly over 50. I cannot imagine starting a business with all the hard work and stress that entails. As a young man, my only fear was wasting my life grasping for more money or objects. At some point time runs out… you have lost your health and the ability to enjoy most things.

    Helping others has an appealing sound to it, but who to help? It may not be so obvious. In my former large American city, I had a neighbor who acquired a wheel chair for a needy person. The response to this gift — “Is that all you’ve got for me?”

    There are now 7 billion plus people on this globe. Perhaps my calling is helping nature survive this onslaught. Which indirectly helps the 7 billion. The third marshmallow?

    1. Funnily enough I discussed a similar point with a friend of mine recently. How come everyone feels that need to change the world on the macro level??

      Everyone wants to become Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Nelson Mandela. What about the thousands of smaller contributions which allowed these people to emerge? What of those smaller inventions or tschnologies which enabled further advancements??

      That is the problem with people: We think our contributions nust change the world when in fact changing a single life can have a ripple effect which influences the future for the positive, or negative for that matter.

      I’m going into a profession where I work with school children whore having difficulty with their behavior or capability for completing their courses. Why children? Because they’re the future and if I can influence one child who becomes the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Nelson Mandela then my life is complete and my purpose has been served.

      But what do I know? Im just some guy writing to you through the interwebz. Ive barley scratched the surface with my own councousness and experince.

  5. Hey Mikael,

    Not sure why my previous post didn’t appear. Must have been a glitch with mobile.

    I love the way that you let your thoughts flow in a concise manner. There is something interesting to your writing style.

    I’ve always thought different from other people, of course EVERYONE thinks they’re a special snowflake. But while other children were busy playing with their friends, to which I had few, I was busy breaking free from religion. When I was a boy I was constantly taught Christianity through my grandparents and their church but I distinctly remember one moment that defines me today…

    I begun asking myself questions that would trip me the fuck out, “If god exists and created the universe then what if its not true?? What if god doesn’t exist!” Now im proudly non religious and subscribe to the scientific side of things which seem much more rational(of course how do we really know that we deeply understand science?? Hell, one digit off and physics wouldn’t make any sense and our universe wouldn’t hold itself together!)

    Maybe it’s my religious upbringing or the ADD that plagued by youth, but there is most certainly something different about me. I could just be retarded quite possibly but what I do know is I have a similar purpose to you where joy in life comes from learning new things and discussing them with people who’ll listen.

    Never really felt like life has an objective reason for being based more on the fact that our atoms hold together through bonds and there is this “me” instead my head. I just want to ride this crazy ride and never stop experiencing the wonders of life, particularly going into this crazy future of ours.

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