Do you believe everyone has a purpose?
No, I don’t mean a destiny, a soulmate, or a will to live. I mean a purpose. Do you believe everyone has work they’re supposed to do? Something of value to pursue before their time here is done?
In 2018 I decided that I do.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot today, a listless day on a lonely New Year’s Eve. A lot of people around the world are asking themselves those sort of questions, reflecting as displays drop and fireworks light the sky. Who do I want to be? What do I want to do?
I first asked myself these questions in September. Like most creators’ origin stories, I was miserable. It seemed to be coming at me from all sides. Relationship troubles, job troubles, lack of strong friendships, feeling unhealthy, insecure, useless, dependent, and incapable. Perhaps you believe in a muse or a fate or another, intangible personification that hands out purpose along with human spirit. Or, maybe you don’t, as I do, and see the pursuit of usefulness and creation as something you have to assign yourself. Either way, at that moment, I needed it.
Don’t get me wrong. So much of life is fun. Watching tv is fun. Video games are fun, reading is fun, just talking to friends or family is fun. Not only usefulness is good for the soul. But I have felt a terrible imbalance within my own self. There was nothing I was proud of. My image of who I was and who I could be were miles apart. With that realization I changed. No, I pivoted, course-corrected in a single moment. Of course I have procrastinated, wasted time, and goofed off so much since I decided to put in the work to shape myself into a better person. And I enjoyed it. Sometimes I needed it. Yet nothing would satisfy me anymore but the work.
I’ve talked to people about this a couple times since I made these out of season resolutions. Some have told me they’re impressed, that they do feel the same need, but don’t know how to start. My advice is this: stop talking to me and do it right now.
That’s a little curt. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to these people or hate stupid questions. It’s not a stupid question. I had it myself. I’m a life-long worrier and planner. I always want to know how to start, and where I’m going. It’s been slow, these self-transformations, because I keep catching myself sitting and thinking about these things instead of doing. I have to force myself to realize that there is something constructive I could be doing with that time. Even if it’s writing my goals down on paper instead of visualizing an ending I’m doing nothing to reach.
Any second you can start the work you need to become who you believe you could be.
Literally any one.
Think about it with me for a minute. What would happen if you, right this moment, stopped reading and did something, no matter how small, to be who you want to become? Even for five minutes. Tell your boss you need a break, turn off the tv, stop checking social media. Get up and do ten push-ups. Write a stream of consciousness. Put on your favorite outfit. Do a few dishes or declutter a shelf. Improve your life. Why not? It won’t change everything right now, but you can’t make a milestone without little steps. And within yourself, it could make a difference.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you really can’t do it right now, decide when you will, or find something you can do to help. Want to exercise more? Look up gyms you could attend while you ride the subway. Want to record videos, but everyone’s asleep and you can’t be loud? Edit your previous work or someone else’s. Set up how you’d record to test the camera and lighting. Hell, do something you’d have to do tomorrow so it’s out of the way.
Nobody wakes up one morning knowing a second language they didn’t have a word of yesterday. Life’s big projects are all little victories, shots of endorphins from small tasks you accomplish everyday. Some goals you never fully reach. There may always be more to do or learn. You can’t wake up one day and suddenly call yourself bilingual, like a gift you were handed. At some point you have to start acting like who you want to be, even when you are not. How does your ideal self eat breakfast in the morning? How do they brush their teeth? Things that are worth doing, that your mind will try avoiding, those are going to be hard work, be inconvenient. But you have to start. Do it right now. Do it when you wake up in the morning. Do it every time you make an excuse not to. That’s the secret, if you want to know.
Any second you can start the work. They add up.
I plan on making this resolution again, if you’re wondering. I made this resolution in September, and every day since. It’s my plan for 2019. To make something I can point to and go “That’s how I’m contributing. That’s what I’ve done.” It’s step fifty on my plan to be mentally healthy, between “maybe eat some real meals for goddamn once” and “I guess, cardio?”. Maybe I was wrong before, and I do believe there’s a deity out there, a separate force instilling drive in me. It was like being bitten or catching a bug. These were thoughts I couldn’t unthink. I wake up with a phantom itch. It finds me in my showers, in my sleep, and in my lunch break.
Why aren’t you doing something right now? There’s so many things you want to do. Can’t you write, or meditate, or exercise, or clean right now? Why haven’t you?
Any second you can start. Why not this one?
Honestly, with inner voices like that, it may still be hard work, but that doesn’t mean improving isn’t the easiest option.