The Path of No Path
“So, what’s your purpose?”
I take a moment, not because I need to think, but really just because the pause is part of my answer.
“My path is the path of no path. My purpose is no purpose. My life is to be well lived, to spend as much time I can with those I love, doing things I enjoy, and to ultimately be able to let go of it all without white knuckles.”
Ahhhhhhh yes. Purpose, destiny, raison d’etre, your mission, your passion, your path, that single shiny thing you were (supposedly) put on Earth to do. That’s the narrative today, right? That’s where the path to fulfillment for us special snowflakes, myself included, is shown to be. At the foot of the mountain whose peak everyone can clearly see and point to and say: “Wow, look at that amazing thing they did, so inspiring to everyone, brilliant, they really are truly alive.”
And so we’re little kids dreaming of being princesses, astronauts, or presidents (or in my case, a WWE wrestler called ‘The Priest’) who become teenagers dreaming of being famous actors and rock stars, who become young adults dreaming of being really, REALLY good at something. So good that people will use the word “autistic” to describe how good we are at it. So good that they’ll say we’ve redefined what was thought to be possible. That whenever anyone mentions that thing for the next hundred years the next breath will be exhaled into the syllables that spell our name.
And for some, a small group of outliers whose stars all aligned just right in every sense of the notion, that may happen. And that path may lead to fulfillment. Or it may not, and if you doubt this take a few hours of your life and read Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Probably the best example of a person that was on a mission, filled to the brim with this mystical purpose, whose relentless pursuit of attaining some higher goal and changing humanity forever stands like a shiny beacon of inspiration to millions. But look at that beacon a little closer and a little longer and you’ll see the cracks. It’s not only a beacon of inspiration, but also of warning. Towards the end of the book, towards the end of Steve’s life when he came face-to-face with his own mortality, when everything came spilling out I think it’s clear that Steve Jobs, the brilliant maverick and world-altering person was actually a deeply unfulfilled man. His life was in many ways tragic and the broken relationships that linger on without any chance of resolution are testament to that.
And so the young adults who dream of being really, REALLY good at something put their heads down and let relationships fray and collapse. They let life’s precious moments pass them bye. In The Fountain we see Tom telling Izzy that he can’t go outside with her to revel in the year’s first snow, he’s too busy with his own thing under the guise of it being for her. Then he blinks and suddenly there is no more Izzy to go out in the snow with. The moments and the relationships and the opportunity to experience this precious and ineffably mysterious gift called life are deprioritized until the day comes, and the day will come, where we say to ourselves: Oops. I had things backwards: it’s work to live, not live to work.
I don’t want this to be some rambling post so I’ll wrap things up. I guess what I’m getting at is that one of the most important lessons from my early 30s is that my path is to do work I love and care about and find deeply meaningful, sure, yet with which I don’t need to identify. With which I don’t need to conflate some grandiose sense of “purpose”. It’s perfectly valid to dedicate a portion of my life to gather the resources to express myself, as best I can and in whatever way that feels truly authentic, in the rest of it.
Though it seems so vanilla, so utterly banal, so against everything the ’90s grunge kid in me rebels against; I now believe that choosing a life filled with meaningful work, a life where you get to spend time doing hobbies you enjoy (Jiu-jitsu anyone?), to be a good friend, family member, lover, or parent, to be happy, to make others happy, to have an open heart, to have discerning wisdom, to be able to spend (most) of the very short time you have been allotted doing things of your own volition is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not second place because that’s what today’s embedded narrative says it is. No, it’s something that you can fully embrace as a beautiful and deeply meaningful path.
So is it misguided to think that the path to fulfillment is to pursue some ultimate and discrete purpose? I don’t know, I don’t what path anyone is “supposed” to take to lead to their own fulfillment. I can only know, or at least attempt to know, which path to walk myself. And the same is true for you, just know that the path of no path is as legitimate an option as any other.