Find Your Purpose, Because Nobody Else Will

We all need time for reflection, no matter where we are in our lives

I was doing a bit of soul-searching the other night while I was cooking dinner, listening to some music by one of my favorite bands — The String Cheese Incident, and I had some major realizations on where I was prioritizing my time, money and mind. It’s been a fast changing year for me, all for the better, but as always it’s good to reflect and find places to improve.

One of the larger takeaways for me out of this night was that I need to get back out and travel again. It’s been almost a year since my last out of country trip and I am feeling the pull, stronger than ever right now to get back out on the road. I find a lot of pleasure in traveling, so if I am misallocating my time and resources away from my pleasure, then it’s time to adjust. One thing that always inspires me when doing some soul-searching is a piece of work (a letter) penned by Hunter S. Thompson back in 1958. In this letter Hunter S. Thompson is responding to a friend who reached out to him with the question,

“Do you have advice for what I should do with my life?”

At first thought, it seems like an easy question to answer for someone, but if you step back… it’s really not. It’s more so a dangerous question to answer for somebody other than yourself.

He starts the letter by saying, “To point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.” Beginning the conversation that nobody can tell you where you belong or what your life should be… that is only for you to decide. Furthermore, he states, “I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.” But he does continue on to give as much advice as possible through his lens.

Hunter poses the question, “How does a man find a goal? How can a man be sure he’s not after the ‘big rock candy mountain,’ the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance? — The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe you no longer want that. Why? Because perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. Every reaction is a learning process.” Hunter suggests if it’s foolish to adjust to demands of a goal that we see from a different angle every day, how could we ever accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The Answer, then, must not deal with goals. Essentially, “we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. We strive to be ourselves.” He cautions not to misunderstand that statement, because you CAN be a fireman, banker or doctor — but the end goal has to conform to the individual instead of conforming to the goal. Here is the formula he provides as a means to accomplishing this:

  1. Choose a path which will let your abilities function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of your desires.
  2. In doing so, you fulfill a need (functioning in a set pattern towards a set goal), avoid frustrating your potential and you avoid the terror of seeing your goal wilt or lose its charm
  3. Essentially, you’re not bending life to reach a pre-defined goal, but you have chosen a way of life you KNOW you will enjoy. The goal being secondary — “it’s the functioning toward the goal which is important”

The big question from this leads us to think “what if I don’t know my goal or what I want to do or be?” Well… that’s the crux. As Hunter highlights, “is it worth giving up what you have, to instead look for something better?” You see this a lot today, as people are leaving long, 20 year careers behind to go move across country to travel and learn something new, to then return months later, knowing they want to start their own business or write a novel or work a fishing boat… a change of life.

The only way to find your purpose is to look deep inside yourself and decide if you have any set paths you want to walk down. And if you don’t… then it might be time to start considering if your current situation is worth walking away from to go find the answer to this question. Become self-aware. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing decision you make, but rather a refocusing of your time and resources for where it matters most to you and for what you want to accomplish. Be it that book you haven’t read, the country you haven’t traveled to or the skill you haven’t learned. Focus on what you want to accomplish and give up the things that get in the way.

Here is the full letter penned by HST for those interested: