This article is going to be a bit different than what I normally do here. Some background: A while ago, I became dissatisfied with the whiny, over-political (link) nature of Twitter, so I decided I would go out of my way and redesign my feed. In the process, I stumbled upon a really fascinating undercurrent of Twitter intellectuals. Some of these people are online business drop shipping gurus, others are into self-improvement (sound familiar?), and there’s a smattering of people into really bizarre, fascinating stuff. (If you want a list of my personal favorites, DM me- @liber_rex.) Regardless of their focus, they’re united, if only tangentially, in being what seems to be the most mentally stimulating force in the world right now. Maybe I’m a fool for not catching onto this earlier, but it seems like the modern analogue to the invention of the cafe- a huge concentration of brilliant minds, collaborating and discussing life, passion, purpose, and beyond.
On that note, let’s segue into the topic at hand. I recently had this short discussion with Justin C. Scott (@iamjustincscott):
I, of course, am a man of my word, so here we are.
Now, for reference, you’ll probably want to read the following few articles for some background on what I’m going to be building on here.
I firmly believe that every person has an innate purpose- not some mystical destiny or anything, but a place where the nature of the world and the nature of one’s Self intersect. A great example is Charles Darwin- he was pretty much terrible at everything his father wanted him to do, but he loved studying nature. Despite what was expected of him, he pursued his deep passion for nature and ended up doing what we all know him now for.
This is the core of my proposition- you, as an individual, have some innate passion at your core. Most people have this beaten out of them in childhood, it would seem, but that’s a discussion for another time. Somewhere, likely suppressed within you, there is your fundamental drive. One way to determine what this passion is is through reduction. There’s a quote in Fight Club (that I have some philosophical objections to the original usage of) that really describes this well-
“Self-improvement is masturbation. Now, self-destruction…”
The very specific context I’m going to use this in is this- in the process of figuring out what parts of you are ephemeral (thoughts, ideas, feelings, and beliefs- the petty ego) and the parts that are immutable parts of your personality (the Ego Proper), you will have to enact the process of removal.
The thought experiment that serves this best is as follows:
Imagine you live in a totalitarian society. The self-component in question (we don’t know if it’s ephemeral or immutable, ego or Ego), is outlawed and considered morally reprehensible. Given this knowledge, would you be able to live your life honestly without this part of yourself?
Go further. [Insert jack booted thug of your choosing here] has a gun to your head and says, “Renounce your belief and we’ll let you live.” Obviously, anyone could lie about this, but they’re going to keep you under surveillance for the rest of your life. What beliefs could you give up, and what beliefs would you end up slipping up on and getting executed?
Grim? Yes. But this is the core differentiation between your essential personality and the other things that simply inhabit your mind from time to time.
Now, if you have figured the majority of this out, you’ll have a workable amount of knowledge of Self. If you connect the dots between these components, you’ll discover a common theme. This theme is the basis of your individual passion, and this passion is the force that will lead you to your purpose.
To tie back into our metaphor, the word “passion” comes from the Latin “pasi” and the Greek “pathos,” meaning (essentially) “to suffer.” Your passion is that which you are willing to suffer for- it’s the thing you can’t live without. There’s a popular Latin phrase that echoes this- “per aspera ad astra,” or “through adversity to the stars.”
From passion, purpose.
Once you understand the theme of your Self and your purpose, you can figure out how to apply this. This is where we’re going to start tying those articles in with my conversation with Justin.
To use the metaphors from The Wisdom of Solomon, imagine the various demons (micropersonalities) are your skills and aptitudes. These can be totally unrelated- I’m sure you have several things you enjoy doing in life. If not, you should be working on that instead of this. However, for the sake of this article, let’s assume you’re not experiencing anhedonia and move on.
Now, you know what your passion is, you know the overall theme, and you know what you’re good at/like doing. You need to find the means to unite these disparate skills (tame the demons) to all serve your life’s purpose. Often, this is easier said than done. However, the best thing you can do is just follow the small voice that says, “That sounds interesting. That sounds like fun.” If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, it will be fun, and it will be interesting.
Even when it’s not, the sense of meaning and fulfillment that comes from simply pursuing your goals will make the pain bearable.
It will give you the strength to carry on in the face of adversity- per aspera.
Now, what if your strange assortment of skills doesn’t lead to anything in particular? This was certainly the case for me, for most of my life. As a kid, I attempted to: become a stage magician, learn guitar, make a video game, write and direct a movie, produce chiptune music (and later proper EDM), do parkour, draw, sculpt, and probably some other bizarre nonsense. I remember being told to “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s all well and good, but that certainly doesn’t give you any help trying to figure out what that job is.
By the time I was supposed to go to school, I was panicked because there was no specific major that encompassed what I wanted to do for a living. I ended up not going to college until two years later, and that didn’t last very long because I found the educational system to be as intolerable as when I left it. Alas, I digress.
The point of this anecdote is to illustrate that sometimes you won’t have a clear idea of what you want to do- but the hints will be there, beneath everything you enjoy. Minus the magic and parkour, you can piece together from that weird list that I have a strong desire to create. However, none of the mediums were really satisfying to me, until I ended up starting this blog and realizing that writing is my ideal creative outlet.
If you’re truly motivated to discover your own outlet, you will inevitably do so. If you aren’t, nothing you do will show it to you. You will have to suffer the pain that comes from the need to express your nature in some form to find it, because this pain is the root of creativity. That’s why good music often comes from sad musicians, although I’ll argue that they’re often sad because they never sorted the rest of their shit out. Tough luck. However, this isn’t meant to be some pessimistic indictment of creativity, by any means. It is in the act of creating (or whatever fulfills your passion) that we find the joy of expression.
Figure out the true nature of your Self. Through the process of doing so, you will discover your passion, and from passion, purpose. The theme of your purpose will unite your skills and give you a direction with which to move. If you know how to improvise, you’ll be able to utilize this strange assortment to your advantage. (Improvisation is the true art of living, in my opinion.)
Finally, I will say this. Given the many possibilities you have in life, you will be best served by choosing those that align with the true nature of your being. These will challenge you, and because they’re rooted in your core, you will inevitably grow as a result. By pursuing this path, you will best serve yourself, your happiness, and your deeper life satisfaction. If you grow as a person, you will cause the people around you to grow as a result, and just maybe, we’ll all be better for it. Nothing good ever came from people who deny their true callings- we have enough politicians and bureaucrats already.
Show us beauty.