Purpose. It’s one of those concepts similar to finding a soul mate that can leave us doing a lot of aimless searching, often without the sequential finding. Barnes & Noble bookshelves are filled with titles that promise to help us find it. Articles designed to inspire and excite spread like wildfire across the internet with the hopes of finding it. And countless hours are passed thinking about what that elusive it is for our own lives.
But what if…it’s all a myth?
One of the most feared and adored animals on the planet, the lion sits atop the animal kingdom yet is perfectly satisfied with feeding herself and her family, resting, and roaming. There is no thought of purpose. There is simply being. The tree towers above civilization, peering down on life below it passing by, yet is satisfied soaking in enough water but not too much, absorbing enough sun but not too much, and enjoying the views along the way. There is no anxious quest to be a better tree. Now neither trees nor lions have this little thing called the prefrontal cortex that makes humans what we are – animals with the capacity to think about and prepare for future events yet realized. But what evolved in our brains to help us survive turns out to have a second side to its sword, one that can harm us.
Clearly when we look around the world, there are countless people that to the outside world have “found their purpose.” But most of those people didn’t actually find anything. They simply took something that they were moderately good at it, went an inch wide and a mile deep into that skill, and the resulting work is their craft, the thing we mistake for their purpose. When we view it like this, purpose becomes not a question to ask (“What is my purpose?”), but an action to take (building my craft). The problem that has arisen from that tiny little prefrontal cortex and the subsequent relentless pursuit of purpose is that it’s left many of us believing that we’re supposed to shine brighter than the others. And this is where nature all around us shows we’re wrong. The lion does not care to be the greatest lion. Just being a lion and playing its part is enough. The tree does not care to be the greatest tree. Just being a tree and playing its part is enough.
What if, as humans, we’re much closer to nature than we realized, and our time on earth has nothing to do with what the bookstore shelves tell us? What if the key to this whole thing is to socialize with our tribe, contribute to the greater good of the tribe, and simply pass through history like the rest of the living earth? This doesn’t remove purpose from our days. In fact it enhances them. It allows us to focus on the true purpose that we’re wired for – socialization, community, and contribution. Not as individual purposes, but the shared purpose of humanity. Two lions don’t have different purposes, and maybe neither do we?