“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” – Mark Twain
Since we, as human beings, have been capable of abstract thought we have wondered about our purpose in life. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Most importantly, what is the meaning of life? We look for answers to this question in religion, in literature, in people and philosophy. Often we are thrown into despair when we project these questions outwards into the void of the universe and hear nothing, not even an echo, in reply. But are we looking in the wrong place? Instead of looking outwards, why not look inwards?
There seems to be a tragic gravity to the lack of external answers to this question. Even the greatest minds of the human race have not been able to conclusively answer these questions. Many even conclude that there is no purpose to our lives; no reason why. This is seemingly a valid conclusion to reach if we continue to look externally for the answers to these questions. However, there seems to be a real, consequential answer to this question in each and every one of us. We need to create a reason why. It has to come from inside of us.
I would argue that we can intrinsically find a purpose for our existence, we can generate the why for which we live. To do this, we must understand two things:
One, there is no fixed answer to this question that works for everyone. No one can, nor should, try to prescribe a purpose or meaning to your life except yourself. If you are being told how you should be living your life, that you should be working towards a goal being prescribed to you, you need to step back and reflect on these things for yourself. You’re a unique person and so is your purpose here.
Two, you need to understand yourself, what motivates you and who you are as an individual. Without some deeper understanding of what drives us as individuals, we cannot aim to find a true understanding for our place and purpose among the seemingly endless mass of other unique lives moving around us. Socrates said it best, “To find yourself, think for yourself.”
Once you’ve find out your why, you can orient your decisions towards setting goals for yourself. That why should guide you and drive you. It creates a context for the world around you and makes your goals bigger than a statement on a piece of paper. Your why projects those statements of purpose into the world and creates intention and drive. Things become more clear, you find direction and you begin to live, eat, sleep and breathe your why. Once you have that why clearly set in your mind, you will find yourself working unconsciously towards it in every aspect of your life. It isn’t apart from other aspects of your life like your job and relationships, but the natural accumulation of all of these things towards your purpose and meaning.
I’ll leave you with the words of Friederich Nietzche, one of my favorite philosophers. I think he put it best when he said, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” Like an arrow shot from a bow, once aimed, drawn and fired you will have no option except to achieve your goals and fulfill your why.