My favorite poem is “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski. He writes:
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
I’ve needed those words lately. I’ve been feeling lost. Aimless. Out of control.
And it all has me thinking about purpose.
Recently, my friend Evans wrote an article about setting himself back in his career for a happier life. I headed to the comment section, as I always do after reading something online, to see what people had to say about his point of view. The comments were mixed, but so many kept coming back to the idea of a person needing to be more focused on responsibility than happiness. I was taken back by folks writing that they thought a person choosing to do what makes them happy was irresponsible and immature. Evans argued for living happily and stress-free while others wrote about believing life’s purpose is to fulfill your obligations to society, make money, and take care of your own business.
Why do we all have such different points of view on the purpose of life? Google the topic and you’ll find over 915,000,000 results. Articles, step-by-step guides, videos, rants, books, cartoons, and quotes all address the topic. Writings from business owners, religious leaders, and everyone in between cover the topic of purpose, why we are here, and our reason for existence. They write about finding your happiness here, discovering your purpose there, reigniting your passion with this, getting in touch with true meaning with that. There are those who argue against the 9-to-5 - “quit your job and travel the world, freelance, make your own path,” they say. Others write about finding happiness in the daily grind - how to make your day-to-day meaningful.
Some argue that the point of live is to give back and impact others, to make the world a better place, to leave your little corner of the globe better than you found it. Others believe that life is all about happiness, joy, and pleasure - do what you love and love what you do. Still others point to providing for themselves and those they love as their sole purpose, they insist that doing anything less is irresponsible. A few go as far as stating that life and existence don’t, actually, exist - it’s all a figment of our imagination, a product of our mind or our shared consciousness.
Here’s the thing: they’re all wrong. They’re wrong because no one can tell you what your purpose in life is.
Not a single person on this planet can decide what the components of life - meaning, happiness, worth, responsibility, purpose, love, experiences - mean to you. They can shape your understanding of purpose and influence what you believe to be the meaning of life. You can seek guidance and mentorship from others to help you decipher your purpose.
But, at the end of the day, your purpose is yours.
Maybe for you, life is all about happiness - and that’s okay. Maybe life is about working hard and making a name for yourself - that’s totally fine. Maybe you care more about finding your purpose in the mundane - I applaud you for that. Maybe you’re just finalizing what you believe to be your purpose - that’s all right.
Maybe you’re like me and you’re questioning all of it. Maybe you’re unhappy, confused, or you feel lost.
It’s okay to keep looking, searching, trying, failing. It’s okay to think you’ve found your purpose and to realize that you were wrong. It’s okay to boldly declare what you want to do with your life, then decide it’s not the best fit for you. It’s okay to talk about not knowing what you want to do or that what you’re doing now isn’t bringing you joy.
You know what’s not okay? Being miserable is not okay. Being unhappy is not okay. Living in a place of negativity and suffering is not okay. Allowing all of those problems to negatively impact your health, your relationships, and your outlook on life is never okay.
Just know that your purpose is out there, you’ll find it.
We can find it. Together.
Tyler J. McCall is a WNC native, non-profit director and blogger who loves fancy cocktails, Southern food, trashy TV, and road trips. For more posts about Asheville, home decor, food and cocktails, visit Tyler's blog at leavesandbeards.com.