You know what I love to quit doing? Figuring out my purpose. I find it to be an exhaustive process that usually yields little results.
The truth is, I have no idea what we’re doing here. Specifically, the human race I mean. But could anyone really know? We are each just one out of seven billion bi-pods on a seemingly blue sphere floating in an endless black abyss existing for some reason.
With a pragmatic look at our biology, it is plain to see that, higher purpose be damned, most of us don’t live fulfilling lives because we are pushing back against a genetic code that has taken millions of years to map. As a society, Western culture in particular, we are giving a big middle finger to evolution.
If you happened to be born in the Stone Age, about two and a half million years ago, your purpose was to survive and reproduce. When you are fighting for everything you have, including food and shelter, it wouldn’t make sense to waste energy or time on the existential. You worked diligently to chip tools out of rock that would hopefully allow you to get a leg up on the rest of the ecosystem. You moved in a fashion that was much more directed by your sympathetic nervous system, (also known as the fight or flight mechanism.) Your purpose was clear and stared you straight in the face in the form of Darwinian theory every single day. You would certainly not be concerned with esoteric notions such as “finding yourself” or “figuring out your purpose.” Existence itself used to lend itself to meaning.
Our survival as a species from the very beginning required creating the path of least resistance. Quite literally, contributing the minimum amount of effort helped ensure our existence — the earliest form of innovation. The unfortunate irony is that to find success in the modern age you have to be willing to fight that instinct or you will get the intended result. You will simply exist.
The mastery of our most primal purpose has landed us with depression rates in the teens, over half of all adults obese, more than 1 in 20 adults morbidly obese, and a diabetic rate that is soaring like a toddler on a sugar high, literally. We have made existing so easy; it no longer comes innate with purpose or fulfillment. So, what’s our purpose now?
We owe it to ourselves to embrace this new era in our evolution. Embrace the qualities that have kept us alive like heart-beating-out-of-your-chest physical activity, the ingenuity that propelled us to the top of the food chain and enjoy the freedom that millions of ancestors before us have given us to explore, create and continue to improve for future generations. Take the opportunity to realize no one has ever been better positioned to solve major global problems or to find the max capacity of our physical abilities while safely returning to our bed at night. Or create an app that delivers a jelly donut to your mouth in less than ten seconds. Consumers will love you but the statistics won’t.
Capitalism, for every great thing that it has given us, is not without it’s drawbacks, especially when the consumer gobbles up everything they are being sold with reckless abandon. You should guard yourself against over indulgence and realize the amazing opportunity you have. Since we have the whole existence of the human race thing on lock (barring some kind of self imposed catastrophe by either of the 2016 presidential candidates) it means that we are free to pursue higher meanings. We can figure out what we really identify with and go after it with all of our being.
I am an entrepreneur, at least I like to think I am, and one thing that every great entrepreneur knows is that in order to be successful you have to be able to solve other people’s problems. Typically the more convenient your product or service is for the customer, the more economic prosperity that follows for the inventor or company. Hence the saying “to get a million dollars you must solve a million problems.” Since the Industrial Revolution we have been solving problems at an astronomical rate and with every gadget or app that solves a new problem that means that life for you and I just moves a little further down easy street. The problem? Comfort never has, nor will it ever, equal happiness.
Last Wednesday, I ran a daunting 11 miles to my office. When I arrived my feet were blistered, my thighs cramping and my forehead sunburned, yet, my new Mercedes sat parked in my driveway. Wait for the crazy part. I wasn’t any less happy had I drove in luxury there. In fact, my mood floated somewhere on the intersection between endorphin high and accomplished. At that moment I tapped into something that millions of CrossFitters, Tough Mudders and the like figured out a decade ago.
Purpose is ever evolving. We will always need to survive, procreate, and innovate, but tapping into the feeling of achievement, in even the most primal of ways always seems to bring me back to center. In order to really find contentment, you need sweat, challenge, accomplishment and a little pain. When you have those things; sprinkling in the luxury makes for one hell of a life.