I recently read a letter written by Hunter S. Thompson where he explores an age-old question – what is the meaning of life. Hunter’s unique perspective resonates with me and it got me pondering this beast of a question as well.
What is the meaning of life? Or perhaps better phrased – What do I want to do with my one shot at life? Some want to be titans of industry. Others want to be rich and famous. Fewer want to change the world. The common theme I see is that most of us define the meaning of life by selecting a goal we must achieve for it all to be worthwhile. In doing so, life becomes an extended pursuit of an often-intangible accomplishment. Not only is this an oversimplification, it’s setting yourself up for failure.
The first problem with this strategy is that we usually select someone else’s goal or someone else’s definition of success, forgetting the subjective nature of the question itself. I agree with Hunter S Thompson when he writes, “to let another man define your goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.” We’ve all been shaped by different experiences, value different things, and bring different perspectives. What’s meaningful to one is not necessarily meaningful to another. So if we are going to orient our lives around achieving a single goal, we better be damn sure it’s our goal, or risk waking up one day to the sinking realization we’ve spent our time, energy, will-power, and genius chasing the wrong dream.
After we’ve dug deep and settled on a goal that’s right for us, we commit to achieving that goal. We become laser focused on becoming a CEO or being a good father or fill in the blank. Before long, that goal shapes our decisions. We even begin defining ourselves by it. We forget that humans keep evolving. Our interests, passions, abilities, values, and aspirations change with time. Isn’t it possible that our goals may change too? Of course it is! It’s our job to be self-aware, recognize when a big shift has happened, and re-visit our goals to see if they still resonate. Or as Hunter S advises, “make the goal conform to the individual, not the individual conform to the goal”.
In my opinion, these are two essential truths – we must define our own destination AND we must accept that our destination may change over time. And if that’s the case, orienting our lives around the pursuit of a single goal doesn’t make sense. Instead, we should “choose a path that lets our ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency towards gratification of our DESIRES.” We should commit to building our own unique life!