The author of this highly rated article is Stef du Plessis, CSP.
Keynote Speaker, Strategic Facilitator, Workshop Presenter, Intervention Leader
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For as long as humankind has walked the earth we have been trying to fathom the reason for our existence. We even gave this endeavour a name: The Existential Dilemma of Humankind.
At first, we decided that we exist to explore and discover… both places and things. This kept us busy for centuries. At first we set out to explore the Earth. Then we proceeded to inhabit it… driving out those who came before us. Later, we sent our armies to conquer more territory, by defeating those who drove out those who came before. And so on.
Once we’d conquered the Earth, we extended our boundaries… and we won Space. And after we’d created all the things we need, we turned our quest inward: seeking to understand what it was that gave us life… by breaking our own genetic code.
There. Done. As a species we had come, and as Nations we had conquered.
But this did not answer the question as to our individual existential dilemma. The question remained: Why do I exist?
To create fortune, of course. And so we did. But it didn’t seem to solve the riddle of life either. We even researched the phenomenon: and proved through “lottery research” that money didn’t hold the answer. The outcome? Studies among lottery winners show that whilst one may experience a short term change in their overall happiness index after becoming “rich”, they inevitably revert to their original levels of happiness after some time. In the long run, those who were miserable when they were poor were as miserable when they were rich… and so on.
To quote Freddy Mercury, the King of Queen: ‘I used to have a dream. I wanted money. Now I’ve got it. But now it seems it was much more important to get the damn stuff than to actually have it. Maybe the challenge has worn off. Once I get something I’m not that keen on it any more. I can have whatever or go wherever I want… but the more money I make the more miserable I get. And I have lots of money.’
So it’s got to be fame. Back to the research we go. This time to determine the levels of happiness among celebrities, compared to “the man in the street”. The outcome: the celebs are by far less happy than the rest of us.
Achievement. There – we have the answer. Personal accomplishment. Well, not according to this simple case study: ‘My medals and material possessions will fade away…’ Carl Lewis (Sydney, 29 September 2000). But what does he know? After all, he’s only the greatest post-war athlete with 9 Olympic gold medals. So he could be wrong… by all means, go ahead and try to disprove him. Then let me know your findings.
Enter Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D. (1905-1997). Professor of Neurology, and, on top of this, Professor of Psychiatry. Concentration camp survivor. Also the father of Existential Psychology. World-respected author and psychotherapist. Good enough?
His thoughts on the matter? ‘The primary motivational drive of man is to strive for and to find the meaning of his life… to find one’s purpose.’ Founded on the words of one of his favorite thinkers, Nietzsche: ‘He who has a WHY can bear with almost any HOW.’ (It was this short phrase that helped Viktor to survive the torment of his almost seven years in concentration camps… and which then spurred him on to find a deeper meaning for at least his own life.)
To seek and (hopefully) to find one’s purpose. Simple, after all. Or not?
Well, recent surveys indicate that by far the majority of people are in pursuit of finding their purpose in one way or another – so we’re headed in the right direction. But, to my mind, this pursuit lies at the very core of our existential dilemma. In fact, I would take it one step further by contending that this pursuit is the very cause of our existential dilemma.
At the risk of being accused of simple word play, let me go for broke: I do not believe that one can ever “find” their purpose in life. Consequently the search is nothing more than a futile pastime, and will not bring meaning to your life.
I believe that your purpose will find you. So the real question is not ‘What is my purpose?’ It’s ‘How will my purpose find me?’
Simple. It will find you when you are ready. But only when you are ready. No sooner.
So, if you really want to give meaning to your life, spend it getting ready for your purpose.
How? By learning life’s lessons. After all, all of life is a lesson – but you only learn the lesson by living it. That’s why we suffer – so that we can learn.
But it’s a tad more complicated… since lessons will repeat themselves. For as long as it takes you to learn. If you’re in an unhappy relationship, it’s only so that you can learn how not to behave if you want to have happy relationships. Broke? So that you can learn how not to work with money. And so on.
Worst of all… you will repeat a lesson until you learn it. So the pain stays for as long as you allow it to stay… but no longer. Isn’t that great? YOU determine when the pain goes away.
Best of all, there is no end to learning. Which has a down side: as soon as you learn one lesson, the WILL be a next. That’s the deal. And it may hurt a while… but only for as long as you allow it to hurt… and then you move on again.
And once you have learned enough, your purpose will present itself. On a lazy Tuesday afternoon, when you least expect it. So look out!!!