Finding Your Purpose Through Process of Elimination

2010 March 11

I write a lot about going after what it is you want, not hamstringing yourself with insecurity, doubt or manufactured worst case scenarios. But what if you don’t have a sweet clue about what it is you want? What exactly are you supposed to do then?

Photo by Robert Scarth

Let’s start at the very beginning (I’ve heard that it’s a very good place to start). If you don’t know what you do want from life, you can at least try to figure out what you don’t want and what won’t make you happy. It’s a little bit of deduction meets a dash of Occam’s Razor, wherein you keep identifying and rejecting what you determine you don’t want (via trial and error) until you’ve exhausted all possibilities and all the that remains must thus be what you do want. Destiny by default. Replace passion with process of elimination. After all, isn’t that how Michelangelo wound up chipping away at the marble to reveal David (or apocrypha would have you believe)? I kid, but not really.

Yes, this wisdom flies in the face of romantic notions of having a calling (get bent, Max Weber) or being a born whatever (actor, singer, sanitation engineer), but the point is to stave off the paralysis of indecision that being in your twenties and not having a solid trajectory can give rise to (Okay, so you don’t know what you want? Let’s start with what you don’t want and work backwards!) and to get out of the mindset that you should both know and be well on your way to your fulfilling your one true purpose by the time you graduate high school.

More than likely, these do-not-want moments will take you by surprise. You will test out an idea or be faced with an opportunity that seems fist-pumpingly appealing at first glance, only to realize, when push comes to shove, that it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it just leaves you cold, or has downsides that you didn’t anticipate or maybe your stomach actually starts to hurt at the thought of  going back to school for graphic design or relocating to Alaska for that sweet research gig you beat out 120 other applicants just to get an interview for. Listen to these cues, cross this path off your list and proceed to figuring out what the next likeliest option will be.  Forget about saving face. Cut your losses and chalk it up to a learning experience and not a reflection on your judgment. Don’t try to convince yourself that you can learn to like it/him/her/Februarys in Anchorage. Going down with the ship by committing to a career/relationship/life that you’ve realized isn’t what you want (even if you don’t know what that is) isn’t noble and it doesn’t build character. It simply throws up another road block along the path to finding what does feel right. And really, don’t you want to get there as soon as possible?

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Related GenMeh goodness:

You Gotta Believe
Hands-Free Is Not For Me
Why Nothing Is Worth Waiting For