Horrible question: What is your goal in life?


Your goal is your own goal. We are not all mountaineers.

Here’s a quote from one of my favourite blogs, A French Toolbox.

I’ve been asked one day about my “goals in life“. I have been very disturbed by this question, which is so… all about efficiency. I couldn’t think of a goal, even one. I feel like Cioran, in shock and in anger, after being asked about what he was “preparing”. If a French says he has “goals” in life, he sounds ridiculously Action Man, that’s it. The idea itself is a nightmare – at least when you’re more than 22 years old. I don’t want to be efficient, I just try to live, right? Dreams, maybe… Dreams, OK.

I couldn’t agree more. I resent headlines like this one, and there are thousands out there:

You must embrace a purpose-driven life and serve mankind in some way.

Oh, I must, must I? Why? Who says so? Get stuffed, you big bully. What a bloody nerve. (Really, I know you’re only trying to help, but I’m giving you my gut reaction.)

Your life is a life, not a business

Da Vinci's study of the foetus plus words: I am not a business

Soberly, I see no reason why we should apply the concepts and strategies and jargon of business to our private and personal lives. We are dropped into the world — often by accident. As we mature, sure, we may discover a burning passion, a purpose, a specific personal reason for living, and if so, that’s pretty wonderful.  It might be a task that needs finishing. People who need our support. A problem that needs solving. A mission, a faith that we must fulfil or share.

Having a “higher” purpose in life is known to be a Very Good Thing: it plays a role in keeping us alive and vital and engaged in the world. That’s what both research and intuition tell us.

But knowing your purpose in life is not universal, it’s not a given, and it’s not necessary. And life without a known purpose can be every bit as joyful, satisfying and worthwhile. Everyone is needed, everyone brings their own gifts to the world.

Life itself is to be relished — and used wisely if we can. That’s obvious. But it’s not a duty.

An older, simpler truth: you already have a purpose

To put it another way, the way of the Dalai Lama (and he should know), our purpose in life is to be happy and be kind. Simplistic? Only on the surface.

I doubt that he means we should pursue a life of hedonistic ecstasy, surfing from one high to another. (I think that to pursue happiness is counterproductive, but hey.) I presume the Dalai Lama means that we should aim to navigate the ups and downs of life from a steady base of kindness to ourselves and others, understanding happiness as contentment and satisfaction with one’s life overall.

My video course Write Over Divorce: Banish the pain with a pen includes a lecture on this dilemma. (It’s a lot more helpful than this blurt.)

If you  honestly feel a need to discover a more particular purpose in life, then do. One way is to ask yourself:

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What do I love doing?
  3. What difference do I want to make?

Maybe you’ll find a “higher” purpose — but maybe you won’t. And that’s fine. Because you already have a purpose: to be happy and be kind.

Jean-Pascal’s blog post: Proust & les Hirondelles : Chronicle 4


Photo of mountain by Pseudopanax @ wikimedia cc-by-3.0; Da Vinci’s study of the foetus, public domain, adapted by Rachel McAlpine

4 thoughts on “Horrible question: What is your goal in life?

  1. 1rhymescheme says:

    I recently felt that same shock and anger. Someone said ‘So, what about you? I know you’re doing the yoga thing and writing your blog, but what else are you doing?’
    I said ‘Oh, just living life and trying to be happy.’ Then I excused myself.

    1. That’s interesting. Others want you to be doing something that they admire and respect. The rest is brushed aside. With me, it’s writing the next BOOK. Nothing else counts. I try to understand but it’s mystifying.

  2. bone&silver says:

    Lovely post. And my peaceful, humble, kind girlfriend who just wants to grow veggies and make art loves it as well ❤️

    1. What a super comment. Many thanks. I’m glad it hit the spot for you two.