When talking about things like purpose, some will invoke the idea of a separate and higher intelligence that has dictated what our purpose is. Others may contend that purpose is irrelevant because there is no reason for our being; that all is a mere coincidence and that we simply adapt to the resulting chaos.
My point is not to invalidate these ideas but rather to create a third path. One that I hope will make the most practical sense: self-directed purpose.
The notion that purpose exists for us mean accepting that there’s a reason behind our existing in the first place. Theists who believe in a god (or gods) who is/are able to intervene in our mortal lives would suggest that purpose is already established and that in order to find whatever that is, we must simply consult relevant texts that pertain to said religion. But what about everyone else? Especially, what about those who are grappling with the existential quandary which states that there is no reason but there must be?
Let’s view purpose this way: you must not merely exist. You must create something or leave an impression after you have ceased to be.
That’s a good starting point. But, without further insight, we may erroneously believe that purpose is the thing of the ego; that purpose is a way to make sure we’re known and remembered. These are the people who give money to institutions and require that those institutions be named after them. Or that purpose is to accumulate enough attention to ourselves that our footprint on the existential landscape is indelible.
Self-directing our purpose is as much about choosing and following our direction as allowing the true self (beyond the ego) to maintain that direction. Imagine a purpose geared toward creating love and awareness because these things are important. Imagine our purpose revolving on ideas of community and compassion; on how we are using our faculties not to self-aggrandize but to nurture an existing and universal sense of selflessness.
At our core, we want to be loved and acknowledged. It would make sense that others have the same desire, too. Basing our purpose on what we can do for others is a transverse connection between ours and their needs. Instead of purpose being driven solely by our own needs, we can truly foster a sense of purpose found in others and, thereby, receive as well.
We make this choice. Consciously. It gives value to our existence. It gives meaning to why we’re here without a requirement that such questions be extrinsically answered.
When identifying self-purpose, begin with love. Love is the abstract that we will eventually shape and mold into what we are to do and how we are to commit ourselves and our talents. In other words, purpose.