Letter to My Son
“I don’t think I have ever known what I wanted to do with my life.”
“I don’t think I have either.”
I don’t know when I first thought deeply about purpose and meaning and fulfilling whatever the reason for which I am here on the planet is, but it was probably early high school. Growing up in a sort of hippie household in Berkeley in the 60s and 70s lent itself to finding interesting books lying around like Carlos Castenada and the like, so I was exposed at home to different ideas about being more than a body and a mind, hence having a more extensive purpose than just feeding that body until it was dead. High school in Berkeley in the 70s was pretty alternative as well. I think a history or English class I took was entitled Dream, Myth, and Magic; the arts were very much promoted. But I think I was expecting a bomb to go off in my head/heart to tell me when I’d found my purpose. Upon graduation, I had not a clue what to do, where to go, or what I wanted to do with my life. My family told me to go to college and take general education classes and by the time I finished them I’d know What To Do. At that time I hated college. I was an oddball and didn’t make friends. Not having a Reason to attend, I didn’t attend much or attend to my studies much, so I ended up dropping out.
Aimlessness. Lived here and there, worked a little, didn’t work a little, lived with my mom, lived with a friend. Finally set off with my hippie van on a quest. Ended up in Mendocino, slept in the van, took showers somewhere, took a course called Western Religions from a groovy older teacher in the local high school. He had us read two gospels, John and one other, and I think he was surprised and somewhat horrified when I converted to Christianity.
I have a trusting nature. Now it’s a pretty cynical hardened nature because having a trusting nature is not an easy way to get through life when the world is full of manipulators, users, liars, deceivers. And so I read the gospels and was surprised to find that Jesus himself had said all these outrageous things about himself...he was the bread of life, he was the light of the world, he was the SHIT and you just couldn’t get through anything without him. So I prayed, told him he’d better be real because I didn’t want to be part of some bullshit cult. And something happened that I thought indicated he was real. Or it was my powerful trusting nature, my extreme sensitivity to everything, my previous experiences with hallucinogens, I don’t know.
But immediately upon finding out that I’d had this “encounter” with the living lord, the local Christians grabbed me and started shoving doctrine down my throat. Trusting nature front and center, I sailed down the next rocky 30 years trying to believe that god really wanted all this bullshit in my life. Submission, denial of my critical thinking skills, persevering in marriages that were bad or abusive, trusting the institutions of the church implicitly because they were … well, the voice of god. Raising my kids to accept this bullshit. Raising my kids to be afraid NOT to accept this bullshit. You, my beautiful son.
I wish I could just hit delete, you know? But fuck, in real life we only get to go forward, not backward to fix it. So I have this to say.
You’re smart and you know stuff. If it feels like bullshit, it is. If it feels like coercion, it is. If it feels wrong to you, manipulative, untrustworthy, not quite right, you can trust that voice inside you. You don’t have to be “nice”, you don’t have to agree, you don’t have to obey the social cues, commands, expectations just because they are there and you were trained to do that. Throw that shit away. Listen to your inner self. I’m trying to, too.
Purpose and meaning? Boy, wouldn’t it be great to have that spelled out. I wonder if it’s something that’s hardwired into us, or just hardwired into a culture that demands value and a tangible way to express that you have it. “I feel called to Alaska to preach the gospel” or maybe you just want to go there. That’s okay too, you know.
Psychologists, life coaches, gurus, religious leaders, parents, friends…..well, everyone, either encourages you to find your life purpose, your life ministry, your goals/visions/dreams/worthwhile pursuits/what you want to be when you grow up, or tells you what they should be. What You Want To Do With Your Life is an important topic for everyone, either professionally, personally, or both.
And yet, I would guesstimate that a giant percentage of us don’t have a clue what that is, aside from what is fueled by survival. If you do a quick online search for life purpose you won’t have any lack of things to read in those wee hours of the morning when the deep philosophical urges come upon you. Four easy steps, one easy step, seven tips, finding it, figuring it out, the four components of, even quizzes.
Some of us have the liberty to let go of the immediate pursuit of survival to examine a greater purpose. Survival can seem like it is The Purpose of life oftentimes. But growing up, until I had children, survival didn’t factor into many of my life choices. I knew I’d get by, because that’s the privilege of growing up white in the United States. But purpose...whoof. That was a mystery!!! And one I ended up leaving in the hands of other people to determine. What happened there? And why?
I’m not driven to find meaning any more. I’m not driven to be connected to Someone/thing Bigger Than Myself. I don’t think that meaning is lacking, or that a person cannot have a purpose, or many purposes. I just don’t think that there is That One Thing I Was Created For. Maybe I am just a hand with a cinnamon roll in it on a shitty day. Or an eye connection and smile for someone feeling invisible. Maybe I’m $100 for a job well done, or a GoFundMe. Maybe today I just stayed in bed with the cats because they really like that. Maybe I tell the girlfriend of the obviously abusive man that I see her and she’s not crazy; he is abusive. Or maybe I’m driven to find the cure for cancer and I make some advances.
One of the problems I see with the Purpose Driven Life (an actual book title, btw) is that “small” purposes belong to “small” people. God forbid that I be a small person who lacks a grand purpose. But this hierarchy of value is one of the greatest poisons of our lives. That eye connection and smile is not finding the cure for cancer, no, but it could be the difference between the recipient going home and completing suicide or deciding to try another day. Both grant life anew, but only one receives praise and acclaim in our world of assigned value.
You are complete in your value, with or without a “purpose”. If you have a purpose, discovered or as yet undiscovered, it has no more or less value than another. We don’t know everything, okay. But we can live each day doing our best, whatever our best is that day. You are wonderful. Go be you. <3