How and Why: Central Purpose

    Life will always be challenging and complicated. Without having core principles to live by it can be impossible to navigate successfully. How do you find those core principles? Some people may use religion, wisdom or try to use rationality for such reasons. But often times today, people do not have any clear reason for life that helps decide the direction to take it. This reason for living is called a central purpose

Before being able to understand what your purpose should be, you should about why it is not often discussed.  The primary reason is that modern western culture has lost sight of its and become too narrowly focused on what science is able to understand. A purely scientific and purely ancient wisdom or Eastern philosophy based perspective is not enough in the world we live today. The 21st century is seeing the cultures of the world coming together in a rapidly evolving environment. As a society, we are beginning to rediscover knowledge that was once lost. It is now evident that our ancestors did have a lot they can teach us. This includes the importance of having a good central purpose. Without it, it is difficult successfully navigate life and mature.

     School and our culture more generally, does not do much of anything to help us figure out how to "grow-up." By grow-up I mean to become a self-sufficient individual that is able to create their own life satisfaction in a way that is good for society.  School does not teach this at all. We learn specific base skills in a few subjects and that's about it. A lot is learned implicitly from how you must behave to be student, but there is nothing about to go about living life and making important decisions in the real world.

    One reason for this is that anything internal generated or not observable with scientific methods has been neglected. It does not matter how important the topic. A purpose is individualized and most be personally meaningful. As such, it is very difficult to describe. You also cannot list facts or statistics about it. Additionally, the format of the school system does prepare one as well for the real world as it once did. This makes being able to make life decisions for oneself even more important. The school system was set up decades ago when the demanded skill set was very different. Organized religions and a more clearly defined roles of women have also made the individual more responsible for making decisions about their life. What on one would do after graduating high school was much more straight forward prior to the 21st century. That is one reasons why having a purpose has become more important than before.

    Technological advances ave been so incredible and helped satisfy our physical needs, that we forget that there is so much within our own psyche that must be attended. This includes higher-order needs of self-actualization and purpose. When that is combines with the fact that the path to self-sufficiency is more dependent on oneself due cultural changes that include the elimination of factory jobs requiring, there is an increased risk for stagnating and not pursuing anything with purposeful passion required to succeed. Without something to aim at and having a reason for pursuing it, stagnation, resentment towards others, and depression will set in. (More on this here). The opioid crisis effecting young-men is a reflection the problem of not having purpose in life. We have created materials to make life more comfortable, but have forgotten why we should even live at all! That is terrible. It does not matter how much matter you have if none of it seems to matter. That is a matter we must attend and you must attend in your own life. This neglected issue of finding purpose effects nearly everyone.

    In this new world we find ourselves, it is important to learn how to go about self-discovery while navigating a path to adulthood. One obstacle to this has been our tendency to assume western science has the. answers for everything. This has came at the cost of forgetting vast amounts of knowledge from our ancestors. Important changes within you psyche naturally occur as you go through life. Don't you think it might be good for you to utilize that information in your navigation of life? Not doing so is like trying to driving with no map or swim up stream. It cam happen naturally with a perfect mindset, but that is extremely rare for anyone to learn. 

    So what is the evidence for this other aspect of life we have forgotten and science has not yet assimilated? The evidence is every where if you know what to look for. Getting familiar with the fact that people existed long the scientific perspective is a good place to start with connecting with a deeper meaning. It is from this state of awareness of your roots that helps give power to your purpose. Religion can do this for you if you wish. However, the underlying themes within religions form the foundation for all of civilization. Religious or not, what our ancient ancestors described about human life are being shown to be remarkably consistent modern science. The goal here is to develop a sense of "meaning." To modern day, we have lost the everyday meaning. Fundamentally, meaning comes from understanding you connection to something bigger than yourself. We still have access to that through love of family, friends, and other people, but you can find much more meaning than that when incorporating truths from our ancestors.

Answers from our Ancestors. Finding a Central Purpose

      While human civilizations has gone through many eras, there are many core aspects of human experience that have remained consistent. Consideration of their perspective is amiss because they were not born from science. Their conceptions of the world do not directly translate to the one today. As discussed previously, ideas like purpose and meaning can't be expressed by facts and numbers. They are ways of life that you cannot understand until acting out and experience it yourself. 

    We have been living in cities for over 6,500 years. That many people cannot live together with stability if they didn't understand something about human life. These were intelligent as us. They did not know as much about physics or biology, but they knew a lot about human experience. They knew more than as with respect to subjective experience. They had descriptions of the sorrows and joys. The triumphs and defeats we all face. Cultures such as the Sumerians, Chinese dynasties, Persians, Egyptians, Inca, and Maya all provide useful insights. Where we are focused outward on the visible world. They focused as much on the inner world. Instead, numbers and facts, they described human experience through story. That is their science. Combined with our science, you get a much better perspective that works in the 21st century. The basic stories that can get you going and provide a foundation here, but you would be well served to learn more. You don't even have to read. I didn't. We have books on tape, Youtube videos, and podcasts. That is one advantage you do have over previous generations. All the information you need is available online and you don't even have to read! 

   A good place to start with research is with the process Carl Jung coined "Individuation." This describes the process of becoming an a unique individual whose psyche is whole. Your mind consists of what can be thought of as sub-personalties. Until these sub-personalities are working in harmony, your full potential and best version of yourself cannot be realized. However, as long as you are making a conscious effort live life a meaningful life with purpose, you will naturally progress in the individuation process.

    The eventual combination of western and eastern philosophy has great potential in describing this process. For your sake, understanding the nitty gritty detail is beyond what you need to know in order to get started. A story from out ancestors at the bedrock of human civilization has intimations of this process that was much later described by Jung. The stories of guiding stars is what helps explains the mindset to undertake the process of individuation and reach your full potential. It is simpler and still effective way to understand it. I know this to be true from personal experience (book in progress).

The significance of a star is that it provides reliable guidance. Life is too difficult to make rational sense of everything at all time. The star is what gives direction no matter how dark it may be. It never goes anywhere and stays in the same spot. Without direction, you are fearful in the dark. Life is the same way. Except that the star is actually inside of you. It can thus never leave you. The symbol of the North Star is how our ancestors conceptualized the inner sense of meaning and purpose that allows you to keep going regardless of how dark the challenges may make it seem. When you keep moving with purpose, you are experience meaning and naturally progress closer to your best self. It event ties in nicely with how modern neuroscience understands the central role of goal directed behavior. That is discussed else where. This will build up to explain how goal directed behavior, purpose, and experience meaning are what will allow to understand life and become a confident, self-reliant, and kind person who is satisfied with life. Overall,  it supports the explanation on why having a central purpose is important and how to find one. The mythology that was once so important, can become important again.

  Following your North Star     

     The North Star has always been symbol for finding guidance. Not only for traveling in the conventional manner, but also as a metaphor about navigating through life. The earliest evidence of this metaphor is in the Rig Veda 8,000 thousand years ago. This sacred text is a precursor to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The theme  of the star is found throughout ancient cultures. It is archetypal in that it has biological and collective unconscious roots. It has always been there and thus important.

In the bible, the star marked where Jesus was born. That is one example of the metaphors use. It continued with the Roman Empire, Ancient Greeks, and today. While it used in movies and books today, the significance to our individual lives is not described. The idea of behind the guidance is part of larger story that is essentially the Hero's Journey. The jest of the original story behind the metaphor is as follows:

The North Star is in the constellation Draco. Draco is a dragon that guards treasure and other objects of great value. Despite personal fears, hero figure voluntarily follows the North Star in order to slay the dragon and claim the prizes it guards. He then returns home as a honored hero. The slaying the dragon is of benefit to the greater society. It reduces the chaos and brings society into a more peaceful state of order.

You will find that same basic plot in nearly all classic movies in plot. The dragon is the fear the main character must face voluntarily. This fear is something that has existed a long time, often going back to the protagonists childhood. It always stands in the way of what must be done to save a person, a group of people, or receive something of great value. This character then returns to where he came from a hero. It is the hero’s life purpose/destiny to take on this task. That plot is found throughout human history and still widely used because it is fundamental to what we all experiences. We are fascinated by that plot because it true for all of us. True to the very core of our being. It is exactly what anyone must do to have the achievements they want. Fears, doubts, and insecurities always stand in the way of our highest goals. As the saying goes, “what you need most is where you least want to find it.” Shrek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Frozen, and all the other stories have that very same plot. The goals they are trying to reach bring them on crash course with their biggest fears. It is very helpful to be aware of this idea. Doing things that make you uncomfortable or hard are often what opens up opportunities. Satisfying experiences that would not have otherwise been possible can then occur. 

One key point is the voluntary nature of it. This is different than when you put something off and have to deal with it because it is forced upon you is different.  Can you think of a time when you voluntarily did something you that was difficult or uncomfortable and something good came out of it? This can also take the form not doing something you did want to do. This is how it works. Our ancestors recognized this to be the case and based their culture around such stories. The idea of God himself is based on voluntarily creating order out of chaos.  It is so true entire religons and civilizations were build around it. It does not matter if you believe it or not because the fact is not changing. That is what makes something archetypal. It is a constant force on the human life. if you can accept that you making sacrfices in the present is necessary to achieve your long term goals, you can begin to gain control over life. And these are not super hard sacrifices. It is simply doing that what you already know you should instead of putting it off in favor of instant gratification. If you do that over time, then you are on your way to the North Star. You will make it to the Dragon and be strong enough to defeat it. 

Putting sacrifices like finishing that assignment instead of chlling with your friends on Saturday night, putting in that extra time to learn a new skill on top of everything else you do, start a side hustle or whatever comes from putting the significance of it in perspective. It is real and effects you! There are rewards to be had if can stick to it.  The little victories along the way are important because they are what make strong enough for the greater challenges. In doing this, you need a central purpose to guide you. That is how you can know you are on the right path and deal with challenges in stride.

We all suffer sometimes

One important thing to know before getting into the process of finding goals and a life purpose is that no one escapes feelings of suffering. It is normal. Getting down on yourself about not feeling great only makes it worse. Knowing that it is normal is something I find helpful. Have you ever heard “do what makes you happy”? That is actually really bad advice. That is setting you up for more shallow satisfaction and less resilient mindset. You want to strive to do that makes you feel as if life is meaningful. When you engrossed in the importance your life purpose, you don't care as much about what would normally make you feel bad. That is resilience and self-confidence in your ability to overcome.

Anyone who has had great accomplishments will tell you there were plenty of times when they were not happy. Are you happy when you are up at 3 A.M. finishing an essay? No, but you need to do it in order work towards other goals. Have you ever thought other people don’t have as many negative experiences or happy more often? The truth is that we all greatly underestimate the negative experiences of others. We judge the happiness of other people by how we see them in public or how they portray themselves on social media. If someone was only to consider how you act in front of them or look at the photos of you doing fun stuff on social media, would they be able to accurately determine how you spend the other 98% of your day? No. Getting caught up in that is not healthy either. A sad truth is that, seemingly regularly people commit suicide because depression. Such people would probably not have done such a thing if they knew that people close to them also were suffering. You see how it makes it less suffering itself less stressful. If you ready feel bad, you don't want start feeling worse about the fact of it. 

We tend to hide our negative emotions and display positive ones. That's just how the social world is. It is fine to portray yourself differently in different circumstances, You are officially on the inside information that “everyone is acting way happier than they actually are." And there pride in doing that. I am not saying not to do that. Someone who keeps their cool and deal with the circumstance confidently is a person to aim to become. You can't do that if you are worried about your suffering.  

The truth in the ancient stories is that when you are pursuing that which is  interesting and meaningful to YOU, it gives you the resiliency to push through difficult experiences. Pushing through those results in a satisfying reward, provides new opportunities, and progresses you towards a higher-goal. The alternative is to avoid that which you do not want to do, not progress towards anything, and become shutoff from opportunities. Although, you will get to sleep in on a Saturday instead of going to volunteer in the community and building relationships. 

As humans have always known, you do what is emotionally and physically challenging (slaying the dragon) in order to accomplish goals that get you rewards (taking the gold, saving the girl/guy, and helping humanity). And because you know your purpose and its meaning, the challenges seem worth it. The same obstacle with and without a purpose will result in two very different subjective experiences. You know who seem to struggle less when doing challenging tasks? They likely understand exactly why they are doing it. That is the difference. 

Certain goals are important to pursue no matter what you do, but it is hard to have the confidence to follow that what interests you without a central purpose. You often have to blaze your own trail to really follow it. Having the resiliency to start something that fits your interests requires a connection with deeper meaning. That takes orienting yourself to your North Star. You will not know exactly what you are going after. It involves following your interests and taking the step right in front of you. The whole journey will not be known. That is okay. You don't have to know what is on the other side of a mountain when you are following a star. You just keep moving in that direction.

The approach described by our ancestors is consistent modern science. We know goal-directed behavior is fundamental to the brain and that motivation is critical to higher-order cognitive functions and achievement. The difficulty is with understand a purpose because it is unique. Only the individual can know it and even then it is difficult to grasp unless you have taken the time develop knowledge of it. It takes persistence and belief in its importance. That cannot be measured. Thus, it can't be incorporated in science. Not being able to measure something is not a reason to believe it does not matter. That is not necessarily what scientists believe. That is however how it is treated. As a culture, we have hard time conceptualize ideas that can't be measured. 

Science is very helpful, but it also needs to be put into context. If it can't address an issue we to effect human life, it shouldn't be grounds for dismissal. Questionnaires can tell you something about your personality and give suggestions based on what people with similar personalities did well in. That can be helpful. The problems is that it still not accompanied by an explanation of their relationship to purpose. Life is hard, You need something to motivate you despite the difficulty.

One of the importances of going to college is that it gives time and life experience to help learn about it. It can be great opportunity to discover what you love if you know that is what you should be doing and know how. College also opens up opportunities due to the fact that the majority of occupations require a college degree as a prerequisite now-a-days. If you can't make it through college, it better be because you already found your purpose and started pursuing it with vigor. That is perfectly reasonable. It also rare to the case. Normally if someone can't make it through, it is because of complete absence of life meaning (That is assuming no personal issues). From that point, the challenges just get even greater. Redisoverning meaning in life can overcome anything, but the mental will power required to have trust becomes harder with more to overcome. It is kind of like needing to change the momentum.

The fact is that putting off the challenges in the present (getting in college) will ALWAYS come back later.  They come much worse than they were before (trying to do what you want without a degree). It can be thought of as Karma. Regardless of what you believe about Karma. It is SO TRUE. You just don't get away with anything in life. It all has to be earned.  Putting of things off you do not want to do does not make go away, they grow bigger and come back in a variety of forms. The good news is that you can control your life if you do it right.

RECAP

A central purpose combined your interests with what is is roughly what is meant by the guiding in the stories on about the North Starr. Like how the star is at a stable location in the night sky, it allows for more consistently knowing how to act in ways that good for you and others. It helps affirm the correctness or incorrectness of what you are doing. It is the light that guides you that you are lost without. There are literally infinite options in life. How are you suppose to know what to do without a guiding principle? You will live life that no one else has lived. It is too hard to do it well without stable guiding factors. You will get lost without. 

It mythology makes logical sense, is based in archetypes and are also consistent with the modern science. Research shows that people who live with a purpose are more satisfied, more resilient to negative experiences that occur, achieve more goals, and are faster to bounce back from bad situations that occur. Do not worry about being happy all the time. Everyone is sometimes. That is okay! It is just how it is and there is nothing you can do about it besides make it worth it. You can make it all worth it, be deeply satisfied with life, and have great personal accomplishments that also benefit society. You can even enjoy the times that suck by knowing that you are doing what you need to in order have you great accomplishments.

Future of Employment

The future of what specific jobs will be availbe 10+ years is uncertain due technology. This is nothing to worry. You’ll have an advantage over people who don’t because you will be more prepared. You are navigating life with a guiding central purpose and taking one step at a time. If you do that you will be fine. For whatever you, it is good to know what is coming on the horizon if you can.

Available jobs will change and having an idea what skills will be more valuable will allow you to make more informed decsions about what to learn. In the end, your competence, work ethic, passion, networking and general ability to be proactive on opportunities are what matter most. Knowing what will be in demand is just practical. You need the perspective that you will find something for you as long as you are going in the general direction of interests.

This has happened before also.  Employment has always been changing due to technology. 90% of the jobs of 100 years ago do not even exist anymore and people are still working. For this change, you take not of what jobs robotics and computers become able to do more and more tasks that once required humans. There are certain jobs that will not be able to replaced. For example, if someone wanted to be fireman. You can ask, are random accidents, emegenics, and fires going to stop happening? No. Will a robot be able to rush to the scene of what happened, react to new and unpredictable situation, and then listen, interact and respond to the people? No. Fireman and cops will be needed for a long time. In the second, you the “non-routine analytical” and “non-routine interpersonal.” Non-routine would invlovle anything that can be unpredictable. There situations that require you to apply what you know to new situations. Interpersonal is interaction with people people. Respond to new situations involving interactions with people is obviously involved in the jobs of fireman and police.

The benefit is that with technology and internet today, there are boundless opportunities to start something creative with expressing yourself online. Just keep mind in the idea of "non-routine" jobs. Think about it and research it. You never want to be dead set on one single career anyways. It is better to be like a multipurpose tool with a purpose. Your purpose can pop out call you when you least expect. Be ready to jump on an opportunity that you know feels right. That is being proactive. Being a doer. 

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A lot people go through life lost in the dark and ignorant their North Star or higher-purpose. It is not something anyone can tell you what it is and how to follow. Have you ever noticed that there are some things that just seem interesting? Those things you are particularly curious about and try to learn more? You can think of that as the path being revealed to you. Neuroscience has no idea why people have their own unique interests. It just is what it is and you can’t do anything about it. That is both mysterious and amazing. Our ancestors noticed that incredible insight also. They noticed that when people put in effort and followed what seems especially important to them, that really great things can happen. Those were the hero's. It seems to have always been that way and it continues. Over and over again, great people throughout history achieve success in the same way. 

It seems like a good idea. If the bible described how baby Jesus was found by doing that and all the major cultures throughout history gave it similar levels of importance, that should be good enough reason. Connect with a deeper meaning in life. Integrate your life under a central purpose.

 

Ben ShelerComment