Home » Archive » Where questions are windows not battering rams

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

I must have known this before and forgotten: One can not plan without a purpose. What is mine?

Is it describing a set of goals that describe a kind of person and trusting that is the person I will come to be?

Is it making a choice and striving forward through all obstacles to become that single, refined thing?

Or is it being, right now, what I am? Living completely and wholly and allowing the next moment to arrive in its due course?

Of the three I’ve only tried the first. It’s fruitless. If goals are as they should be (ie. tough), there isn’t sufficient clarity to incite all the effort required to get there. When the enthusiasm wears off … the goals disappear.

The second one seems … decisive. Decisive is good; decisive is preferred in my culture. But decisive assumes that the necessary information is available. It isn’t.

My experience in life has always revealed doors I never new existed. Not merely unconsidered, these doors were absolutely unknown.

I started university to be a medical doctor. Until I sat down to pick a few courses outside my major (biology) I’d never understood one could get an education in economics. Today I’m an economist.

Today when I visit old friends I have to first describe all the things an economist is taught to perceive … then I point out I’m an investor, like a VC. Unanimously the question is: “What’s a VC?”

I never knew of these things when I set out to decide what to do with my life. How much more is left out there undiscovered? How am I better positioned today to make a choice than I’ve been in the past?< I think there are good reasons to suppose that the main driver behind our compulsion to define our purpose is not necessarily to find the answer for ourselves but to find the answer for everyone else. For some reason, everyone else assumes it's their privilege to ask about our purpose and their privy to pose surprised at the answer. Is it really? Boss's are absolutely beside themselves with anxiety when there isn't a definite answer to the question: "What are your three-year goals?" Why? Because there's only two responses to the indefinite answer. First, the now befuddled boss can accept the assumption he's got a rudderless man-o-war within the fleet. Or, Second, he must actually ask some thoughtful questions instead of the cope out he started with. Most of us are intimidated by the heavy work of forming and asking thoughtful questions. That's why we spend so much time discussing the weather and politics. And when we come up against someone who actually does ask these kinds of questions our instinctive response is to defend our ignorance. We hammer our flag into the mount of all-things-banal and vehemently defend our reluctance to come off the hill. We get prickly. So the group that has the audacity to ask this sort of question is obligated to find a hefty shield to get behind. And the best that's been found is the "Socratic Method". Lugging around that ideology, one gets absolution from most of the fiery reprisal ... because every one knows where that idea fits in our culture. It goes in the "oh-that's-a-philosophical-question” category.

And that’s where is stops.

We don’t go past the Socratic Method to the Socratic Foundation and as a result we remain uncomfortable without the label and, more relevant to where I began, we remain violently opposed to indefinite answers to life-purpose questions.

The Socratic Foundation is formed around a single principle: Truth lives within us. Because, if the Truth that is sought is outside us, how could we know where to seek it? And how can we seek something that is within us?

Truth is not introduced from the outside, but is within us all the time. And Socrates suggested that all learning and inquiry is a kind of remembering where one only needs a nudge to come to the consciousness of what is already known.

Now, getting back to purpose and the discomfort of thoughtful questions and the defaulting laziness of the “three-year-cope-out” and the devastating consequence of not accepting the indefinite; it’s about principles. We presently put them in jeopardy. They get no support. And we, as a result, live in a world of second best.

In our pursuit of definite answers (whether that’s purpose statements or annual reports) we immediately erode what ought to be the dominant position of principles and replace them with second-best, approximations called goals. The consequence is that where we needed room for new revelations, we have none. Any response is now wishy-washy rather than wise and we doggedly stick to the predefined path despite our better knowledge. Flustered by the consequence, we turn to people close to us and seek clarity in their purpose (if ours is unclear, maybe theirs might be) and we crowd toward people who seem to have something definite in mind. And as a result we build herds of people unresponsive to emerging Truth. We call these groups families, churches, businesses, and governments.

How much different would the world be if we didn’t have permission to ask that silly question about purpose? How much different would our decisions be if the indefinite answer was appropriate? How would my life change if I greeted each moment within myself instead of three years into the future? How much different would we be if questions were seen as windows instead of battering rams?

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Commentary

You’re an economist now, but where would you be without the goal of becoming a doctor? There may be an education that seems like a nescient decision in retrospect, but it has inadvertently given you the insights and connected you with the people necessary to find the doors you never knew existed. I think the question is not so much that goals and a valid and liquid purpose are mutually exclusive, but that the order of operations are juxtaposed. Purpose should trump goals, not make them redundant. I have a feeling this is what you were saying, but I just wanted to comment on something….makes me feel like a blogger. I enjoy what you write.

HSR, thanks for the note. I agree that the path toward doctor was a prerequisite to the final destination: economist. And I agree that purpose should trump goals. And I agree that goals can serve a liquid purpose.

The last is most appropriate — liquid purpose. It’s a lovely idea and worth some more thinking. What did you mean there? How do you reconcile a liquid purpose with the structure of goals and a framework of employment that demands singluar, stationary goals?

I believe purpose should be fluid. If purpose is not changing, then you’ve arrived. If you’ve arrived, then I don’t think you’d be reading (or writing) this type of blog.

there is a difference between having a liquid purpose and having no purpose at all. There are some that seem to reevaluate their purpose daily, and are never quite sure of themselves or their identity. These people, when they meet a shiny new idea, pick it up and love it as their own, until it inevitably loses it’s luster and they find a new one.

Other people’s purpose is kind of like getting the answers to a test ahead of time. They seem to manipulate every barrier or previously unthought of idea to match their purpose, instead of considering the redefinition of their purpose.

As with all things, the answer, I’m convinced, is somewhere in the middle.

I’m still toying with what liquid purpose implies. A singular purpose risks irrelevance … and if it doesn’t, it risks being too general to be useful. Generality seems likely to share the same weaknesses as a liquid purpose.

Maybe we need to refine the metaphor … maybe plastic purpose?

Your purpose can be as general or as specific as you deem necessary to continue to grow and move forward in your life. Purpose needs to be flexible enough to realize when it’s misguided, but not wishy washy enough to not be guided at all. Plastic purpose may be a more adept term, but what about plastercine purpose? Or lego® purpose? Something that is moldable, and can create a base (inspiration) for the future evolution of purpose.