Conversing with a young friend recently, I was asked, in the middle of some fairly superficial conversation, ‘So, Graham, what are your goals now?’ This is the difficult type of question I usually ask others. This time, I was stumped. What are my goals for life now? Why am I here?
First Response: No Goals!
My first response was quite honest. ‘Actually, I don’t have anything I want to achieve or do. I don’t have any purpose right now. I’ve had a good and lucky life and done most of what I want to do. If I fell under a bus right now, I wouldn’t be unhappy.’
A bit morbid…but fairly true. And I was surprised – and not amused – that I didn’t have a good answer to this fundamental question of life…but I didn’t.
Second Response: Supporting Organisations and People
Thinking this was a pretty pathetic answer, I rambled a bit, trying to think about what actually does give me a sense of achievement, satisfaction, happiness in my day. I told the young friend that I’m trying to support a range of specific organisations and people, supporting particular projects that seem meaningful and impactful, mainly in the environmental, social welfare and education areas,.
Third Response: I Don’t Have a Purpose!
We reached our final destination shortly after that so our conversation ended without any opportunity for questioning from my friend, but my poor response lingered with me. What actually IS my purpose, now I am not engaged meaningfully in any specific organisation, the children are properly independent and the grandchildren are entering school?
I do know what my purpose is not! It is not to play tennis, travel, eat good food, watch sport, or similar. Yes, I love these types of things, but they don’t give me a sense of satisfaction, of purpose, just a sense of short-term, indulgent enjoyment. And if life is one big holiday, it’s no holiday at all.
Fourth Response: Helping Others Improve and Looking for a Purpose
I shared my experience with a close friend, who was able to quickly articulate their purpose. I wished I’d been able to think of it that way! So my fourth response reflected that friend’s better words. I would now say, ‘My current purpose is to help other people and organisations to improve their lives, their outcomes. To keep relevant, my purpose is also to stay connected with others, to learn new things, to be active and to be involved in and helping to improve the wider community.‘
It is perhaps my lack of fulfilment in the last element of that – being involved in the wider community – which is currently causing me angst and a sense of lack of purpose, since that has always been key for me. Recently I‘ve tried a large number of ways to do that, without much success. The covi period makes me wonder, ‘Will I be one of those whose career/work has been ended, never to be used again (because of my age)?’
As I’m now in the last part of my life (perhaps the Last Quarter or worse…), I can see how life narrows, how skills, connections and friends disappear and, once gone, are hard to recover or replace. Yet, as I see it, if you have no purpose, what is the point of being alive?
Thanks, young friend, for jolting me back into life. Hopefully I’ll be better able to answer your question when we meet next.