Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Finding Your Purpose

You never know when a philosophical breakthrough will occur. For instance, this one came to me while I was sitting on the loo flipping through my handy second-hand copy of the Encyclop√¶dia of Dangerous Sexual Positions. Then, in a sudden (and totally unrelated) burst of insight I became aware of the answer to a question that has haunted generations: ‘what is my purpose in life?’ This question has stumped seers, sages, and soothsayers (not to mention my parents) since time immemorial. Why all these great thinkers have sought to uncover the purpose of my life, I am not quite sure (but it may have something to do with my habit of aimlessly wondering around gift-shops without ever making a purchase). But whatever explanation lies behind the search, this much is clear: though the answer seems forever nearby, it continues to elude us, like a name we know but can’t recall. That is of course, until now.

But I’m not going to disclose the answer to the question ‘what is my purpose in life?’ here, because quite frankly it is none of your business. I will, however, offer you a recipe for finding the purpose of your own life. The answer can be summarised in two words: reverse engineering. Reverse engineering (RE) refers to the act of taking some unfamiliar device or piece of technology apart in order to figure out what it does and how it works (pretty much what Sony does every time Panasonic comes up with something new!) What I recommend is that you perform a little RE on yourself. Think of yourself like some new, unfamiliar piece of technology (though I would recommend against trying to stick batteries or power cables up any orifices). Instead, examine your penchants, passions and proficiencies (for example, I clearly have a thing for alliteration). Once you have identified what these are you should be able to infer what is your true purpose in life. It pretty much works like this: the fact that carburettors are good at mixing air and petrol (thereby facilitating combustion in your car’s engine) and bad at providing a home for a six-year-olds cute pet hamster (oops, sorry about that Muffy) tells you what carburettors are for. Likewise, figuring out what you enjoy and are good at (two things which hopefully go together) will tell you what you were made for—i.e., your raison d'√™tre.

Now everyone knows about my secular outlook on life, but this advice applies even if you’re part of the god-fearing majority of the human species. In fact, if you’re a believer, it seems natural to believe that God would design you in such a way that you optimally fulfil the purpose for which you were made. (That is unless God is Bill Gates, in which case you’ll probably be slow, experience lots of annoying pop-ups and crash every five minutes!) The key to figuring out your purpose, then, would be to figure out what you’re good at, since what you are good at suggests what you are designed for (whether you believe your designer to be God, Bill Gates or a complex matrix of social, psychological and Darwinian forces). In sum, finding your purpose in life is all about opening yourself up, taking yourself apart and seeing what makes you tick. However, I only recommend doing this metaphorically (otherwise, things could get a bit messy).