“Achieved a lifelong dream today!”
When I first saw that phrase on the Internet a couple years ago, probably accompanied by a picture of a wedding ring or someone in front of the Eiffel tower, I was shocked. You can just do that, achieve a lifelong ambition with the casual vanity that necessarily precedes any post to social media? Why hadn’t I thought of that? I wanted to check some things off my list immediately, now that I knew it was so possible.
But I must have misplaced the list. I deflated in the exact way I deflated in fifth grade when I learned there was no such thing as an Intensive Purpose. I was sure that as soon as I found my specific, personal Intensive Purpose, all the uncertainty and worry in my life would melt away faster than that guy’s face in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But as disappointment washed over still-purposeless-eleven-year-old me, disappointment swamped recent-past me when I realized I’d lost my tidy little list of life goals. How was I to know what to put on facebook and instagram without it?
The closest I ever came in my childhood quest for an Intensive Purpose was when I decided to become a lighthouse operator, and retrospectively that seems appropriate. When a ship’s within range of the lighthouse beacon, everyone’s calm, because land is within sight and the way to get there is laid out. But if the light’s out or the ship’s barely out of range, there’s panic. Land should be right here! Where is it? When my Intensive Purpose faded away, and when I realized I didn’t know what life goals I should strive to take pictures of, it felt like the lighthouse was dark.
Even a hopelessly lost ship has a destination and a course—only nobody’s sure what they are. But it doesn’t matter to people that there’s still a destination; knowing what it is makes a difference.
I imagine I’m not the only one who wishes there were a lighthouse illuminating the route to dry land. An Intensive Purpose is alluring. But a lot of us aren’t sure where life will take us, or even sure of where we’d like it to.
Is my advice to get comfortable with inevitably not knowing where you’re going? Ideally, yes, but not very many people are going to be able to do that. So maybe a better idea is to keep worrying about the destination but get comfortable with the possibility of other ones. There are an enormous amount of things to do with your life that don’t suck, when you think about it.