One of the most powerful words in English is “why”, it can be a terrifying, penetrating word or it can one of liberation. Possibly the most famous question we learn as children is “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Following this riddle is to follow a dark windy road into infinity ,you may never reach the end. It is chasing the “why” of our own existence that has ended up forming so many of our religions. We have so many diverse answers to it that it is as if the answer is determined by the inquirer in some sense. Through out all faiths there are many differences but one constant remains. No matter how much guidance, a religious leader can give, no matter how close to the tradition and practice one stays, the journey and the answer is always found alone. So among all the “why”s that religion seeks to answer the most profound through out human history is “Why am I here?”
In the hearts of all the faithful is the belief that we are some how supposed to do something. It is difficult for us to accept that we do not, or may not have a “reason” for being. A life without purpose is in some sense meaningless, and it is faith in a higher power, path, or creator that helps us along. It is belief that it is not all in vain that propels us to act, to live and carry on.
In the minds of those that follow science we may feel driven by our instinctual impulse to procreate, to proliferate the evolution of our species. This is also a source of purpose, but a much different perspective. With this difference comes a different set of values and responsibilities. We want to do great things for those that will inherit our greatness. We sacrifice and work, not for ourselves, or for a deity, but for our children, and their children.
None of this really helps us decide what to do in a day though right? Knowing that your children will benefit or not because of the major you choose, doesn’t really help you choose one. God, doesn’t come down and help you pick your major, not in a literal way. Or does he? No matter what you are guided but fundamentally, we all still need to take cues from the world around us and from ourselves. Tradition can be a big help. If you come from a family of doctors, then becoming a doctor will reveal itself naturally, it may not be what you WANT to do but it is presented to you as a product of your heritage. All of our aptitudes are presented to us, by our history, and individual character, interests, and make up. But sorting out, whether to try and make your passion a career can be tricky.
No matter what you choose to do with your life to make a living, there will be a part of it that you will not enjoy. It is the contract negotiation you have to do before you sell your first book. It is the taxes you have to pay on buying your home. Just as every cloud has a silver lining, every benefit has a side effect. So if every experience and path, has positives and negatives, and every decision is a combination of internal and external factors, how do you choose?
Some would say pray, and others would say seek counsel, and examine the market, and take a personality test or follow your heart. Possibly the most profound advice would be to simply start from where you are. It possible that you can map out an entire plan for your life and it get completely dismissed because of a car accident, or death in the family, or unexpected pregnancy, or any other thing that a lawyer might call an “act of God.” It is also quite possible that you could pick a random job, that inexplicably leads you, not only to your success, but is incredibly fulfilling. Either case is just as likely but the constant is action.
Not to discredit a spiritual journey or to rebuke empirical knowledge but it is to say that those things inform the long term plan. They set a framework for a life course and rarely can a full trajectory of life be based on a single decision but rather a combination of decisions. Our lives are all novels that can equally be seen as having a series of alternate endings or a series of relatively arbitrary steps that will only have one ending.
If you ask different people about the chicken you will get different answers.
Christians may say, “God told him to.”
Evolutionists may say, “To lay eggs.”
Buddhist may say, “It pleases the chicken to cross the road,”
Perhaps is it this paradox from which our species gets our nickname. Formally we are homo sapiens, but we casually call ourselves human beings. Interestingly, the latin for homo sapiens means “wise man”. and where homo is our descriptor which translates fine to human, wise comes from wisdom which means “the quality of having experience”. It is being, itself that makes us who we are as a species unique from our ancestors. So maybe our purpose is simply, to BE.