If you like to learn and improve, you seek out principles to help you on the journey. Have you come across thought leaders, books and articles talking about the importance of legacy. Have yo been advised to reflect on the legacy you will leave behind. Perhaps you were exhorted to craft your own eulogy, as a way to get clarity on your legacy.
Another frequently peddled advice is the importance of identifying your purpose and mission in life. How many times have you heard claims that those who amount to anything in life have identified their purpose, crafted mission statements and then proceeded to do beautiful things?
It’s time to question these two enduring and ‘taken-as-self-evident-truth’ pieces of advice. Should you be so worried about what legacy you leave behind? Should you leave behind a legacy at all? Does each of our lives have a purpose? Is it that God has given us this life to fulfill a mission?
Let’s flip these two assumptions around and see if we can still find something to be blissful about. Why blissful? Because I think at the end of it all, every little thing we think, do and say is in pursuit of bliss. That’s all there is to it. The end-point of every human pursuit is an equilibrium – a tranquil bliss that spiritual masters have experienced and written about – one that lesser mortals like you and me can intuitively agree with, though we haven’t reached a level to fully experience it.
So what if you decide not to leave any legacy behind? What if you never identify an overarching purpose or life mission?
See, legacy gets its importance from a few assumptions we make:
- That this life is the only one we have.
- That it is important to be remembered long after we are gone.
- That if we don’t leave behind an enduring symbol of our having walked this earth, we have lived a lesser life.
We carry an unconscious assumption that having a legacy that outlives us will somehow please our soul in the afterlife. Think about it – do we believe we are going to look down from the heavens and rejoice at the impact our name or work is having on the world? Does any of this matter (to us) 10 secs after our death?
My point is – legacy is a vanity measure.
Don’t worry about legacy. Don’t worry about creating something that will bring value after your death. Stop getting hung up on about whether you will be remembered and, what people ought to say about you. And also stop thinking about creating disruptive outcomes while you are alive. In fact, stop chasing outcomes. Stop trying to build monuments of vanity so that you can have name and fame.
Instead live for the process. All that matters is today. Instead of tomorrow’s impact, worry about the today’s path. Regardless of the result, is the path right? Did I fill this minute with 60 seconds of true worth? Did I really deeply experience this 1 second? Am I doing justice to this very moment? Did I do my best to the people, work and ideas that appeared in my path right here, right now?
And now about purpose. Ahh, the loftiness of mission & vision statements…..carefully crafted using the choicest of words…..only to become a plaque on the wall, or a calligraphy in a journal, and a stress-inducer in times of failure and struggles.
What are the assumptions underlying our belief in the imperative of having a purpose in life?
- That each of us has a unique purpose – one for each of the 7 billion on earth!
- That everything worth being and having in life somehow hinges on your ability to identify that purpose and then work towards it.
- That if you don’t identify that purpose, you will be a drifter.
Going back to my earlier point – the only end is bliss and equilibrium. Thus, probably the only purpose in life is to find our way back to our Source. There are any number of paths you can experiment with in order to achieve that. Short of it, all other purposes that human beings conjure up are just that – illusions. No one became anyone by explicitly defining a purpose statement.
Just think about this for a moment – Was Gandhi created by God with the purpose of developing a liberation movement for 3/4ths of humanity? Was Elon Musk created with the purpose of building disruptive, revolutionary technologies? Was Mukesh Ambani created with the purpose of becoming a billionaire businessman, and Warren Buffet with the purpose of becoming a legendary investor. Did these stalwarts magically discover their purpose first, write it down, and lo and behold, it manifested?
No, no, no and no. Instead, they started with intentions, work and skills. Over time, the cumulative effect kicked in to produce a giant result that at best is the consequence of carefully weaved work over a lifetime. It only makes sense in hindsight.
There is no unique purpose to our life. You are a worthy individual even if you haven’t crystallized your mission statement. And there’s a high risk that you will become a drifter if you embark on this wild-goose chase of life-purpose.
Instead, do work that brings joy to you and value to the world. Stick with that work. Endure the discomfort of imperfection while honing your skills. Go through the messy parts that are inevitable. Work for the sake of great work and not its outcome.
At the end of this process, we will be able to connect dots to some meaningful pattern. Purpose then is perhaps best understood in hind-sight. So stop worrying about it now and get busy living.