How does an objectivist discover the purpose of his life (his work, profession)? How can he be so sure of his purpose? Is it possible that an objectivist may abandon his purpose? Is knowing your purpose a necessary condition to be an objectivist?
It might be helpful to reformulate the question a little. Instead of asking, "How can I discover the purpose of my life," try asking, "How can I choose a central purpose for my life?" This isn't just "nit-picking of technicalities" or "word-smithing." There is a real philosophical difference between the two formulations. The first version implies that "purpose" is some pre-existing phenomenon already "out there" in reality somewhere, and what you need to do is go find it somehow, like trying to figure out what tree it's growing on, or where else it might be hiding. This view reminds me of the evangelicial Christian claim that "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; seek guidance from Him to learn what His plan for you might be." It also reminds me of the idea of "destiny," which served as the explicit "wrapper" for the movie, "Slum Dog Millionaire," although that movie also projected a fundamentally benevolent, albeit violent, sense of life in which individual choices and initiative matter and make a difference. (The movie's view of destiny was actually more like, "You have a wondrous destiny waiting for you, but you need to work for it with patience and perseverance, and without knowing in advance what it might eventually turn out to be.")
The reformulated version of the question emphasizes that purpose is something that comes from within, by one's own conscious introspection, choices, and effort to pursue and achieve one's goals.
It must also be remembered that a "central purpose" is an extension and enhancement of the basic need for productive work (along with thinking) to sustain one's life. If one isn't already supporing oneself materially, then one will need to deal with that issue first. In the process, one can ask questions such as: "What am I good at? What skills do I have? What jobs exist that can utilize those skills? What would I prefer to be doing, if not that? What qualifications does my real career preference require? How can I develop those skills? What do I most enjoy doing for productive work? Do I work well with the other people, if any, and/or with customers? Do I like working with colleagues, suppliers and customers? Do I actually prefer a more solitary, deep-thinking kind of work? How well do I understand what I'm doing? Am I learning new skills, insights, and issues to think about? Is all this just idle dreaming, or am I going to do something about it? How can I get started, and when?"
answered Jan 30 '11 at 18:03
Ideas for Life ♦
Based upon my observations, Objectivists have as much trouble identifying their purpose in life as most people. They do, however, have the advantage of realizing that they need one, and are able to pursue figuring it out deliberately.
Among Objectivists I know who have identified their purpose in life, many of them found it very young (before college) in at least some implicit form, and have systematically been pursuing it since then. For example, I discovered I loved computer programming at around age 8, and it became a major hobby of mine. About when I was applying to college, I realized that it could be made into an enjoyable and lucrative career, and so I was set in my life's work.
I have known other people who were less certain, or who changed their course mid-way. My wife set out to become a nurse, and found, after several years working in the field, that being a full-time mother was a more engaging and rewarding profession. Now that our son is in school, she's starting in on another path (part-time for now, but with a strong likelihood of becoming more). At each stage, though, she had a central purpose, and it focused all her goals and pursuits at that time.
Finally, if a person is new to Objectivism, it is not at all unusual to simply have no idea at first. The entire idea of even having a central purpose is a new, foreign idea, and takes some time to integrate. I don't consider people in that situation to be bad Objectivists, so long as they recognize the issue and are working to figure it out.
answered Jan 30 '11 at 02:53
Andrew Miner ♦
I like Andrew's answer but would like to share another. "How" involves a long process of both introspection and extrospection. A person should know him/herself honestly and accurately, and also the world in which he/she lives. Not to perfect total certainty--that's impossible. There is a context. I would say if you are still dealing with troubling personal emotional issues (or repressing or evading them), it's a sign you haven't yet come to terms and knowledge with yourself yet adequately. You would do very well to get that sorted out first before you try and apply more introspection into your strengths, weaknesses, goals and dreams in order to determine your purpose in life.I'll share my purpose, which I put into words my freshman year in college (the year I found my first Objectivist club, by the way) and has continued to serve me well into my 40's. And I think it's general enough that it just might work for anyone:
My purpose in life is to create my own dreams, and make them come true.If you dissect and unpack that sentence, each word has a lot of meaning: CREATE...MY...OWN...DREAMS...MAKE...THEM...TRUE.
I could elaborate on each of them here but that's left for another time and place. I'll second what Andrew said, what seems or feels like a person's purpose in life can evolve or change over time, because we as people do that too (hopefully), within the context of our life as a human being.
answered Jan 30 '11 at 08:20
Objectivism holds that one's highest purpose is one's own happiness, which is in turn closely associated with productive work. To translate that into a specific occupation involves a process of understanding and assessing your values.
It's important to distinguish between your highest purpose and a specific "implementation." You can be sure of a specific choice if you're rationally happy. If you're not, then you may want to take a look at your premises, and make sure you have correctly assessed your values.
Knowing that your happiness is your highest purpose is, in my opinion, part of what it means to be an Objectivist. Associating that knowledge with a specific occupation is something that takes effort using Objectivism, so I don't view that as a precondition to being an Objectivist.
answered Aug 03 '11 at 21:56