For years, I have been convinced of the importance of getting in touch with one’s values. In my mind, your values and your purpose go hand in hand. In fact, I’m starting to distrust the notion of constantly having a purpose. A purpose or an overarching narrative of how you should live your life can be dangerous as it turns one into a prisoner of a plan, schedule, or “way” of life. This can be thought of as the teleological bias.
Life is complex and everything is changing including yourself. Due to the increased amount of information and globalization, we now have more options than ever before. Many people are totally overwhelmed and I suspect that many people are going through some form of existential crisis. The demand for anxiety-reducing drugs is at an all-time high.
One of the most nerve-racking experiences I have ever gone through had to do with the idea of discovering your purpose and then behaving in accordance to it. Every few months, I would seemingly find my life’s purpose (when it came to training regiments, career choices, relationship choices, lifestyle, and more) only to have everything collapse. I was in a constant state of either being super focused on a mission followed by a state of being overwhelmed by doubt and internal-questioning.
Gurus like Tony Robbins, Mark Divine, and David Deida are often mentioned in the self-improvement community. And each of them are big advocates for the notion of finding your purpose and then following it relentlessly (each having their own techniques for execution and follow-through). Although well-intentioned and even in some ways insightful, I believe that these gurus are making an error with their over-emphasis of purpose.
I knew something was terribly wrong with this notion of finding your purpose because my certainty would disappear only to be replaced with terrible doubt. This would send me off into crisis mode which was one of the big reasons why I struggled with binge eating and other forms of escapism in the early part of my life.
Nassim Taleb was the first to introduce me to a term called “teleological bias” which basically has to do with the following: It is wrong to believe that an object must have a clear end-goal in order for it to move forward. This was an idea that was made popular by Christian philosophers and subsequently influenced much of philosophy. Steve Jobs distrusted market research because he didn’t believe that people knew what they wanted. He preferred to believe the power of his own intuition and imagination. He understood that people don’t know what they want, you have to tell them what to want. If you don’t believe me, just look around. Corporations and clever marketing have swindled many into purchasing-choices and lifestyles that are slowly killing them mentally and physically. People don’t know what their purpose is. Many are happy enough following whatever new trend or product is being shoved down their throat. One could argue that most people don’t do enough introspection and are thus disconnected from their purpose in life. However, I would argue that there is another way to live. One doesn’t need to know their purpose. You can still live powerfully and even accomplish great things without one…
So how do you thrive in a complex world like this?
My answer is to let go. Let go of thinking that you need to know exactly what you want, what your purpose is. Sometimes a man might find himself in the right place, at the right time with the right drive and set of skills to feel like he has a purpose. The benefit of the notion of purpose is the feeling of focus and urgency that it gives you. Nassim Taleb says that narrative or purpose is beneficial in that one can use it for motivation. But being overly emotionally invested in what you may call your purpose is dangerous and infinitely painful.
Finding your purpose is a fragile way to live because it comes with a kind of epistemic arrogance. It assumes that you know exactly what God or the universe has in store for you. Often times, people build their purpose on fragile notions of “I was meant to be a doctor or this girl and I are soul-mates”. What happens when you realize that you hate the sight of blood and can’t stand being indoors for so long? What happens when the girl that was your “soul-mate” cheats on you with Kevin (the borderline-homeless traveling guitarist with 2 warrants in two different states)? Reality is all too quick to fumble the fragile notion of what your purpose is. A man must find another way to live…
I believe that the solution lies in finding a code that is robust to changes in the environment and in yourself. Also, this code must not be overly rigid, it needs to give you room to shift and adapt if needed. However, the following code is robust enough that it will likely never need to be shifted unless we are talking about the details.
I have carefully selected the following values as anchor-points to help me feel grounded amidst all of this uncertainty. Feel free to take them in if they feel worthy.
Health is wealth. Period. I would rather be a fit, healthy, and energetic homeless man living in a van enjoying the beach (and the babes) than an over-weight, sick, and exhausted billionaire. No matter what happens in my life, my aim is to take care of my health through weight-lifting, fasting, avoiding processed junk, etc. If I can do this, my life will be closer to a good one.
Once again, I don’t get lost in the details here. I don’t have an exact regiment or diet but I do know one thing and it’s that I need to do something to keep this area of my life strong. For me, I like weight-lifting but you may find body-weight exercises to be in better alignment.
No matter what happens in my life, I try to conduct my affairs with a posture of pride, manliness, dignity, and self-respect. Jack Donovan describes honor as one’s reputation for strength, courage, and mastery within the context of an honor group of men. Furthermore, he speaks of the idea of reflexive-honor and vertical-honor. Reflexive honor is the idea that one must give no shit but take no shit either. Vertical honor has something to do with going above and beyond to the point of glory and thus having a sort of super-honor AKA vertical-honor. Dignity and honor are life-enhancing values and are robust to change as you can enact them no matter what your position is in life. These ideas also tie into traditional masculinity in the classical sense of the term.
Once again, a note to not get lost in details: classic western traditions of masculinity and a sort of brand appeals to me here. You may, however, shift it slightly so that it fits more with your culture which may be very different than mine.
The more complex life is, the more it seems like it’s important to trust one’s instinct and intuition when it comes to making certain decisions. A friend of mine and philosopher, Paul Portesi, likes to talk about using emotional alignment as a way to navigate life. Bruce Lee often mentions the idea of being like water (staying open and fluid so that you can adapt to any situation). Similar ideas are spoken about in various spiritual traditions notably in the East. I often gravitate towards Taoism. Ryan Holiday wrote a book called “Stillness is the Key” and it delightfully combines concepts from stoicism with eastern values such as stillness (not that the West doesn’t have these values, the East simply did a better job at explaining and popularizing them).
The opposite of stillness is over-stimulation which is all too easy in this day and age. As I type this, I am sitting in an outdoor lounge in sunny Florida and I happen to be one of the only patrons. Before I started writing, I was sitting on a lounge chair staring at the sky and allowing my nervous system to decompress so that I can return to my spiritual center. My spiritual center is a place within myself where my body and mind are at ease and I can act from deep instinct. It is a relaxed and authentic space that I like to live my life from as it seems to me to have a deep intelligence that words can’t very well describe.
Stillness is robust to change because no matter where you go, if you can stay present and act from stillness, one can argue that you are engaging in the purest form of your unique expression, and what greater wealth is there than that?
I have more values than the above but those are just some food for thought and truly embody some of my core operating procedures. The rest of life is open to change and I love that about life, even though it feels like I’m staring down an endless pit of possibilities (many of which can be rather bad).
In closing, I am convinced that if I navigate life in alignment with the above values, I will live well and in a manly way. Even if I’m wrong, the above values make me feel good. I don’t find them overly self-indulgent and thus they fit my stoic tendencies. If I am wrong, I would have still lived right for me.
Expect much more on this topic.