I recently viewed a TEDx talk by Adam Leipzig titled How to Know your Life Purpose in Five Minutes. In the video he laid out five questions that you have to answer. For most of us, our occupations don’t match our identities. When someone asks “What do you do?” our skin crawls because inside every administrative assistant or sales associate there is an artist, a pop star or a pro athlete. Lets see how I stack up. I invite you to answer these questions for yourself as you go along.
1. Who are you?
I’m Ian. I’m a member of a social species of great apes which is the first in my planets’ history to build civilizations, explore the solar system, and threaten to destroy itself.
2. What do you do?
I’m a writer. I enjoy provoking people and encouraging deep thought and honest dialogue and I believe that writing, when it’s done right, is a pathway to truth.
3. Who do you do it for?
I do it for anyone who will listen.
4. What do those people want and need?
Usually they want to be entertained or validated. Often they need to hear opposing points of view, at least if our species is to rise to its full height.
5. How do they change as a result?
They change in the same way I do: they think about everything, reaffirm some beliefs and abandon others. Dialogue is a process of discovery.
So is this the meaning of my life? Well, not really. I’m a writer for several reasons. I enjoy it and it’s what I’m good at. I also happen to think that it’s important. As cool hand Luke once put it “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” and that’s how I see societal discord. Most questions can be answered by discussing them rationally, clearly, and logically and I seek to be part of that process. It’s why I am such a strong advocate of freedom of speech and so against hate-speech laws.
I like this exercise because it makes you define yourself not by how you make your money but by what you’re passionate about, what you would do if you had all the money in the world, and what you think is important. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters. I also like it because three out of the five questions aren’t even about you, they’re about everyone else and if there is a meaning in all our lives, it’s to help out our fellow primates by building civilizations, exploring the solar system and the galaxy beyond, and trying not to destroy ourselves in the process.
So, do you think Leipzig’s questions can tell you about the meaning of your life?