The strange starting point of purpose
We take the whole damn thing too seriously. Life, I mean.
I invite you to consider a possibility: What if the whole thing was just a game?
Culturally, we believe the universe, the plan, the framework of existence to be a serious endeavor. Screw it up and there are serious, harrowing, eternal consequences. This worldview was created by fear.
But what if the universe is not serious at all, but rather fundamentally playful?
What would that change about how you live and work? What would it change about how you spend your time and energy? What would it change about how seriously you take yourself, and how seriously you take other people’s opinions of you?
Listen. Have you watched a Planet Earth documentary? Have you seen the vast, exotic, staggeringly beautiful, and utterly fascinating array of life forms? Have you stared into the cosmos? Have you watched life in action, in living color, in all its vibrating, shimmering, enchanting majesty?
Life is playing.
Life is playing!
More to the point, life is playing with us. And it is begging us to play with it.
As self-proclaimed “philosophical entertainer” Allan Watts put it,
“If we thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at that end, and the thing was to get to that thing at that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.
“But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.”
Now, just because the whole thing is a game doesn’t mean there aren’t rules. There are rules. Drop a stone and it falls. Stub your toe and it hurts. Project anger and cruelty and greed into the world and anger, cruelty, and greed come back to you.
But here’s the thing: Rules are exactly what makes games fun. Games with no rules are no fun.
But we’ve forgotten the reason for the rules. We’ve made the rules the point. But the rules are just to support the game. The rules are simply to facilitate our joy.
In order to fly, a kite must be tethered to a string. But the point isn’t the restraining string, but rather the dancing kite.
We take ourselves so seriously and the universe is just begging us to come play with it.
We think life is serious because it comes with so much suffering. But all the suffering in the world is just the universe giving us variety so we can wake up to the fact that she’s just trying to get us to come play with her. She’ll do anything to make us remember it’s all just a game.
It’s all for fun! We get to play with the universe and build and create and laugh and struggle and cry and scream and it’s all just for fun.
And that, my friend, is the very definition of purpose: playing the game of life and having fun.
Life handed us our singular package of natural gifts, interests, proclivities, preferences, strengths and weaknesses, and experiences and said, “Take these and go play! Go have fun!”
That’s the whole point of whatever we build with our purpose. Our purpose isn’t about some ultimate, serious destination — it’s simply about the game. It’s about having fun!
Purpose, at its deepest, most cosmic level, is simply this: The universe throwing us a ball and saying, “Come play with me!”
If we’re not having fun, either we’re not living our purpose or we’ve simply forgotten the point of it all.
The starting point of purpose is giving yourself permission to play.
But we don’t give ourselves permission to play because we think life is fundamentally serious. And with that worldview, we get attached to results.
We won’t live our purpose if we can’t make money. We won’t live it if we don’t know how to build it. We won’t live it if it won’t give us fame or status. We won’t live it if we think it won’t make some profound difference for the world.
I have a coaching client who wants to write novels. But he’s never given himself permission to pursue that path because he thinks it’s not important or meaningful to others. What value is mere entertainment?, he thinks. (Only about $479 billion per year, is the answer, by the way.)
Look. There need be no intrinsic value to anything you want to do, other than this: you simply enjoy it. Doing the thing is simply intrinsically interesting and enjoyable to you.
I’m writing to you right now. But I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for me.
I’m writing for no other reason than that I enjoy it. I just get a kick out of playing with ideas and words. Hell, I don’t even know if what I’m saying is true. But I’ve sure had fun writing it.
If no one else ever reads this, I’m okay with it. If lots of people enjoy reading this, that’s cool — but it’s not a necessity. Because if I were to make that a necessity, I would never write.
And the same applies for you: If you think it’s necessary for other people to appreciate your work — rather, your PLAY — you won’t do it if it’s not appreciated.
So drop the attachments that come with believing the whole thing is serious. Drop self-consciousness and the desire to be important. Give yourself permission to play with the natural curiosity and unrestrained delight of a child. Then watch what unfolds.
Go have fun! Grab the ball of purpose the universe threw to you and fling it back at her.
Throw your head back and laugh at the simplicity of it all that we’ve buried under so much ridiculous and pointless seriousness.
Understand that when you don’t know how to do something, that’s just another opportunity to play and experiment and have fun. If you can’t figure out how to make money doing it, remind yourself that money is not a serious scoreboard, but an illusional game. When something doesn’t work as planned, it’s simply something to be curious about, rather than disappointed by. When people misunderstand or mock you, they’re just projecting their own misunderstanding and misery onto you.
The universe is begging you: Stop taking yourself so damn seriously and Go. Have. Fun. Go dance and sing and shimmer and shine. Play your purpose music with no destination other than the sheer enjoyment of playing it.
Life wants to play with you. And the most incredible things unfold when you start playing with it…
Have some fun watching this video: