One of my best friends recently sent me an article written by Mark Manson entitled “7 Strange Questions That Help You Figure Out Your Life Purpose.” Since I was a rudderless college graduate worrying daily that I’ll never have a successful career and will end up living under a bridge, I decided to answer these questions in hopes of finding some enlightenment. Here are my answers (I just did 6 because one felt repetitive) and I hope everyone might find some insight by answering them too!
1. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SHIT SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE?
This is a hard one, because being the privileged child that I am, I haven’t had to sample a lot of shit in my life. After reading this question, many examples of past shit surfaced in my mind—hauling shopping bags across town, scanning 75 years worth of magazine covers in two days, working till midnight— and honestly, I don’t want to eat any of them. But then I realized, that’s the problem. I’ve been going through life complaining about the shit sandwich every job has hurled at me, not fully comprehending the meaning of every job is going to give you a shit sandwich. There is no such thing as a job that doesn’t have some flavor of shit sandwich, and if I want to succeed, I better pick one. In the wise words of Mark Manson, the author himself, “Everything sucks, some of the time.”
2. WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?
In other words, what very important thing that makes you happy have you forgotten in your desperate road to find so-called success? When I was 8-years-old, I first learned how to write a research paper in class. While most of my friends drooled on the keyboard, I went home and wrote another research paper on why cats are better than dogs…for fun. Yes, you read that right. For fun. A couple years later, I wrote some short stories that got published in a newspaper, also for fun. I wrote a long, absolutely awful adventure story that was basically about if Hansel and Gretel got lost for a VERY long time in the woods. It was awful, but I spent hours and hours after school writing it, for fun. After college started, I could count on one hand the number of times I wrote for pleasure. It took an incredible amount of effort for me to move my mouse from Google Chrome to Microsoft Word. My excuse was that I wrote a lot for class so I had no juices left to write for fun. But I know it was also because I didn’t think that these writings would “get me anywhere.” That’s the thing, somewhere along the way, it became all about doing things that would “get you somewhere.” It became a meticulously calculated game of chess, of making all the right moves, talking to all the right people so that you could build a metaphorical path to success. But somewhere along the way, I forgot where I wanted this path to lead. I got so caught up in the bricks in front of me I forgot to look up and make sure I’m still going in the right direction. And I can tell you now, my 8-year-old self would not approve.
3. WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT AND POOP?
Interestingly, what makes me forget to eat and poop isn’t writing. While I could (and have) sit in the same place for 7 hours typing away, if I’m hungry, I can’t write. But I distinctly remember, when I was head of my high school magazine club, I spent every day after school scheming away, drafting meeting memos, charting our budget on excel, rehearsing motivational speeches in my head. It didn’t matter that it was 11pm and I hadn’t eaten dinner or that I was supposed to have a test the next day. Bossing people around is the thing that makes me forget to eat and poop. It was also the year my father died and very few things made me feel more alive and made me feel more in control than having something of my own to manage. That year, the magazine made record sales and had a record number of applicants. Nothing, absolutely nothing, topped that thrill. Now I realize that that experience is not just “something I did in high school.” At every internship since then, I found myself poking holes in the system, thinking to myself, “I could do this so much better if I was in charge.” Now I realize that at some point, I have to be my own boss.
4. HOW CAN YOU BETTER EMBARRASS YOURSELF?
What the author means is, what embarrasses you? Because if it’s not what you’re doing now, then it’s probably what you should be doing. The reason being, most people avoid doing what embarrasses them because they care a lot about it and don’t want it ridiculed. I probably had the clearest answer to this question out of all seven: Event planning. I’ve enjoyed planning parties and gifts for those around me for as long as I could remember. For some reason I’ve always had it in my head that every year’s present has to be different and better than before. I’m a ridiculously introverted person but I threw the most extravagant parties for people in my class. It wasn’t until college that I realized this passion is so much more than just a weird quirk I have. It’s an actual talent. Most people don’t think that hard about gifts. Most people can’t envision a themed party then make it come to life two weeks later. But somehow, while I am very proud to do this privately, I’m too embarrassed to pursue it professionally, and it’s because, I don’t want to come across as unambitious or dumb. Most of my friends started their first job after college at large firms, from massive tech companies to I-banking. I was always the smart one in school with the highest grades and the biggest ambitions. How would I look if I came out and did event planning? Something that you don’t even need a degree to go into? It’s really easy to put down these creative professions because all our lives we’re taught to measure intelligence with numbers. Your IQ score is based on a test that consists of entirely logic and math questions. The phrase “he works in finance” immediately evokes respect and intelligence because you can quantitatively know what it takes to be a “finance guy” and how much he makes for a living. But what about creative intelligence? Sometimes I have to remind myself that while most people can be that “finance guy” as long as they work hard enough, not everyone can have a knack for aesthetic coherence or other such intangible skills. But sometimes it’s also nice not to have to explain my passion and profession to skeptical, condescending voices.
5. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD?
Mark Manson says that whatever you’re doing now is great. But if whatever you’re doing now is just for yourself and your own benefit, somewhere down the road, you’ll find it to be insufficient, because we all find purpose when we’re doing something for a greater good. This question put things in perspective for me better than any of the others because it made me realize the path that I’ve tentatively chosen is for all the wrong reasons. It’s to catch up with my peers at glamorous, high-paying jobs. It’s to come across as competent and to climb the proverbial social ladder. But what I truly love to do—writing, event planning—I loved doing them because it made other people happy. Because I loved seeing my friends’ faces light up when they can relate to my thoughts. Because I loved seeing the look of genuine surprise when my mother walks into the party I’ve spent weeks preparing for her. In those moments, my hours of labor feel worth it and the world feels right. That’s when I realized that I cannot spend the rest of my life without these moments.
6. IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE ONE YEAR FROM TODAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
Ah yes, the grave questions (pun absolutely intended). The truth is, I don’t know what I want it to say exactly, but I do know I want to be remembered for being someone who wasn’t entirely selfish. If I only had a year left to live, yes I’d love to go through my bucket list and do insane things just for the heck of it, but I also want to go around and make sure my friends and family are happy. I want to be remembered for some of the things my father was remembered for—his generosity, his affinity for making people laugh, his genuine good-personness—and not how I spent my time agonizing over making fake friends for the right connections or the right career moves for the wrong job.
7. In case you were wondering the last question is GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?