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I am curious if any of you have written for yourself a Statement of Purpose for your own life. I have not, and it occurred to me recently that such a thing would be a good idea. Businesses have them. Why not people? A person's own life should be her highest value. A written Statement of Purpose, in as much detail as one can muster at the time (and added to and amended later as necessary), seems like it would help a great deal in defining and pursuing values to further one's life.

If you have written such statements, I am interested in hearing their contents to the extent you wish to share them.

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This is a great idea--and I think you find that the motivated and interesting people you meet in life have already done this. I've been working on something like this for a long time, and I found that it is a hard problem!

I have a medium-term goal of "get a masters degree and find a job in research or teaching." A longer-term goal of "finish my PhD and find a higher paying job in research or teaching." Also the big side-goal of "find a nice girl to settle down with and raise a couple of bright children."

I posit that a good life long goal is a tough thing to find. There are some mathematical problems that I find very interesting that I could spend a lifetime researching and working on. Maybe someday I could solve one--but then what would be left? My lifelong goal right now goes something like: "Share my enthusiasm for mathematics and reason with the people in my life and push the science forward as much as I am able." I achieve this right now by teaching some classes at the University of Hawaii and doing independent reading on my own time.

Your values should determine your lifelong goal and that goal should influence the choices you make in your life. I prefer a more "fluid" goal--one that I can always find new ways to work towards. Others may prefer a more concrete goal: solve problem X or create product Y.

Does anyone think one type is better than the other?

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Corny as it may sound, I think mine is to attain indomitable will.

I want to get to the point that, when I do fail, it is never a matter of me wanting something more than other values, knowing what it takes to get it, and not having the determination to obtain the something over the other values. I have no problem with readjusting which value is more important than other values, but I would hate to continue to want something and not have the will to get it.

This is an interesting subject; the more I think about it, the more I realize that I tend to gravitate most to others with high determination. It is a pretty prevalent influence on a lot of my previous actions/thoughts, even though that I heretofore had searched in vain for a common denominator behind some of those actions/thoughts.

BurgessLau also makes some good arguments for a similar/identical concept here.

Edited by hunterrose
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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has a chapter that gives several methods of coming up with a personal "mission statement" that's along these lines. However, the mission statement is FAR more specific, because not only do you detail your goals, you detail the way you're going to act in order to achieve those goals. Not necessarily the specific steps along the way, but the way you're going to act.

One of the things to do to understand your goals is to figure out your "roles" (current or desired), like "mother", "mentor", "businesswoman", etc. Then you can attach goals to those various roles: "Good mother", "knowledgeable mentor", "successful businesswoman". It's not enough just to say "I want to be <blank>", you should also decide what kind of <blank> you want to be.

Then you ask yourself, "what does it take to be this kind of <blank>?" Once you've figured that out, you can write your personal mission statement including ALL your goals and what kind of goals they are. I haven't written mine yet, but it can look something like this:

Goal 1: Good mother: I will always remember that it's more important in the long run to teach my child WHY he should behave a certain way than to have him obey me immediately

Goal 2: Knowledgeable Mentor: I will spend time working on my personal knowledge by reading and studying and I will observe the people I mentor closely in order to discover the ways they best absorb that knowledge from me.

Goal 3: Successful Businesswoman: I will develop better relationships with my employees by opening time in my schedule for in-depth conversations about issues that concern them.

The "mission" under each goal can change with the circumstances, as the individual goals are huge abstractions that subsume many concretes, but you'll always have the overarching goal there to give you direction. I think this method works better than trying to come up with a single, overarching purpose statement, because it's too easy to omit one or more roles by doing so (either that, or include so much that it provides no guidance whatsoever.) I mean, if I say that my purpose is to write novels (which it is), it completely ignores the possibility that I may also want to get married, have kids, buy a house, etc. However, if I say that the roles I want to fulfill are: Writer, Wife, Mother, Homeowner, etc. then I get a much more accurate picture.

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Can't you have both? "My purpose is to [insert huge generality], but I also want to do/be [wife, homeowner, whatever] as well"? Wouldn't a good purpose make the lesser/more specific goals easier to achieve?

Ayn Rand was asked "What is your purpose in life?" at the end of the book Ayn Rand Answers. Her answer:

"My purpose is to enjoy my life in a rational way: to use my mind to the greatest extent possible; to pursue, admire, and support human greatness; to make all my choices rationally; to expand my knowledge constantly. That's a pretty ambitious program, and I've achieved most of it."

This is very close to what I have formulated for myself, and I think she's got it right in going to the greatest generalities.

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You could use that purpose for anyone. If it's going to be your purpose statement it should be specific enough to help you avoid doing things that don't work towards your goals. The biggest problem in setting goals lies in rejecting paths that are still good but aren't the best.

I'm reminded of Dilbert: a company needs a strategy so that you know what you don't do.

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One of the things to do to understand your goals is to figure out your "roles"... Then you can attach goals to those various roles.

If I say that my purpose is to write novels (which it is), it completely ignores the possibility that I may also want to get married, have kids, buy a house, etc. However, if I say that the roles I want to fulfill are... then I get a much more accurate picture.

I like the idea of having roles, which lead to roles, which lead to missions. But how would one determine which roles they wished to undertake? There'd have to be some unifying factor for choosing these rational roles over those rational roles.

I suspect that writing novels, instead of being a purpose, would moreso be a role by which a few different purposes might be fulfilled. Suppose you couldn't write novels for some reason; what would you do? Choosing to read the good novels of others, become some other form of artist, work for a publishing company, undertake some other challenge unrelated to art, etc. would suggest different particular motives/purposes for which writing novels was meant to serve.

I like the Dilbert reference. I would say a person should know their purpose/s so that they know why they do what they do.

I haven't written mine yet...
*nudge, nudge*

Well, what are you waiting for :lol:

Wouldn't a good purpose make the lesser/more specific goals easier to achieve?
I suspect that would be true.

"My purpose is to enjoy my life in a rational way: to use my mind to the greatest extent possible; to pursue, admire, and support human greatness; to make all my choices rationally; to expand my knowledge constantly. That's a pretty ambitious program, and I've achieved most of it."
If these were separate purposes, of different importances, it wouldn't so much be a problem. Supposing a person's purpose was 1) to expand their knowledge constantly and 2) to stop initiations of force. These are largely purposes that everyone endorses, but a person finding expanding knowledge to be more important (generally speaking) than preventing initiations of force gives unique, individual information. Others might prefer differently, and such differences might account for why one chooses to be a scientist/explorer/grandmaster, and another a lawyer/martial artist/force field inventor, despite similarities in abilities, philosophies, etc.
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I like the idea of having roles, which lead to roles, which lead to missions. But how would one determine which roles they wished to undertake? There'd have to be some unifying factor for choosing these rational roles over those rational roles.

I suspect that writing novels, instead of being a purpose, would moreso be a role by which a few different purposes might be fulfilled. Suppose you couldn't write novels for some reason; what would you do? Choosing to read the good novels of others, become some other form of artist, work for a publishing company, undertake some other challenge unrelated to art, etc. would suggest different particular motives/purposes for which writing novels was meant to serve.

The same way you determine any preference that you have: you observe your emotional reactions when you undertake various tasks. If something holds your interest so thoroughly that you keep coming back to it regardless of circumstances, it's a good sign that you've discovered something that will give you significant emotional rewards when you pursue it. Your philosophy then gives you a framework for deciding whether this specific emotional reward is something that it's moral for you to pursue. Combine the two, and you've got a central purpose.

You can sit down and try to figure out why you like a particular thing, but in my experience this tends to lead one down the path of psychologizing. For instance, I don't like cucumbers, because the smell of them triggers a visceral rejection: I feel like I'm going to throw up. I can eat cucumbers if necessary, and I like the taste as long as I can't smell them (in pickles and tzatziki sauce, for instance), but since I'm not starving why is it necessary for me to eat something that makes me gag? I think, although I don't remember it clearly myself, that I dislike cucumbers because I ate them once when I was sick as a very small child, and so I imagine I now have this association.

I could probably fix it if I really wanted to undertake the effort (I fixed my dislike for green peppers, after all), but I'm just not sure it's worth the effort when there are so many other things to eat. When determining what you enjoy, you must take your emotions as self-evident primaries instead of trying to analyze them out of existence; that way lies the road to repression. You start asking yourself "what should I feel?" instead of "what do I feel?" which is the information you need first, before you can make any kind of decision.

As for what I would do if I couldn't write novels: how would that situation come about? After all, in discussing central purposes and mission statements we're assuming a world in which we are free to pursue the goal of our choice. In a world where we're not free to do so, such statements become meaningless; our goals become selected, not by our power of choice, but by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If the world were such that I was somehow forbidden from writing novels, I would probably be fighting a last-ditch battle against an oppressive government or something along those lines. The only other thing I could see preventing me from writing would be if I found something else that I wanted to do more, in which case my purpose would change.

Or did you mean, what if I couldn't make a living writing novels? I'd write them anyway, I'd just have less time for it because I'd have to spend time making money in order to support my writing. That's what I do NOW, after all.

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  • 1 year later...

*** Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread - sn ***

Why do different careers appeal to different people? Should one even bother with this question (assuming, of course, the careers in question are rational and based on the individual's true preferences rather than any "second-handedness")?

The reason I'm raising this issue is that I'm having trouble deciding which path among several to take. Since I'm graduating this semester, I'm just going to have to try something and see if I like it. I'm relatively optimistic about this common-sense approach, although I still frequently wonder what are the roots of my and others' preferences. I would also like to sort out these issues with a good psychologist (if I can find one) when I can better afford to do so.

(Note: I just realized that someone else started a similar post recently, very coincidentally. I feel justified in this separate post, however, because mine is simpler and more focused. After I post this, I'll look more in-depth at his and see if I can comment.)

Edited by softwareNerd
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I can tell you how to tackle it from the negative spectrum (i.e. how to learn what you shouldn't do). Basically, when you're doing... whatever things you decide to try out, don't just keep in mind the stuff that really 'works' for you - also keep in mind the stuff that didn't work, that you aren't good at. For example, a friend of mine did some teaching on a gap year, as part of their voluntary mixed-bag out there, and they discovered that they were not a good teacher at all. That's a whole field crossed off. Wahey - you then have a smaller pool to focus on then.

Honestly, I'm in the same boat as you, but I do have a more defined range. I want to do something either academic, or written, or basically something where I get to take ideas, and put those ideas out in the public. That could be advertising, that could be acting, that could be writing plays, that could be being a Philosopher (in the Academic sense).

So, yeah, look at what you like doing, and think about the fields where you might get to practice doing those things you like.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My professional resume is quite diverse. You'll find that you start off with Career A and love it, but then five years down the road you want to do Career B, and I think that is fine. I kept doing that until I settled on something that suits me to a tee! Oddly enough, my university education, though it opened a lot of other career doors in the past, has very little bearing on what I'm doing now, though I am getting paid as a professional!

I took a career-aptitude workshop (no need to see a shrink!) before I took one post-high school course -- I can't recommend that enough! It helped to answer some key questions very pertinent to my career, such as:

1) Do I prefer to work alone or in a group/team?

2) Do I like working indoors or outdoors?

3) Do I like to travel?

4) Do I like doing the same thing every day?

5) What salary expectations do I have?

6) Do I like to get my hands dirty?

7) Am I a good leader?

etc etc etc

You CAN have your cake and eat it too when it comes to your careers.

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  • 8 months later...

*** Mod's note: Merged with an earlier thread - sn ***

Rand wrote a lot about the importance of a central purpose to one's life, even including it in the "reason-purpose-self esteem" trinity.

A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man’s life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos.

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/purpose.html

It integrates your concerns, resolves your inner conflicts, and permits you to enjoy life. Sounds pretty good.

But so far as I can tell (and my knowledge of Objectivism is surely limited), she never spells out how one is to find a purpose for oneself. She clearly thought it was possible, or she would not have given purpose a central place in her philosophy. How then does the Objectivist determine his purpose?

Edited by softwareNerd
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  • 4 months later...

*** Mod's note: merged with an earlier thread. - sN ***

So I cannot claim to have discovered a purpose as of yet. Does this mean I am depraved, or does it count for something that I rigorously seek a purpose?

In other words, if my current purpose is to find a purpose, am I spared the condition of utter depravity?

Edited by softwareNerd
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Finding a purpose is a process. The only way one sinks into utter depravity is giving up. As long as you are activly engaged in the search for knowledge, and aspire to be better tomorrow than you are today, you are not likely to fall into error.

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So I cannot claim to have discovered a purpose as of yet. Does this mean I am depraved, or does it count for something that I rigorously seek a purpose?

Do you think someone owes you a purpose? What reason do you have to think that there is a purpose "out there" for you if you only dig hard enough to find it?

Purposes aren't discovered, they're chosen. There are lots of people and groups out there with ready-made purposes for sale who insist that you can't trust yourself, but if you haven't bought one of them yet then you probably already realize that to adopt any given one of them you'd be the one selling out.

It counts for a lot, though, I think, that you're "rigorously seeking". It means you understand, at some level, that to be moral requires the effort towards acheivment of personal values and goals. You obviously aren't alone in thinking that an external source of purpose is somehow superior to an internal one, but that's actually not at all true and you're in the right place if you want to find out why not and what is (or at least you've stumbled on the right philosophy, although forums are better for testing than for gaining understanding and I'd recommend you hit the books if you haven't already).

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So I cannot claim to have discovered a purpose as of yet. Does this mean I am depraved, or does it count for something that I rigorously seek a purpose?
Count for something, with whom? I mean, I'll forgive you :), but will that change much? I kid, but the point is: it sounds as if you're treating "you need purpose" as an injunction. Instead, view it as a discovery, or perhaps as an integration of facts.

Imagine that the first essay in VoS morphs into a self-help book: "Three miracle ways to a happy life". Imagine this self-help author showing you various examples of people who acted irrationally and ended up less happy: maybe they evaded how they felt about someone and later regretted it; maybe they took a loan they knew they could not afford; maybe they dropped out of school; maybe they joined school when they would have been happier improving their painting technique; imagine they were dishonest and realized it was not worth it; and so on. Now, imagine the author of this self-help book analyses these examples and shows that these people could have been happier if they had acted rationally, pursued some purpose and really valued themselves more.

If you read a book like that would you ask if you're depraved because you're in the process of figuring out how to implement those good ideas? Bet not. So, you're good! :lol:

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Do you think someone owes you a purpose? What reason do you have to think that there is a purpose "out there" for you if you only dig hard enough to find it?

Purposes aren't discovered, they're chosen. There are lots of people and groups out there with ready-made purposes for sale who insist that you can't trust yourself, but if you haven't bought one of them yet then you probably already realize that to adopt any given one of them you'd be the one selling out.

It counts for a lot, though, I think, that you're "rigorously seeking". It means you understand, at some level, that to be moral requires the effort towards acheivment of personal values and goals. You obviously aren't alone in thinking that an external source of purpose is somehow superior to an internal one, but that's actually not at all true and you're in the right place if you want to find out why not and what is (or at least you've stumbled on the right philosophy, although forums are better for testing than for gaining understanding and I'd recommend you hit the books if you haven't already).

Maybe I phrased my question poorly, but I certainly didn't mean imply that anybody "owes" me anything. I was simply asking whether one qualifes as depraved by Objectivist standards under the circumstances I discussed.

Edited by cliveandrews
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I was simply asking whether one qualifes as depraved by Objectivist standards under the circumstances I discussed.
What exactly are you doing to discover your nature, which will clarify what you are seeking? If you've been getting drunk on a nightly basis for the past 30 years in hopes of an epiphany, you're depraved. We need more information. (Not really, what I mean is, we can't morally evaluate you as depraved vs. virtuous simply on the basis of whether you have found a central purpose).
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What exactly are you doing to discover your nature, which will clarify what you are seeking? If you've been getting drunk on a nightly basis for the past 30 years in hopes of an epiphany, you're depraved. We need more information. (Not really, what I mean is, we can't morally evaluate you as depraved vs. virtuous simply on the basis of whether you have found a central purpose).

I'm exploring my current options, as well as my past mistakes, in extreme depth and attempting to use philosophy to determine the best way to proceed, as well as how I should have acted in the past.

Edited by cliveandrews
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Finding a purpose is a process. The only way one sinks into utter depravity is giving up. As long as you are activly engaged in the search for knowledge, and aspire to be better tomorrow than you are today, you are not likely to fall into error.

Maximimus is absolutely correct here. Even Ayn, who was probably as well-integrated as it is possible to be, thought she would be a screenwriter. She didn't settle on novel writer/philosopher right away.

It is entirely possible to lead a moral life without a central purpose. "No central purpose" is the opposite of "focused", not "depraved". :dough:

A purpose is what allows your days to add up to a total. It is an explicit choice that directs your actions and choices. It is a personal choice that reflects your values. (Indeed, living a moral life may become your central purpose!) If you pursue what seems most meaningful to you, I suspect your central purpose will become clear over time.

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Related to the topic of this thread is a great post on the Objectivist "Making Progress" blog.

This post you linked by Burgess Laughlin is very good. He considers things very thoroughly and seriously and the result in this post is great.

Edited by ifatart
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  • 2 weeks later...
This post you linked by Burgess Laughlin is very good. He considers things very thoroughly and seriously and the result in this post is great.

I just read that blog as well - very good. Thanks for sharing it, I'll keep looking at it from time to time.

One thing I wanted to clarify with it at the end though with the guy who likes swimming: moving to the Dominican is a sacrifice of the "third order" because it's a CPL based on a lifestyle (swimming outdoors), correct?

My own CPL is "building". I hadn't realized this until I read The Fountainhead for the first time last winter, and until then I had debated with myself what I should go back to school for (after having an unsuccessful try in a program I thought I wanted). And now I'm learning all about building, and I absolutely love it. Sometimes I wonder how I got off-track.

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