What is the purpose of my life? This is a question that only angst-ridden, middle class, hipsters of suburbia who listen to obscure bands ask—or so the story goes. I think a little critical self-evaluation reveals that this is a question that plagues us regardless of our class, race, age, and musical preference.
Our lives are groundless; our lives have no intrinsic purpose. There is no reason why things should be this way rather than that way. The path your life will and ought to take is not predetermined. Your existence is a matter of historical happenstance, and your future is inextricably bound to your past. What becomes of you, what your life amounts to, is contingent on the choices you make now. Your life is quite literally in your hands. This is the simultaneously terrifying and joyous revelation that one must accept.
One may react to this revelation myopically, as one often does, by “going with the flow,” surrendering one’s life to the averageness and everydayness of the tranquilizing public sphere, by unreflectively conforming to society’s ways of doing things. Taking the path of least resistance is certainly a legitimate option. Unfortunately, it does not address the nagging existential question and it certainly does not change the fact of one’s freedom: it conceals both by permitting the (feigned) surrender of personal responsibility to an anonymous public. When we give up responsibility, we give up freedom. This is too high a price to pay.
Alternatively, one may respond by embracing this revelation wholeheartedly. In so doing, one acknowledges that what one’s life amounts to depends on what one does. One must forge a path for one’s own life, by authentically taking up one’s possibilities. This does not mean that one cannot engage in average, everyday projects, rather, the authentic person throws oneself into all one’s activities and does not engage in any activity one is not willing to throw oneself into. Resoluteness—an attitude of resoluteness—is the key to creatively discovering meaning.
There is an upshot to having public, social ways of doing things and being historically contingent beings: by the time we come to question the meaning of our lives we are already embedded in a social, cultural, and political context that provides the ground for meaningful action. One need not look very far to discover projects to take up; in fact, one need not look at all, for we are already engaged in them.
It may be that everything I have said is trivial. These may be mere platitudes. If they are trivial platitudes, then they are trivial platitudes that one often fails to act in accordance with and blatantly ignores. It is important in such trying times to remember that we must choose how to live, and only when we exercise our freedom to act, can we live a meaningful life.
This is a universal call to action.