The Only Purpose of Life Is to Become the Person You Want to Be
I’ve spent a lot of my teenage years searching for purpose. I read books, asked successful people via interviews, immersed myself in ancient philosophies, like Stoicism, to answer that one question: What’s the purpose of it all?
After all, we’re given 30,000 (and that’s if we’re lucky), and then that’s it. Objectively, life is meaningless. But then, nothing in life is objective. It’s all subjective because life is there to be experienced.
Hence, a better question to ask would be, “What meaning should we give life?”
Is it an achievement? I’ve tried it. It just doesn’t fill me up.
Is it money? Again — I am not motivated financially.
But I know people who don’t care about meaning. They can just live. I envy them. I guess some people are bothered by existential questions more than others.
It wasn’t until I came back home — that is, my hometown of Moscow — that I think I found the answer.
The thing is, every time I come back home, I turn 16. Not in the literal sense — I am still in my early twenties — but in the psychological sense, I am tempted to resort to the old habits of smoking, drinking, being a ‘bad boy,’ and socializing with people I used to socialize with when I was 16.
When I live in London or the U.S., it’s not hard for me to pay attention to my health: spiritual and physical. The environment I am in favors it.
But when I come back home — which I tend to do rarer as I get older — something inside me pulls the switch.
I go crazy.
The last time I went back home, I met my old friends from school. As we usually do, we got drunk. I came home at 4 AM and couldn’t eat anything for the whole of the next day without vomiting it up.
My girlfriend — who hates me when I indulge in self-destructive behavior and who was with me for almost three years by that time — told me she would leave me if this ever happened again.
In short, I was an idiot. I felt guilty and hangover.
And so — like it usually happens after nights like these — I spent the next day thinking hard about what I am doing with my life.
After throwing up a couple of times and convincing Angelina this was never going to happen again, I wrote myself a written promise in a Moleskine:
I will be the man I aspire to be.
After all, how can I be a community, opinion, thought leader, a writer, if I can’t lead myself properly? All leadership starts with the leadership of one.
Who will listen to me if I spend my weekends drinking vodka at 4 AM? And will I have any kind of wise thoughts living this kind of lifestyle? Probably not.
As I wrote this short written promise, something inside me clicked.
It was as if I found the last puzzle piece, which I obsessed over for the last couple of years.
Short disclaimer: I don’t intend to say that I ‘figured life out’ at 22 and that I found its meaning. No. I just want to say that to this point, I had no idea what life is supposed to be about, and after that guilty experience, I got a little closer to it. It was a revelation for me, so it made sense to include in this piece.
After my written promise, I added:
The only point of life is to be the person you want to be.
Montaigne put it more eloquently,
“The purpose of life is to give yourself to yourself.”
What else is left to us?
Almost everybody has an idea of who they want to be. An image. A feeling. A dream. Something they assume they’ll become someday.
If only… (fill in the blank).
In my experience, the only person stopping you from living that image in real life is you.
Not a lack of money. Not lack of proper environment. Or whatever external circumstances you’re blaming.
It’s your permission. We don’t allow ourselves to be our best selves because we’re afraid we can actually get away with it.
Similarly to how Stephen Pressfield’s Resistance doesn’t want us to succeed creatively, a sort of ‘resistance’ is there that’s stopping us from being our best selves. We’re afraid of what can happen if we actually become who we want to be. Because then it would mean it was under our control all this time. Then it would mean we’re accountable. It would mean we’re to blame. Then we would be vulnerable.
And we hate being vulnerable.
The worst thing is that most people end up living their ‘Plan B’ lives and think it’s OK.
I wanted to build my life around writing, podcasting, and creativity for quite some time now. And every time I asked myself, “What’s stopping me?” I answered the money.
I didn’t have a full-time job. I had too many debts to pay.
So I got a job. Then I stopped paying debts. Nothing changed.
Then I said, “I need a proper environment.”
So I moved away from Russia, which tempted me to be a bad version of myself. A lot has changed, but I still felt short of living to my potential.
The truth is, all these external changes were unnecessary, because the problem was in, as it always is, inside me.
I wasn’t ready, committed, or focused on becoming the man I wanted to be. And so I wasn’t one.
But that experience — coming home after almost a year, immediately resorting to my old destructive habits, and hearing disappointment in my partner’s voice — changed something inside of me.
It made me rethink, re-evaluate, re-consider, and restart.
I kept staring at my Moleskine, trying to bring my thoughts together through the hangover. I closed my eyes and really thought about who I wanted to be.
All I knew is not this. Not coming home at 4 AM and being full of guilt the next day.
It’s was a start. Knowing who you are is not the first step to knowing who you are.
But I already went through this exercise before.
So my hand started to jot down random words that came to mind:
A man. A family man. A creative person. A writer. A podcaster. A generous person. A person committed to social change. Someone who takes care of the environment. Someone who loves animals and takes care of his own. Someone who creates for a living. A leader. Someone who takes care of his family and of himself. Someone who serves as an example for others. Someone who is proud of himself. Someone who, like Freddie Mercury’s character in Bohemian Rhapsody, says, “I am exactly the man I was supposed to be.”
Then I asked myself, “What changes can I make to become closer to that image of myself?”
In case you’re interested, here’s roughly what I came up with:
- Build good habits. Completely quit drinking and smoking. Take care of my health. Eat properly.
- Quit the day job that doesn’t give me satisfaction. Focus on less to go deeper. Go full-time on me as a writer and creative.
- Become better at money. Live within the means. Don’t get into any more debt and have good financial habits. Save money. Have an emergency fund. If I don’t have money — don’t spend it.
- Exercise daily. Build physical and spiritual health through swimming and yoga.
- Set aside 2–3 hours per day to do deep, creative work. That’s all you need to achieve all the creative goals.
- Go on daily walks in nature. Connect with the world around you.
- Be a good boyfriend/fiancee/brother/son/grandson. Take care of my family.
- Read for one hour per day. Just reading for 60 minutes per day puts you in the 99.9% percentile. And reading good books — both fiction and nonfiction — is the fastest way I know to become a better human being.
- Get rid of all toxic relationships. It’s better to be alone than to hang out with idiots. If someone is your ‘drinking buddy’ — that is, you can’t stand each other sober — chances are, you don’t want that person in your life.
- Spend quality time with family every day. Quality time = giving them your full attention.
- Write daily ‘morning pages.’ Three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, as soon as you wake up. They help to understand yourself.
- Finish that book I’ve started and share my honest story.
I am not blaming my hometown for bringing up bad parts of me. Honestly, I am grateful.
We all need a signpost to measure our progress against. If you move somewhere abroad, your home town becomes that place. Every time you come back, you see how far you’ve come because most things home will probably stay the same. Your friends, that old store on the street next to your parents’ house, the woman who works in the store — these things will never change.
The important part, however, is when you come back, to not fall into the old patterns.
To remember who you are.
And who you want to be.
I know that the big question of purpose is something people search for their whole life. But if you ask me now, I’ll agree with Montaigne.
The purpose of life is to become the person you want to be.
It’s life’s work. Building proper habits is a steppingstone to that.
If you dedicate your twenties to one thing, let it be this.