I know that I know nothing. – Socrates
Not knowing that one knows is best. – Lao Tse
It’s incredibly difficult not to add Donald Rumsfeld’s memorable quote about knowing to that list, but it doesn’t really apply to the purpose of the post.
Let’s talk about love. Specifically, what do you love? That question gets asked over and over again in the self-awareness community, usually tied to some guide to finding your life purpose. For example, there is Steve Pavlina’s guide to Finding Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes. Basically, it’s “make a list of the things that might be your life purpose. When you write down the thing that makes you cry, that’s it.” Other sources I’ve found on the web (too many to list here, just google “how to find your life’s purpose” and you’ll be deluged with them) all have the same common theme: Want to figure out your life purpose? Take a look at what you love. That’s it, so stop wasting time on anything else.
Love or Chemistry?
While I do think these have some use, I also think they fall into a bit of the simplicity fallacy. Just because you love something doesn’t mean that it is compatible with your life.
We know this is true for people – my friend Arden Leigh recently wrote a brilliant piece (update: link fixed) about the way it applies in relationships. We are naturally drawn to a lot of things, and it’s nice to think that if we go towards what we’re drawn to, we’ll live a fulfilled and satisfying life.
It ain’t that easy. As anyone who grew up watching Wild Kingdom can tell you, “natural” does not equal “pleasant,” or as Arden so eloquently put it, “Mother Nature doesn’t give a shit about whether you’re happy.” And just making a list of things you “love” won’t necessarily indicate to you what will be a fulfilling purpose for you.
What Do You Know?
However, what those kinds of lists and ponderings are good for is digging out past the assumptions and habits of years of doing what you used to love, or what you were told you should love. It may also help you see past some of the things that you do love but which aren’t compatible with your life.
It’s entirely possible that what you love is the same thing that is making you unhappy.
Notice the metaphor there: digging out. Seeing past. None of this is about learning anything new – it’s about uncovering what it is that you already know. If you love something, it’s not too hard to think of it. If it is hard to think of…well, maybe you don’t actually love it that much. Maybe it’s just something you think you should love.
There’s just one more barrier to it, though. Sure, you know it. But the fact is, what you love is scary.
One of the memorable parts of the fantastic move Pina is when the dancers talk about what it was like to work with her (Pina Bausch). There is a constant undercurrent of awe combined with inspiration and more than a little fear:
Everything I tried or pretended to be disappeared under her gaze.
Instead, she saw something I was afraid of – because I didn’t know it yet.
– Michael Strecker, dancer
We can’t all have a Pina to look at us and uncover the things that we don’t know yet, like how to figure out the things that we love that are also compatible. Instead, we have self-awareness exercises like lists and hard questions, easier to run away from than the gaze of a brilliant choreographer.
But maybe, if we really want to get more out of whatever it is we love, we need to get the equivalent of the strict director, pushing us to create, out of the pain and the love, something beautiful out of our lives.