Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said this week he wants everyone to stop searching for their life purpose. He cites the millions of dollars spent in self-help books, seminars, sabbaticals and life coaches, all designed to help us discover and define our purpose in life. His point is that there is only one real life purpose: to serve humanity.
Purpose-seeking is very much a part of our cultural norms. The Declaration of Independence gives us the rite to pursue happiness. And if happiness is something akin to purpose, we’re giving the impression this “pursuit” is an individual journey.
As children we hear grownups ask, “what is the meaning of life?” as if it were some great mystery. Socrates said, “an unexamined life is not worth living”, indicating life is about lessons; and through a self-examination, we might get closer to a divine reason for being. And of course, we’ve heard that each religion teaches its followers to serve their unique definition of God. We don’t seem to be a species prone to universal truths.
There’s also the psychologists, human behavior experts, and leadership scholars who tell us we are individualists. Our human nature is to personalize and make meaning on an individual level. If we weren’t there’d be only one mission statement for all companies: To make money, develop our people and service our community. Why spend all the time personalizing a mission statement: to add meaning on a personal level. Human Resource managers tell us people don’t engage in things they don’t create or have a say in.
If we weren’t individualists, retail markets would only be selling the same kinds of cars, clothing, housing and food. Why buy a red car instead of a blue one or drink a Merlot instead of a Cabernet wine: to add meaning on a personal level through new experiences.
Even Apple benefits from individualism. We got our son a new iPhone for his birthday and he wanted a red one, not a black one, because he had a personal connection to red. Red was cooler and cool was how he wanted to feel.
While I agree it would save us a lot of time and money if we all just adopted to one purpose statement, we’d be giving up a huge opportunity to add meaning to our lives. Our deep-seated desire for self-expression and introspection will always be a part of the human condition.
The question “what is my life’s purpose?” causes us to examine our lives making us learners. When we define our purpose, we have direction. Ultimately, a life purpose inspires self-awareness, personal growth and gives us a framework on how we can serve humanity.