My purpose in life

Is it that important to identify the purpose of your life? Absolutely! As Ayn Rand says:
Man cannot survive, like an animal, by acting on the range of the moment. An animal's life consists of a series of separate cycles, repeated over and over again, such as the cycle of breeding its young, or of storing food for the winter: an animal's consciousness cannot integrate its entire lifespan; it can carry just so far, then the animal has to begin the cycle all over again, with no connection to the past. Man's life is a continuous whole: for good or evil, every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all the days behind him. He can alter his choices, he is free to change direction of his course, he is free, in many cases, to atone for the consequences of his past-but he is not free to escape them, nor to live his life with impunity on the range of the moment, like an animal, a playboy or a thug. If he is to succeed at the task of survival, if his actions are not to be aimed at his own destruction, man has to choose his course, his goals, his values in context and terms of his lifetime. (Ayn Rand, VOS, p. 26)

In other words, he needs a purpose.

Steve Palina suggests you can discover the purpose to your life in about 20 minutes to an hour. Although I disagree with Steve on a number of issues, he generally has useful things to say about purpose, goals, consciousness, awareness, and productivity. Well, I decided to try his method, in part because they reminded me of Nathaniel Branden's sentence completion exercises, which I have found helpful before. (FYI, I have a very negative opinion of Branden in general, particularly the way he treated Rand and continues to misrepresent Objectivism, but some of his psychological practices has been useful in my life.)

Steve was right, within 30 minutes I had converged on my purpose in life. While I was not crying, like he suggested I should be, I was overwhelmed with emotion at the acknowledgment of the correctness of this purpose.

This purpose is: To say at the end of my life that I lived rationally, productively, and proud to the best of my abilities.

When the full context of that statement finally sunk in, I knew that I had found the answer. That is my purpose. That is what tantalizes and tickles my passions in both a fiercely emotional and intellectual manner.

After discovering my purpose, I stumbled upon various other passions that helped me to define my mission statement:

Three primary passions drive my actions: to love only what is worth loving, to discover the answers to the mysteries around me, and to bring order into my life.

To love only what is worth loving is founded on the principle of justice. I have always been ruthless in my drive to pick friends that are worth my effort. I have always been ruthless in loving only those items that facilitate my joy and happiness. Wasting time and effort on things that do not deserve it endangers my own happiness and long term survival. A corollary to this principle is to hate only what is worth hating. To hate something requires significant effort and should be reserved to things that genuinely hurt my life and values. Such hatred should be reserved to only those things that deserve that hatred. I would much rather spend my time and effort loving things than hating things.

At heart, I am a scientist. I love to learn how and why things work. This is the reason why I studied physics as an undergrad and why I later earned a doctorate and continue to conduct research. I want to learn. I love to learn. And I love to explain what I’ve learned to others. I cannot see myself in any other position. One of the reasons why I choose to study MIS for my PhD is because the field is so dynamic and ever changing, requiring a continuous study of the state of the art. This is an environment in which I thrive.

And lastly, I want order in my personal life. By this, I mean I enjoy well organized environments, but especially environments that flow with my habits and expectations in a reasonable and productive manner. To me, order facilitates high productivity by eliminating all the miscellaneous odds and ends that slow down work towards my goals. If I have to spend minutes or hours looking for something I need, that time is wasted. In a well ordered environment, the search is extremely fast and efficient so I can spend time on things of greater value.

While I have many lesser passions as well, these three are the primary values that I have used throughout my life. The primary passions may change over time, but it is most unlikely they will be inconsistent with my purpose in life.


  1. The "Purpose" entry in The Ayn Rand Lexicon contains two other excerpts of Ayn Rand's writings on purpose. One excerpt describes Purpose as one of the three highest philosophical values. The other excerpt elaborates on the idea of "central purpose," that is, the form of productive activity, stated as an abstraction, that one chooses to pursue.

    My ultimate purpose in life is happiness. My central purpose in life is to tell success stories drawn from history, especially the history of philosophy. I have two other, lesser purposes: friendship and my favorite leisure activity.

    Purpose provides integration. Without purpose--and a hierarchy of purposes--even the best life is nothing more than a heap of experiences.

    Thank you for your article on purpose. It is one of the most important issues in life. Only a few raise the issue and resolve it. You are one of the few.

  2. Burgess,

    Thank you for those excellent points. I do not own The Ayn Rand Lexicon... yet. The clarification between ultimate purpose and central purpose is important. I would agree, my ultimate purpose is happiness.

  3. The May 20, 2008 post for Making Progress describes my view of a central purpose in life.


    (I do not know how to create a word-link in a comment section, so I have listed the short address above.)

  4. John, isn't your purpose too general? You seem to be restating 3 of the cardinal virtues that may be the most important to you. I think purpose needs to be more specific. As Burgess said, "... a CPL is not a statement of philosophical values or virtues."

    I think Burgess' CPL is at about the right level of abstraction. I need to go back and read his CPL posts myself. I'm at a stage in my life when I think I'm ready to develop my own CPL. I might try the Steve Palina technique along with Burgess' suggestions. Thanks for the reminder.

    Also, you can find the lexicon online at

  5. Amy,

    I agree with you. This post was written prior to reading Burgess's excellent post on the subject. In my latest post "Writing 5 year goals", I have done a bit more thinking on the subject and have modified my CLP to focus on productive work goals, not just my virtues.

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  7. A central purpose in life is a succinct (one sentence easy to remember) ABSTRACT statement of ACTION.

    Example 1 (Ayn Rand): My central purpose in life is to PORTRAY the ideal man in fiction.

    Example 2 (my inference about Howard Roark): My central purpose in life is to DESIGN AND BUILD buildings.

    Example 3 (my own): My central purpose in life is to TELL success stories from history.

    A proper CPL would not be: My central purpose in life is to be a novelist or architect or historian.

    The CPL needs to be abstract enough to subsume a wide range of job titles, particular projects, and even several careers if appropriate -- but without specifying them. In her career leading up to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand portrayed the ideal man in a prose-poem, short stories, novels, and stage plays. A CPL does not name such things.

    A CPL, which covers a lifetime potentially, is always a single sentence, the shorter the better -- thus making it easy to recall even when one is confused or exhausted or temporarily defeated. A CPL is an integrator.

  8. Burgess, I'm not sure if you were responding to my statement that John's purpose seemed too abstract. I agree that it needs to be abstract exactly as you indicate. But it can be too abstract.

    John, would you be willing to share your revised CPL? Also, you never stated the 5 year goals except by implication. Do you have a short statement that you could share as a concrete example for us? (Maybe this discussion needs to be moved to your most recent post or in a new post but I'll leave that to you.) Thanks!