A purpose beyond function
I saw an episode of "The Sandman" this week in which one of the characters laments the recent completion of a significant goal. While the goal remained unachieved, this character felt a purpose beyond their function. Once they succeeded, they could not see a meaningful way forward. Their sibling offered council by explaining their function is their purpose. In the case of these two characters, that’s probably true: they have specific and well-defined roles in the universe.
But what about ordinary humans who are not assigned a universal vocation like Death or Dream? Is it important for us to feel like we have a purpose beyond our function? I suppose it depends on what we see as our function. I have had a number of functions assigned to me by society (and other people) over my lifetime. I have been assigned obedient daughter, caretaking wife, supportive co-worker, responsible party, keeper of secrets.
In centuries past my primary function would have been facilitating my uterus growing future humans. Some people find a great deal of purpose in parenting and when I was younger I planned to be a parent. Although, I don’t think I put together that plan because I really wanted the experience of raising a child. It was more a plan formed because it fit the societally acceptable model of success I was trying very hard to achieve. Since then I have shed so many layers of societal expectation that my decision not to procreate has a much clearer and deeper foundation than my parenthood plan ever did.
So what then is my function if it’s not to further the existence of the human race? When I think about the skills and abilities I have, the thing that seems like my most base and primal function is: to be a connector. I see relationships between concepts, people, and places in a unique way. I am also able to explain what I see in ways other people can understand. It’s the thing I’ve been doing since before I can remember.
When I was young, I employed this skill frequently in my role as family mediator. As a young adult, I used my power of perspective to advocate for people and causes often overlooked. Throughout my accounting and fraud-fighting career, I have distilled complex concepts into understandable systems as a regulator, an educator, an investigator, and a financial mess detangler.
I think my purpose is to express my function in a way that makes the world a better place. To be an example of a healthy way to relate to people and the planet. To be an antidote to the ills of society that stem from humankind’s detachment from our own humanity. And to encourage as many other people as possible to realize they can do the same healing work and make a positive difference in the world. It’s not the only thing I’m good for, but it’s the one I take the most satisfaction from. That seems like a pretty good reason to embrace it.
I am forever adding context. To conversations with other people, to my own mental meanderings, to public announcements about the way the world is. Context is where the connections become clearer. When you have enough context, the relationships between seemingly disparate things can become obvious. My personal anti-oppression journey has consisted largely of learning a more and more complete history of my community, society, and the world. All of which adds more context to everything happening in the world we live in today.
If the key to living a life of meaning is to live a purposeful life, then it’s critical to suss-out your purpose. There are many methods you can use to get there, and the internet is full of advice about how to do it. One starting place I invite you to explore is identifying your function. In this context, I think a person’s function is what they cannot help but do - no matter what they are doing. I cannot help but see the connections in the world. I am a connector to my core.
I am also privileged with sufficient resources and a family and community support structure that enables me to participate in thoughtful introspection and intentional living. So now that I have named my function, I can decide how I want to express that function out in the world. I can choose my functional purpose. I can channel my mundane superpower through just about any instrument to affect how I do my work, my relationships, and my life. And I can make adjustments to that application any time I need to.
If the usefulness of one iteration fades out, you can shuffle it to the back and try something else. One trap that’s easy to fall into is thinking you need to find the one correct purpose and stick with that for the rest of your life. Humans are multi-functional by nature. It’s how we survive as individuals and a species. That means we are capable of filling many roles and being many versions of ourselves. Just because I am a skilled mediator doesn’t mean I have to spend my eternity mediating.
The incredible benefit of living in this moment in history is that we have a greater degree of choice over our guiding purpose and any choice at all about what function we fulfill. Most of us don’t have to spend all our time and energy gathering or growing food, or fending off dangerous animals. Take advantage of that opportunity and do something great that only you can do. And during the process, see if you can create more space and opportunity for someone else to bring their medicine to the world. Ultimately it’s going to take every one of us doing all we can.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.