Many people believe that everyone is born with a purpose. And to be truly happy and successful, one has to discover that purpose and then pursue it for the rest of their life.
I don’t agree with that.
I believe that life is a series of experimentation where you constantly reevaluate yourself and change your purpose accordingly.
When you try something new, you get a new experience, then you look back and see whether it is worth doing. If it resonates with your passion, you continue to pursue it. Otherwise, you move on to something else. The point is to constantly reevaluate and pivot as you go, until you reach your goals.
There’s no fixed single purpose waiting to be discovered.
When Mark Zuckerberg wrote the first line of code of Facebook while studying at Harvard, he didn’t think: “I’m going to create the biggest social network in the world with billions of users”. He simply did it because he thought it was fun and he wanted to help students at Harvard connect with each other. Mark didn’t expect Facebook to go viral at all. But it did. And because of that, he received huge investments. Then he started to expand Facebook to more regions and countries until it becomes the most dominant social network like it is nowadays.
He didn’t start out with the purpose of creating one of the most successful companies in the history. He just created it for fun, then he reevaluated and adjusted based on the market, and eventually he succeeded.
Another example is Sheryl Sandberg. She’s the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook, where she takes care of the company’s business operations. She was nominated as the most powerful woman in business in 2018 by Fortune. You may think that someone this successful has it all figured out from day one, and that she just followed a consistent and rigorous plan to achieve it. In fact, her path to success was not straightforward at all.
Sheryl started her career in India where she worked on a public health project for the World Bank. This resonated with her values of giving back to the unfortunates and make a difference in the world. After a few years, she came back to the States to pursue an MBA. Then she entered the business world and worked for McKinsey. After one year, she realised that the corporate life wasn’t for her so she moved to Washington and served as the chief of staff for Secretary of Treasury from 1996 to 2001. There, she met Google CEO Eric Schmidt. She asked Eric for advice to which career path she should take next. Eric recommended her to the technology sector where there were tremendous opportunities to grow. Later, Eric offered Sheryl a job at Google as Vice President of global online sales and operations. At Google, she grew the team from a few individuals to thousands of people globally and was in charge of developing and growing major online advertising platforms that are Adword and Adsense, which brought the majority of revenues for Google. Six years later, as everyone thought Sheryl might have found her place, she pivoted again to become the COO of Facebook to support more meaningful social causes that resonated with her.
So did Sheryl know her purpose from the beginning?
No. She changed her purpose as she gained more experience.
No one has it all figured out from the start. Everyday is a new opportunity to work, to contribute, to love, to reevaluate ourselves. That’s what makes life interesting.
Growing up, I was fascinated by video games. I love everything about them: the graphics, the stories, the music and the fun adventures in the game world. At some point in my life, I even thought of becoming a professional gamer who will compete in tournaments and earn prizes. There were days when I spent hours watching replays of famous pro gamers, trying to learn from them and then practice playing with friends online to improve my skills. I love how videos games become an accepted sport that attracts millions of viewers from all around the world. It’s a big deal and there’s a career in it. This can be my purpose.
When I was in university, I wasn’t interested in programming because I didn’t see any point in studying them. I would rather play video games instead. One day, I realised that learning to program could be a good idea. I can make video games for people to play as well as making money along the way. That’s an important realisation. Then I started to invest heavily into programming. I learned everything I could to make my first game, which was a breakout clone for my class assignment. Although it’s just a simple game, I was astonished by how much joy it gave me during the long weeks of coding and the proud when I showed it to my friends. That was a happy moment of my life. I thought I had found the purpose. That was making video games.
However, after some failed attempts making mobile games, I felt discouraged and bored. I started to learn how to make mobile apps instead. I was fascinated again, being able to build something that can help people in their daily life, for example: an app that helps to find the optimal bus route in Ho Chi Minh city, a messaging app (Zalo), a manga reader app, etc. I love how smartphones become ubiquitous and how we can utilise it to build something useful that adds values. This can become my new purpose.
After several years into my mobile development journey, I got an opportunity to lead a team of engineers for the first time in my life. This was not because I was any good, it’s just because the current lead left the company and I happened be the right fit. I have no idea how to manage people before but I thought that could be interesting to learn. Anything can be learnt and leadership is no exception. I started to read many books and blogs about leadership and management. The more I dive in, the more I feel excited. I applied some leadership principles to my team, some of them worked pretty well. I watch my team grow everyday with more productivity and the hunger for more challenges. I found joys working as a leader. Once again, this can become my new purpose.
As you can see, I didn’t start out as a guy who wanted to lead a team. I didn’t start out wanting to write mobile apps. I started out as a guy who loved to play video games and dreamt of becoming a pro gamer one day. Things changed. I changed. Everything will change.
Looking back, I had a lot of fun playing video games, creating games, making mobile apps, and leading a team. Those experiences taught me invaluable lessons. One of the most important lessons is to constantly reevaluate myself and to change and adapt if necessary. Nothing is constant. The only constant is change.
To conclude, I believe that there’s no ultimate purpose waiting for us to discover. All the experiences in our life are worth celebrating and learning from. However, we can make a conscious choice as to which experience will bring us the most happiness to focus on that. No one knows the answer. Only you can tell. If you keep asking yourself useful questions, you may be able to find your way to happiness.