Purpose, passion or neither?

Oct. 15, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

Since my first year at Stanford, I’ve been told to follow my passions. Do what you love. Do what inspires you to wake up in the morning. I spent my freshman year finding things that I enjoyed and entered sophomore year feeling good about the things to which I’d committed.

I began my second year doing all the things I was supposedly passionate about on some level, but the everyday excitement was gone. Because I thought I loved everything I was doing, it was hard to grapple with the lack of excitement I felt. Sophomore slump hit hard, and my mom sent me a Ted Talk entitled ‘Stop searching for your passion,’ which I’ve been thinking about ever since.

Last year, as a junior, I stopped trying to find my passion and instead focused on fulfilling my purpose. I thought this might be a foolproof way to deal with the existential thoughts I was having about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Junior fall quarter found me in 14 units, with enough free time to overthink everything. I didn’t know how to deal with my existential thoughts until I heard this quote that said: “Don’t ask yourself, ‘What do I feel like doing?’ Ask yourself, ‘What is my purpose right now?’” It made sense at the time.

But even a sense of purpose can be overwhelming when you attempt to fulfill that purpose every moment of the day. I focused so much on seeking purpose that the pursuit of it became tiring. As I completed my assignments, organized logistics for student groups and sent emails at all hours of the night, I thought that some abstract sense of purpose could make up for how mundane it all felt. I tried to envision the bigger picture in everything I did, to the extent that the big picture became too hazy.

I want to be a writer, I thought, I want to help people and build community. So I guess the work I’m putting into these student groups must be worth it. I guess I’m building community in college. But a tiny voice always wondered: Is it worth it? What’s the point?

I still grapple with finding purpose. I know there are things in my heart that feel important, but my goals feel far away, and the daily reality of achieving them is more like a humdrum that hardly resembles the sparkling dream I envision. The idea of being a writer fires me up, but the thought of writing my capstone project or completing master’s applications or even writing this article feels like just another task to fill up my schedule.

For now, I’ve stopped overthinking it. Maybe life isn’t about finding your ultimate passion or seeking out purpose in every little thing. Sometimes it’s just about doing what you’re required to do for that day, whether that means going to classes or showing up at work or completing a project or reading a chapter of a book. This mindset keeps me going on days when it feels like I’m just running around checking items off a list.

There’s value in thinking deeply about purpose and the grand meaning of life, but doing that all the time is exhausting. I mean, can you imagine spending every moment wondering why you’re doing what you’re doing? Instead, I’m just trying to let it go.

I’ve spent enough time overthinking my life that right now it might just be time to sit back and execute the plans I’ve laid out for myself. To fulfill my daily duty, regardless of whether I perfect it, feel passionate or find purpose.


Contact Astrid Casimire at acasimir ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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