Getting on the Path

“I say it is useless to waste your life on one path, especially if that path has no heart. Before you embark on it you ask the question: Does this path have a heart?”

The Teachings of Don Juan

When I begin to wallow in the mires of “purpose,” I try to immediately remind myself of that thing we can all count on: death. Our bodies, brains, perceptions, aspirations, memories, senses of hope and nostalgia, and any sense of purpose we acquired along the way, will eventually crumble, vaporize, and vanish into the ether.

No one can refute me on this one. I’m supremely confident in its validity. This paper explicitly expresses that we have NOT chosen nihilism (turn to page one). It is in this spirit that I venture boldly forth into the realm of purpose for all shiny, bushy-tailed, budding college students.

Turn to page 86 of your Cat’s Tale Student Hand Book and you’ll find an attractive and simple outline for discovering your personal mission. It begins as follows: “If you can identify your mission—a plan that defines your personal sense of purpose and meaning in life, who you are and who you want to be—you are far more likely to accomplish what you set out to do.”

As far as I can tell, the college student is supposed to be cultivating his or her potential self; this is to say, that we are told to situate ourselves in the context of the future. Why else would they make me do something so ridiculous as to choose a major?

“Go ahead!” they say, “Choose that sparkling self of the future and begin to mold yourself in its image. Do this. Begin immediately.” This mentality infuriates me, and I often cite its ridiculousness when procrastinating in the face of that ten-page paper.

It’s likely that this paper would explore something I’m really into. I probably really love the professor. Then, in all likelihood the voice of Richard Sugarman will echo in hoarse grandeur through the caves of my brain: “The truth is in finishing.”

I will then groan and scrunch my face, realizing that the only thing I “finished” that day was a turkey sandwich.

There is something in us that seeks permanence, and finds meaning there. Things get sticky when virtually every facet of our identity is destined to perish. If you believe that you will live on through your great works of genius, or even through your progeny, know that in 5 billion years or so, the sun will explode and obliterate the earth.

Even if your only value is personal growth, you certainly can’t tackle it from a temporal standpoint. And the minute you choose to live only in the now, especially in a college dormitory, you can expect total chaos to swiftly follow.

So what the fuck are we supposed to do? If you want to get spiritual, you could begin the search for what will exist in you after all your progeny becomes the swirling stuff of a planetary nebula. Or you could completely let go of traditional ambition and resolve to just be happy.

You could also get really solid, completely surefooted, in your knowingness that the past and the future don’t exist, that all you’ve ever really got is the present moment, and that the thing most likely to bring you that super potent mix of happy is doing the hard shit that you love—and finishing.