The Eternal Struggle for Identity and Purpose

February 03, 2019
Dennis Stoelwinder | Finding Purpose

Who’s your favorite superhero? I bet you have one, I know I do. I like the more aggressive ones, the bad-asses with anger issues. Not sure why. They just resonate with me. You know, The Hulk, Wolverine, The Punisher. I even resonate with Thanos, who took over the Universe to kill half of it and sympathize with his cause. As a kid, Apocalypse was one of my favorite mutants. Maybe I like them so much because they have a clear sense of purpose.

Not sure if there’s a connection between our mental health and the superheroes we adore, but if so, I think I qualify for some serious counseling.

We like superheroes because they give us a sense that we can be more than we are too. That there is hope. That one day, we won’t be just ordinary people, going through ordinary days, but that we could also find purpose. Professor X made being in a wheelchair look cool. Peter Parker shows every nerdy kid that there is a chance they can become extraordinary. Wolverine shows that social misfits can be heroes as well. And if they can, we can one day too, right?

But why bother?

The optimistic answer is yes; we can be. Maybe not by growing extremely muscular, big, and green, and ending up somewhere naked and confused, but in our own way. However, this would be a short story if there was only an optimistic side. The pessimistic side and the side that rings the most truth in modern-day society is that we settle for the idea that we can be.

Because why bother? Why put yourself through hardship and pain to find purpose, when you can just stay your little old comfortable self? Why would you leave the couch, your blanket, hot cocoa, and the tv to go into the stormy night? Who chooses to be extremely uncomfortable when there isn’t any pressing need?

The most important reason we settle for the idea we can be is fear. We fear that if we change, our world will change. In most cases, fear is the acronym for ‘false evidence appearing real’, but in this case, you have every reason to be afraid. Because, if you change, everything around you changes. And it won’t be a nice progression of your world. Your world crumbles down until there’s nothing left. Until you can’t even recognize that your old life was right here, where you stand in the ashes, surrounded by nothing.

So, what do you do when you are afraid, and the operator on the line tells you she has a long-distance call from your inner superhero that it’s time to embark on an adventure? You don’t accept the call (more on the call later on).

Do you matter?

Bruce Wayne was the wealthiest man in Gotham City and had no economic and social reason to become Batman; he was set for life; he was comfortable. Like a lot of people in modern-day society are just that: comfortable. But, being comfortable doesn’t seem to pan out well. A staggering amount of people don’t feel like they are doing what they need to be doing. Better yet, an entire generation is searching for purpose and the feeling they matter. They have no idea who they are.

Millennials have it more comfortable than ever, their possibilities are almost infinite, yet they are the most lost generation in the history of humanity.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking how to make people click ads, that sucks,” said Jeff Hammerbacher, head of data at Facebook. They spend their time on tricking your mind to stay longer on a platform, on buying an upgrade, on spending your money on more stuff you don’t need. No wonder millennials in these jobs are not sure if they matter.

The call unanswered

If making people click ads gets you excited than good for you, but what if you’re slowly dying inside? What if you realize that optimizing conversion rates doesn’t give you any purpose? What if the artist, the painter, musician, social worker, your inner superhero inside keeps calling you because they are suffocating, but you are just too comfortable to hear it?

This is what happens to people who feel lost, even though everything seems fine. They have to drag themselves through the day, dealing with the eternal question if what they do matters and what the point of all of it is. From the outside, their life is picture-perfect, but from the inside, something is slowly festering.

That festering is your soul looking for cracks in all your conditioning to get through to you. It’s your soul putting its heels in the sand and saying: “Look, if you want to go that direction, I ain’t having it. I’m staying here and will keep pushing the breaks until I get through to you.”

You have never felt more fragmented. If everything seems right, why do you feel wrong? If society says that you’ve made it, then who are you to complain? And so you carry on with your fragmented self, putting the pedal to the metal while your soul is pushing the breaks. Just like a zillion other people, without any sense of purpose. Every single day.

The animal in us

Maybe we feel so lost because we are no superheroes. Because we know that if we are gone tomorrow, we wouldn’t be missed. Because in our DNA are still tracks of our ancestors. Of a primal hunter-gatherer that mattered for his family and community. If he wouldn’t go out and went face-to-face with whatever wild nature throws at him, his family won’t eat and will die. His purpose of feeding his family is more significant than any clicked ad.

The hunter-gatherer embodied his inner animal, was aligned with his soul, was in an optimal state of flow. He had to because if he weren’t, he would be dead, his family would be dead. Life was dangerous every step of the way. He had to protect and provide. He was all he could be, knew he mattered, knew that if he died tomorrow, he would be missed, and so he did everything to be his optimal self.

Maybe we feel like we don’t matter because that primal element is missing in our lives. We lost our inner animal, our predator, a purpose. We pushed down our inner superheroes that can rise from our primal history and shadow and deny it. And, we forget it’s even inside. No wonder. Society is constructed in a way where everyone should just follow the white line in an orderly fashion. Please don’t step out of line and cause a ruckus.

Ignoring someone, not acknowledging their existence, is one of the worst things we can do to others, and yet we do it to ourselves non-stop.

We are never put in a life or death situation, and so we act accordingly. Until one day, tragedy hits, and being comfortable is the last thing on your mind.

When tragedy hits

Up until now, you have been in a dangerous place, which doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It’s a wild place, a place of slow death, a place where nothing happens. Just an endless landscape of pure exhausted land where nothing grows. You have been in a place where you kind of know things aren’t quite right, but the pressure of genuinely committing to change things is missing.

It’s that that twitch in your muscle you’ve been walking around with for ages. It’s a bit annoying, but not enough to get it fixed. You linger along. You linger along through the eternal landscape where nothing will ever flourish, ever.

But then it happens. Tragedy comes knocking at your door — that one moment where shit hits the fan. The day you hoped would never happen. That one moment that puts everything back in perspective. That one moment that gives you the clarity of seeing what matters and what doesn’t. It’s that moment where Bruce’s parents got killed that pushed him into becoming Batman, even though he was set for life. And that moment you lose the job that paid well and gave you a stable future, even though it didn’t resonate with the true you.

Rising from tragedy

In most cases, it isn’t until something shocking happens, and our world crumbles down till even the foundation it stands on is rotten, that we really make a decision. Until being comfortable isn’t an option anymore. Until we stand on our old perished world with a clear vision and see what it’s all about. It is that moment in time where your soul finally finds the crack through which he can find a way to connect to you. “Wake up, stupid”, he whispers in your ear, and you wake up from what seems to be an eternal boring dream.

Tragedy has given you the hardest wake-up call ever. Harder than you could ever imagine. You’ve dreaded this day your whole life, but it is worth it. Tragedy came and completely wiped out your old world. Not because you don’t need a world, but because you need a clean slate to build a new one. One that’s overflowing with purpose.

You’re building a new world, and in that process, you create a new ‘you’. The ‘you’ that shows signs of a superhero. There are doubts and insecurities. There are remorse and fear, and there is hope that everything will be just the way it was. But, if you look at yourself bravely, you too see the signs of becoming a superhero. You notice that although tragedy knocked you down, it might turn out to be a good thing.

Suddenly you realize that because of tragedy, you answered the call. The call that has been ringing for so long, but you didn’t hear the tone because you were lost in a dream state.

Answering the call

There you are, you answered the call. The world around you has crumbled, but you never felt more alive and confident. There’s a ton of work to do, but you know it will be fine. After all, if you can withstand the tragedy and come out a new man on the other side, you can withstand anything.

You start expressing your true self, even though you have no idea what that looks like. You just express whatever happens inside you, and it feels fucking great. Suddenly you realize the low energetic and depressed state was because you were suppressing your real self. You were pushing it down, creating internal fragmentation.

[Quick sidestep: is depressing our authentic selves the cause of this ever-growing epidemic of a depressed society? If you ask Western doctors, they say no. You are just sick and need to be medicated, so you can keep calm and carry on in the eternal landscape of pure exhausted land where nothing grows. Western medicine takes off all the edges that make you question your fragmentation.

However, if you look at that more spiritual side of life, depression is an emergency of the soul. Depression is when you seem to lose all sense of joy, and things you used to enjoy doing become meaningless. And this has become so bad that you’ve lost touch with the soul, you stopped nurturing it, and it’s now calling for you harder than ever. Again, pick up the phone, stupid. End of quick sidestep.]

Claiming your purpose

Claiming your heroism and purpose means doing what feels right to you, no matter the consequences. Fuck being diplomatic, fuck being politically correct, fuck being nice. How can you be genuinely nice if you are pretending? Who wants a card box birthday cake? Who wants fake good luck wishes? And who wants to be around people that don’t authentically celebrate their presence?

Your journey asks for true heroism: are you going to express your superhero ability and turn your life upside down, or are you going back to suppress it and eventually be depressed again? After all, expressing yourself comes with a lot of backlashes. Standing out from the crowd, getting ignored or ridiculed by those that were your friends, insecurity about if this all will pan out, and even that moment when you look in the mirror and that ego thought crosses your mind: “Have I gone crazy, what the hell am I doing?” It sure would be nice to step into your old comfortable self again. After all, you know exactly what you can expect.

But! None of that silly shit, you push through and claim your purpose! You get excited, energized. You embraced discomfort, you’ve crossed the wild sea, walked through the hot desert, fought the beasts in the darkness. But now it’s time to come home again. To your newly build life and to a new you. Bravo, you’ve claimed your heroism.

So, this is excellent news for you, but what does it do for the rest of the world?

Your purpose and the other

If we would take responsibility and do superhero shit for the sake of doing the right thing, the effect goes way beyond that single action. If you change the perception of a man, he becomes a ripple in effect. The man is transformed and impacts his family, his friends, his community. They are inspired by his new vision and purpose and adopt it as well. Now they affect their family, friends, and society as well. One drop of ink turns the whole ocean black.

It’s easy to turn your head the other way. It’s not your problem; it doesn’t impact you; you already have enough shit on your mind. Why should you bother? Well, first, because it’s the right thing to do. Second, turning our heads isn’t working. Just look around you. The amount of shitshows is ridiculous, and the people who shrug their heads and say, “Hey, it’s not my fault” is a disgrace to humanity.

So, by doing the right thing, no matter how small, almost always travels way further than the moment itself. Even something as little as picking up the trash that isn’t yours.

Think about the people in your life that said something or impacted you in a way that changed the course of your life for a better. Maybe they gave you just that little push to take the leap of faith, or perhaps they were the example that you looked up to. Perhaps they were the small light that drove out all the darkness you were sitting in. Maybe they believed in you when you needed it most.

Unknown heroism

These people are superheroes to you, but chances are they didn’t even know they had an impact on you. Maybe this was a one time impact they had, and they never recognized or accepted their superpowers. It was just a single moment in time for them. The world needs more superheroes. More people should acknowledge the fact that they, too, are superheroes.

So, here’s to the schoolteacher that genuinely cares about their students, the executive that decided to become a farmer because feeding people real food matters. And here’s to the post office worker that knows everyone by name, the train worker that makes the ride a little extra for the kids, the manager that sees when something is off and goes above and beyond to help his team.

Here’s to the guy that noticed that a creep was following the lady on the bus and so he stepped in to fix the situation for her. And here’s to the kid that helped the old lady up after falling and asked if she is ok. And finally, here’s to fucking Batman who gets his ass kicked and is despised from time to time, but still shows up.

Here’s to the ones that care. The ones that believe they can be more and pursue it. I love you.

Photo credit: Heyerlein

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