Tyler Robertson

Thoughts about goals and purpose

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Here's something I've been thinking about lately, and I don't have any answers for it, so I'm hoping we can think about it together:

I don't have any big goals for my life.

Honestly, I'd never really thought about it. As a kid, I said I wanted to be a firetruck when I grew up β€” not a fire fighter, the actual truck! β€” and only settled on my college major (which I don't use at all now) because that's where my friends were. I didn't have any "dream" jobs I was aiming for, nor the desire to get married and have kids like lots of my classmates (most of whom are now divorced, I should add), and it didn't bother me.


about six months after graduating from college, I was walking from a local coffee shop to a job I got at my alma mater, and ran into a girl from my graduating class. I didn't know her very well, but it was a small town and I had time, so we chatted for a while. And to hear her talk about the last six months, you'd think she was expecting to drop dead any minute now; she climbed a mountain! Got married! Wrote a book! Was buying a house! Then she asked me what I was doing, and I was… working basically the same job I had in college. Renting the cheapest apartment I could find (with three roommates). Paying the bills. Paying the student loans.

She said, "Well okay that's now, but what do you want to do? What's your goal?" And I couldn't think of anything. I stood there on the sidewalk and stared into the distance and couldn't summon anything that I was passionate about beyond getting the bills paid. And that ended the conversation pretty awkwardly, and she got on her bicycle and rode away, shouting over her shoulder, "Get some goals, Tyler! You have to get some goals!" Which, you know, stuck with me.

Somewhat tellingly, we haven't spoken since.

And while I don't feel like I've wasted my life (at least not unreasonably β€” I enjoy stupid time wasters like video games as much as the next person), ten years later I still don't feel like I have that kind of goal that she was talking about. That kind of milestone where you have "stick to it" and "put in the work", and when you achieve it, you can hang it on the mantle of your life and say, "Yeah, I did that. I was here and that was me." Markers of a life lived intentionally. And I don't even mean those huge life decisions like getting married or having kids β€” I mean on the level of like, running a marathon. Or writing a book. Or winning some kind of award.

Thanks to either growing up, or that remark (which still haunts me in a way previously reserved for stupid shit I said in the sixth grade), I really want that. I am intensely jealous of people with drive, purpose, a mission for this short time we share on Earth. I desperately want a goal that I can confidently spend every day working towards. But I can't figure out how to start. I fundamentally don't understand the physics of it. I can't wrap my head around how someone would say, for example, "I want to run a marathon", and keep at it until they have? How is everyone not giving up at the first inconvenience? After all, goals aren't real β€” you literally make them up in your head! There's nothing holding you to them! Is everyone who runs a marathon actually in some kind of Speed scenario where a bomb will go off if they stop running?

That's a big part of why I've built my career on projects with very narrow scopes: if I can't get it done in a day or so, I'm just going to lose interest and move on. I don't have a need to make anything big, so I just… don't.

In my mind, there has to come a point where wanting to do something is superseded by needing to do something, and that's where these big life goals really come into their own. Whenever you watch a documentary about someone who's achieved some big goal of theirs, they talk about "needing" to do it. Like something took over their body, and they couldn't give up on it even if they wanted to. There's a drive, a passion, a fire, a love (maybe?), for the thing they're doing, and that's what sees them through. You never hear, "Oh, you know, one day I just decided to write a book, and here it is, I guess." You hear, "This is my life's work. I had to write this book." A colleague recently described working towards (and eventually getting) their dream job as something "that makes food taste better and air smell sweeter."

But how does that happen? Where does that passion come from? Does everybody get that at some point? Am I stupid or lazy for not having that? Will I ever have that? Will I die and leave behind an acceptable, but ultimately forgettable life?

I also have to wonder: is this my privilege as a cishet white dude coming into play? Is my lack of passion because I'm not fighting against anything? (If you're not a cishet white dude and feel so inclined, I'd love a "yes" or "no" on this.) If that is the case, then I have to be thankful that at least I'm not some MAGA cultist or crypto-bro. I'll take a meaningless existence over making the world worse any day.

And that's where I'm at now. I have no idea whether I'm the only person who feels this way, or if this is some universal experience like impostor syndrome. Maybe everyone feels like they're wasting precious time, I don't know. If you have this feeling, I hope you're doing OK today. If you don't have this feeling, I really want to know how you do it.