by phil on Sunday Jan 11, 2009 3:39 PM
off-front, passion and purpose, tracking my journey through self-programming

The past five days (from Wednesday, until now, Sunday) have been extraordinarily intense. I feel like I've been on pseudoephedrine (an anti-histamine amphetamine) for five days. What happened is that on Wednesday, I wrote down what my purpose in life is. Here's what it is: change people's lives, inspire people, open eyes, awaken people, move them, create epiphanies.... to the best of my abilities. Since then, I've seen everything in my life through the lens of that idea. What's mainly been affected is my approach to this site, and feeling like this is going to be, at last, my magnum opus. I know how it sounds: like crazy zealotry and self-aggrandizement. I think the best metaphor to explain my feeling is like being a conspiracy theorist. Everything I see, even in extremely convoluted ways, implies that my conspiracy is true. For me, all sort of minutiae contribute to a sense that "At last, I am on my mission!" For example, I was playing Team Fortress 2 and I was "inspiring" my team of 16 over the voice chat. I was getting the whole team hyped up through indirect cheerleading and praise. It took us about an hour, but eventually we won thanks to my leadership. Now, I've never thought of myself as a leader. The thought of managing people makes me cringe because I feel like I'm so bad at it. But when I demonstrated these charismatic leader-like chops in an online multiplayer game, I concluded that by focusing in on my purpose, I am able to unlock a whole new world of skills.

This has to do with reading The Purpose-Driven Life. If anything, Rick Warren will be remembered as the king of life-changing rhetoric. His wording is soo good, and his imagery so compelling, that you feel swept up off your feet on every page. This kind of imagery is affecting (afflicting) me, right now:

The power of focusing can be seen in light. Diffused light has little power or impact, but you can concentrate its energy by focusing it. With a magnifying glass, the rays of the sun can be focused to set grass or paper on fire. When light is focused even more as a laser beam, it can cut through steel.

Half of the idea is just riding a placebo effect. I honestly just feel inspired after reading passages like that. After writing down my purpose, I felt like I was a laser beam. I really felt intoxicated with power. And I still feel that way right now.

Although I've been drowning in ecstasy, the days have been extremely unpleasant. I feel like shit. I'm simultaneously hyper and tired. I can't take care of the normal things in my life because I'm so focused on my grand mission. I've been sneezing like crazy, which while usually attributed to my allergies, can be explained by my immune system weakening due my heightened state.

Throughout the whole time, I've been aware of what was happening to me physically. I've been ill-at-ease ever since I started huffing-and-puffing, growing larger each hour with an increasing sense of purpose. But I really couldn't snap out of it. I tried really hard to just relax. I tried to read fiction. I tried going out and socializing. I tried setting boundaries, like, "okay, don't do anything related to your purpose for the next 24 hours," and nothing worked.

And then finally, it just occurred to me, what if I deleted my purpose.

I have a document where I keep my all my plans. I opened it up and deleted the line that contains my purpose.

Just as you can make a commitment by writing it down, you can also reverse that commitment by erasing the text. And I believe that deleting that bit of text that says, "this is my purpose," will help fix things.

At the same time, it's a little bit of a game, because I wholly intend to re-write my purpose down in a couple weeks (or maybe a month) from now, when I feel like I'm ready. In the mean time, I just have a verbal commitment to purpose. The result, in my estimation, is that this will halve the intensity of my purpose-drive. I may be able to sleep soundly and do other normal things.

I'm writing this out because I think that the whole process of life-change is interesting. Life-change is a dragon I've been riding since I was fourteen, and I have all sorts of experience with the nuance of that world.

One way that I've learned to manage my journey through self-programming, is to pay attention to what I write. I used to have these neuroses inspired by me writing down my ideas on how I wanted to move my life forward. The intense missionitis I described above is just a sample of something that has occurred to me 50-100 times throughout my life. I eventually connected a big part of the problem with writing down too much in my journals. Writing is commitment. It's that simple. You already know the phrase, "commit it to writing." I was committing myself to too many ideas, which give how literally I process the world, had too much of a sweeping impact on me. And so, that's how I came to the idea of deleting my purpose.

Although, now, a thought just occurred to me, that half of the power of writing and deleting is a placebo effect. When you commit something to writing, you may just feel like that's what you really intend. More so that your own stream-of-conscious thoughts.

Update: 8 hours later or so, I do feel half as hyped up, while still feeling purpose-driven


Squidhelmet said on January 11, 2009 10:48 PM:

Seems like a wormhole. I think the fear of writing something down is directly connected to a sense of the temporal. If you were to write it down and then die in one second, that's all that 'posterity' would ever have to interpret you by. But what if that's wrong?! What if you missed a word or sent it as an ambiguous text message? Pretty parallel with your friend's site that records text as you write/edit it, so you can follow the thought. (Drunk Log! Brilliant!)

So, how do you celebrate the temporal? How many great works have never been committed to paper/canvas due to the artist's anxiety about committing an imperfection to posterity? How many riffs did a drunken Keith Richards NOT record so his sober self could parse them? (About the worst sentence I've ever written, but I'll let it stand re: the subject of this long-winded comment)

Philip Dhingra said on January 11, 2009 10:56 PM:

Hmm, that's interesting. It really makes me think how potentially bizarre my situation is, in that if given the permission, I tend to write as much as I can, commit a lot to public even if it gets me into trouble.

It's like I'm dying to last forever, to be permanent, to be carved in stone. I wonder if that's also a little ascetic. Because while committing to writing does say "this is it!" "this is what I really think!," in some ways it cuts off your freedom.

If I don't write it down, then I can change how I feel at any point. You're not tied down or locked in.

I think on a more functional level, the fear of being imperfect stops a lot of writers. They don't want to commit to their current quality of writing.

I think Julia Cameron's (of The Artist's Way fame), in The Right to Write, provides a lot of exercises that are all about giving yourself permission to write. "write crap!" "write about your ex-lovers!" "write jibberish!" "write selfishly!"

Perversely, I always just want to write selflishly and provide dish on ex-lovers.

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