A friend recently praised Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why, which claims to be a “practical guide for discovering your purpose.” He told me that it contains exercises that help you dig into your past, extract significant experiences, extrapolate upon what they represent, and use what you find to create alignment and achieve direction. We were having a frank discussion, so I told him what I thought. I said that I’d lost faith in such methods. He asked, “Why?” I answered:
We overestimate our ability to understand ourselves.
Imagine that your life, up until the present moment, is represented by one great tapestry. Into it is woven every second of your life, every deed you’ve committed, every word you’ve uttered, and all the near-infinite amount of imperceptible influences that make up you and your existence. Also imagine that woven into this tapestry, in equal measure, is your interpretation of these things; the stories you tell yourself, the beliefs you hold dear, the ideals you aspire to, the narratives you choose to deny and to live by. Finally, imagine that the two types of thread that make up this great rug—reality and your narratives concerning reality—are indistinguishable from one another.
Now, it is your job to take the tapestry apart, individual thread by individual thread, and decide which amongst the millions of single strands are more significant than the others. In addition to that, you must also conceive a hierarchy which ranks each chosen thread in terms of importance, and establish the relationship between the chosen thread, every other chosen thread, and every un-chosen thread.
Does that seem like an impossibly complex, endless and futile task? Good, because it is akin to what we do when we attempt to construct the stories of our lives from the threads of our past.