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COLUMN: Driven by experiences

Tanya Ryan's monthly column #LightSideUp
Tanya Ryan 2

I had a conversation with a friend recently that sparked something within me in an entirely new way.

You’ve probably heard the concept … be in the moment. Be present. Living in the past — or worrying about the future only robs us of the joy of the moment. Something along those lines, right? Well I know it’s been said to me in about a thousand different ways, a thousand different times. But something about the way my friend reiterated this to me recently was mind-shattering.

My friend is someone that I would describe as pragmatic, grounded and interested in the aspects of the world that are tangible and evidence-based. He’s incredibly smart and wonderfully quirky.

When he asked how I was doing one day, I relayed, with subtle morbid humour, that I was feeling I was in a low-key but constant state of existential and identity crisis — and lacking purpose. He responded with a really direct, practical and prolific statement.

He said: “I've never really understood people's need for a purpose, frankly. I find the questions "Why are we here?" and "Why am I here?" irrelevant. My thought is that life doesn't need a reason to exist, merely the opportunity. And that changes the life experience from purpose-driven to experience-driven. As a result I've never really looked towards an outcome.”

And even though I have heard this sentiment time and time again. Something about the blunt and incredibly grounded way he said it struck a new chord within me.

What I do… isn’t important. And while this can be a momentary ego-gut-punch… it’s also incredibly liberating. It was this instant release of pressure. No one is watching me to make sure I reach a certain goal or outcome. No one cares. I care, but when I continue reinforce the narrative that my daily actions are of no consequence without some grandiose impact. I am essentially missing out on the magic of my monotony. The everyday stuff that happens everyday. That’s the real part of life.

There will be still be times that I get to sparkle and shine, and have big moments of celebration. But if I focus on those as ‘the point’ or ‘purpose’ of my life — I’m going to miss the importance of the ‘unimportant’ things; the things that happen everyday. And those things are a far greater representation of life as a whole.

The days that put my son to bed, and he feels compelled to share with me his entire vocabulary and list as many words, people, and animals he knows — including an attempt to sing ‘twinkle little star’ … that is the experience that day. That’s the purpose of that day — that’s what holds value.

Or the days I want to jump off a bridge because he’s having a meltdown every 10 minutes (probably because he asked for yogurt and I gave him yogurt) - there’s value in that experience too.

I’m rewiring myself: Experience-driven… not purpose-driven.

Many of us grew up being praised for good marks, achievements, talent, skills, or appearance - and less focus was put on our effort, the process, or the experience itself. So we’re using our later years to re-parent ourselves and navigate new ways we can interact with the world. And perhaps these shifts will leave room to create a greater sense of inner-peace and authentic fulfillment.