The Lonely Search for Purpose
"The unhappiest people in the world are those in the international watering places. Parties every night, golf every afternoon. Drinking too much, talking too much, thinking too little." -Richard Nixon
I’m a fan of the HBO show The White Lotus (season 1 was my lede to talk about family offices). There is a scene in season 2 in which the two main female characters find themselves alone in a Sicilian villa. They talk about their relationships and Daphne, stretched out on the sofa, muses about men in general:
I feel sorry for men. It's like, they think they're out there doing something really important. But really they're just wandering alone.
That moment stuck with me. And I think she is half right.
I can very much relate to the urge to ‘do something important’. I think that desire to be on a mission and prove yourself by doing something difficult is innate. We are hungry for a quest and for a journey of personal growth.
Richard Nixon, of all people, articulated this desire for purpose and struggle. Via
If you don’t have [nice things], they can mean a great deal to you. When you do have them, they mean nothing.
To me, the unhappiest people in the world are those in the watering places, the international watering places, the south coast of France and Newport and Palm Springs and Palm Beach. Going to parties every night, playing golf every afternoon, then bridge. Drinking too much, talking too much, thinking too little. Retired. No purpose.
I know there are those who would totally disagree and say, ‘If I could just be a millionaire, that would be the most wonderful thing. If I could just not have to work every day. If I could be out fishing or hunting or playing golf or traveling, that would be the most wonderful life in the world.’
They don’t know life. Because what makes life mean something is purpose. A goal. The battle. The struggle. Even if you don’t win it.
Not everyone will agree. Even I have a part that holds on to what Phil Stutz calls the fantasy.
Oh, if only I was rich, all the struggles would disappear and I could travel and write and yadda yadda yadda. It’s a hard feeling to shake off because it carries a kernel of truth. Yes, money would solve all the money problems. But it would not solve the question of purpose.
But this is where Daphne has a point, embarking on your own journey disconnects you from your community. This is Joseph Campbell on the call to adventure:
The call is to move into your own loneliness and find the jewel, the center that’s impossible to find when you’re socially engaged.
To find your personal gift you have to find your own dragons to slay. You have to depart from the safety of the known world and the certainty provided by your existing community and relationships.
The hero feels something has been lost and goes to find it. You are to cross the threshold into new life. It’s a dangerous adventure, because you are moving out of the sphere of the knowledge of you and your community.
It’s crucial to remember that to complete your journey, you have to return to the community and share your gift. If you don’t, if you remain in the wasteland and in the mindset of conquest and battle, as Richard Nixon did, your journey of growth is stunted and incomplete. Your quest turns into a permanent state of isolation. Whatever gift you uncover becomes a curse.
So, go and pursue your own adventure. Do what feels important to you. But remember that this is not an end in itself. There is meaning in the quest for treasure, growth, and transformation. But the real purpose is to master the challenge and to return, to reconnect, and to share what you gained with the community.
If you remember that your personal journey is ultimately done in service to all, you realize that Daphne is wrong. You are never wandering alone. The eyes of the world are watching over you every step of the way.