Here’s a list of problems with the question, “What do you want to do with your life”

Lessons learned from “The Graduate”

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All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today’s clip comes from the plastics scene in The Graduate:

What do you want to do with your life? There are a dozen problems with this question. First, it’s focused on wanting, not needing. And life doesn’t always give us luxury to prioritize in that order. Second, this question is purely focused on the future, as opposed to right now. And we forget that this very moment is life too. In fact, it’s all we have. But if we’re so busy trying to figure out what to do with our life, we’ll forget to actually live it. Third, this question is a moving target. People evolve. The world in which we live evolves. And so, we remake ourselves as we grow and as the world changes. We give ourselves the freedom to change as we discover, reinventing ourselves many times in an interesting life, ultimately letting these multiple reinventions mold our life into book of stories worth telling. Fourth, this question is outdated. Our generation is seeing the slow death of traditional career paths. People are keeping their professional lives in permanent beta. We’re adapting and evolving and pivoting and changing directions. And like a human startup, we’re evaluating new opportunities as they present themselves, taking into consideration our ever growing set of intellectual and experiential assets. Are you tying yourself to one concept as being your legacy for your entire life?

What do you want to do with your life? Another problem with this question is, it’s inhuman. Because although people have the impulse to satisfy their basic need for unity, order and completeness; and although our rational capacities crave a certain amount of story and dramatic structure to make sense of life, the reality is, tidy narratives tend to be misleading. Life is confusing and nonlinear and nobody gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. That’s why this question is so burdensome. Deciding what we want is the most important work we will ever do. And so, we keep grilling each other, pressuring people to articulate their human purpose into a perfectly compartmentalized little package. And life isn’t like that. This isn’t a twenty two minute sitcom. And so, we can’t allow our biological craving for resolution to stand in the way allowing life to actually happen. Humanity comes first. And here’s the other thing. This question misrepresents focus. Turns out, it’s not about hammering one nail, all of our lives, it’s about hammering lot of nails, one way, all our lives. In fact, most people need multiple life purposes. And so, instead of killing ourselves trying to find the meaning of life, we’re creatively making life’s many meanings. It may not be easy, inventing our own life’s meaning, but it’s still allowed. What gives purpose driven human uniqueness to your existence?

What do you want to do with your life? Ultimately, this question is a moot point. As my mentor once told me, life isn’t a question to be answered, it’s a project to be lived. There’s no deadline. There’s no wrap party. There’s no gold medal waiting for at the finish line. Our number one job as humans isn’t playing to win, it’s playing to keep the game going. When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, I rarely gave that idea a second thought. When I was in my twenties, on the other hand, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And that was all I thought about. But now that I’m in my thirties, I’m back to not knowing again. The only difference is, this time, I’m giving that idea a second, third, fourth and fifth thought. Because what the hell do I know? Binary constructs like always and never no longer exist in my vocabulary. Anything can happen. Anything can be a meaning opportunity. That’s my answer. That’s what I want to do with my life. That’s the organizing principle of my daily existence. I want to make meaning in accordance with my deepest values. For your life to be perfect, what would have to change?

What did you learn from this movie clip?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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Written by

Author. Speaker. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Founder of Pioneer of Personal Creativity Management (PCM). I also wear a nametag 24/7.

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