If you asked Elizabeth Harmon whether or not the Sicilian Defense was the best move to open a game of chess, this fictional protagonist of the novel and Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit,” might tell you that there’s no such thing as a “best move.”
As pawn takes rook and rook takes bishop, the path towards victory is paved with possibility.
In this article, we’ll discover how adapting to varying circumstances (like in a game of chess) can offer you valuable insight on how to defy your sense of purpose, especially when you feel as though your life lacks any semblance of meaning whatsoever.
SEARCHING FOR MEANING
While immersed in Victor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” I paused mid-narrative to contemplate a serious, existential question:
In the name of all things sightly and sacred, what the hell was my purpose in life?!
According to Frankl, a vague idea of purpose can set the stage for a meandering existence, or what he liked to call an “existential vacuum.”
In that panic-inducing void, time ran out as we ate, slept and shat (not necessarily in that order) without any viable prospects for a brighter, more fulfilling future.
Then, later in life, we’d arrive at an epiphany as we lay in our death beds, our bodies rendered to mush by the passing of time.
We asked the question out loud as if only thinking about it made it seem less profound:
“Is that all there is?!”
This was precisely how I felt while rewinding tapes at Blockbuster (R.I.P., old friend), waiting tables at cafés across Manhattan and ordering a male escort for my ex-boss from a “madam” who went by the name of Mercedes (not my proudest moment!)
The existential vacuum that Frankl, himself a holocaust survivor-turned-psychotherapist, described in “Man’s Search For Meaning” was the sphere I inhabited for most of my life, always searching for meaning, meaning, meaning, while failing to grasp one true thing: that there was no “best move.”
If you’ll indulge me for the next four minutes, dear reader, I’ll explain how climate change activist and tour-de-force personality, Greta Thunberg, may have already answered her life’s calling, whereas her father, Svante Thunberg, can teach you how to defy your sense of purpose like a badass bitch.
But first, a message from Patricia Arquette!
THE MAKINGS OF PURPOSE
Greta Thunberg rose to international fame before she boarded the “Malizia II” — a yacht designed for speed rather than luxury — to journey across the Atlantic’s tempestuous waters from Plymouth, U.K., to New York City in August of 2019.
The following month, Greta attended the UN Climate Summit to deliver a scathing speech in a lecture hall full of government leaders who failed to take action against the increasing threat of global warming.
She was 15 years old.
In the Hulu Documentary, “I Am Greta,” as the yacht gets pummeled by waves in its trajectory to New York and our heroine breaks down in tears, I was reminded of Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings,” who felt the heavy burden of bearing the Ring Of Power on his perilous journey to Mordor.
Frodo’s fictional mission wasn’t unlike Greta’s real-life purpose to prevent mankind’s destruction at the very hands of mankind.
During the scene on the yacht, tears streaming down her face, she was overcome by the grave responsibility that impelled her to sacrifice the normal life of a teenager, deeply wounded by what she felt was necessary given that no one else from her generation seemed to be doing a damn thing about climate change.
Her mission was clear: to galvanize a young generation of climate change activists and spark change for a better future.
“I wish I didn’t have to do this,” Greta said in the documentary.
And yet, she was doing it.
THE UNMAKING OF PURPOSE
But Greta’s story is mere context on how to defy your sense of purpose, for the person we’ll be studying is actually Greta’s father, Svante Thunberg, who’s living proof that your life’s purpose might not be what you think it is.
Much like a chameleon, it can change color and adapt to varying circumstances as life goes on.
After all, Svante Thunberg had his own aspirations before Greta came into the picture.
Drawn to theatre arts and film, he joined the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm in 1991. Besides acting in a Swedish television series in the nineties, he was also a screenwriter, film producer and managed his wife’s busy singing schedule.
But later, as Greta’s movement gained incredible momentum and took the world by storm, he understood what he must do.
And so, he put his career aspirations aside and devoted himself completely to his daughter’s purpose.
Much like a chameleon that blends in when necessary, Mr. Thunberg is not only a father. He’s also a personal assistant, helping Greta craft those jabbing speeches and admonishing her to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, pointing out the many hours its been since she’s had anything to eat.
When Greta throws a tantrum (alas, she’s a teenager after all!), he would shift into Dad-mode, compromising here and there as parents often do, promising space in exchange for her nourishment and conceding to Greta’s wishes so long as she prioritizes her personal wellbeing as much as she does the issue of global warming.
In the documentary, Mr. Thunberg also takes on the role of bodyguard.
In a workshop conducted by security agents, he practices CPR on a test dummy, certifying his skills to tend to Greta’s health should some random asshole assault his daughter.
He knows there will be “haters” (for lack of a better word) who will pepper their dissent of Greta’s mission with death threats and physical aggression.
But despite these very real, very scary risks, it seems as though Svante Thunberg has made peace with his new “purpose”: to be father, assistant and protector to someone who eclipses him in all matters of importance.
To play the role of trusty sidekick, he must shrink himself. Otherwise, how could he ever fit in her shadow?
HOW TO DEFY YOUR SENSE OF PURPOSE
For starters, you must understand that an existential vacuum is a good thing.
Any shadows cast in your direction will eventually change, transmuting as the sun rises and sets on the horizon.
Be sure to adapt to these changes as they happen and keep an open mind.
Doing so can help you answer the million-dollar question:
What is my purpose?
Self-awareness, for instance, can help you reassess your toxic relationship and figure out why you persist “loving” someone who has a funny way of reciprocating said love.
It can also compel you to seek refuge from a dead-end job that you hate with every fiber of your being.
And it can send you across the ocean on a racing yacht.
Together, these things can lead to some semblance of purpose (guaranteed, or your money back!)
On the other hand, failing to embrace life’s changes — dodging every single punch it hurls at your pretty little face — can make you undergo some serious trauma.
Because resistance to change — that same inaction of government leaders that Greta continues to criticize — means that nothing will change, which can be hella-frustrating.
So, allow Life to land some punches, dear reader.
Start saying yes instead of no.
Ask for a raise.
Quit your job if it makes you feel miserable.
Travel, for fuck’s sake!
If you don’t “have it in you” to do these things, then at least do something.
For instance, you might choose to live for a greater purpose.
You might choose empathy over apathy. Compassion over indifference. Listen more and speak less.
Write down your feelings. Study them. Interpret the meaning behind what you put down on paper.
Ask yourself, “What does this mean? Where can it lead me? How can I defy what I think is my purpose?”
Yes, Greta, inaction sucks. But so do wrong actions.
So, rather than kneeling with your fingers interlocked in prayer, pleading with some universal power to please-oh-please send you a sign that will end your meandering existence on this floating rock called Earth (hint: wrong action), why not defy your sense of purpose and take comfort in the knowledge that your life’s meaning is most likely not what you think it is?
Then, as you breathe easy, you can rejoice in the simple fact that you’re alive.
And that, on its own, means something.