I used to be deeply affected by natural disasters and social issues. I wasn’t personally affected by them, but seeing how people had to ration their water supply while I was taking hot, steamy showers every night was a horrible feeling. Why did I deserve hot showers when others barely had enough to drink? I felt like I was contributing to their misfortune. I dedicated my high school and college years doing community service, because I was convinced that there was nothing more noble that I could do.
I mostly advocated for social issues, and strived to inspire others to dedicate their free time to volunteering. They were great experiences, but I ended up feeling more at odds with myself. I was disappointed that my actions were temporary. What was the point if everything will just revert back to its status quo?
Since graduating, I’ve been able to distance myself from the things I feel I “need” to do and have turned to just slowing things down. I’ve turned inward, scouring books and inside my mind to understand how I should live my life.
I came to the conclusion that, while spending time contributing to others can help both parties grow, I cannot depend my sense of achievement on them. I can’t make my life purpose to help x number of people. I can contribute for the sake of contributing, but my life purpose will always be something within my control. Whatever I dedicate myself to, that’s the thing that will have the biggest impact on others.
Alex Honnold is the first and only climber to have free soloed the 2,900-foot El Capitan in Yosemite. His main life purpose is to become the greatest free soloer that he can possibly be. After his documentary Free Solo came out, many people were inspired — but that’s a secondary effect. He never set out to inspire others, but he’s done so precisely because he’s focused on achieving his goal of greatness. He’s also doing this by causing the least amount of burden on nature as possible, by living a low-budget, vegetarian lifestyle.
I want to achieve my form of greatness at the lowest cost to nature as well. I want to contribute to the communities I immerse myself in, but my heart and soul will always be devoted to that thing that speaks to me. Only then can I say that I am living my life; I’m not living yours, and I’m living for you, I’m living for myself.
I do wonder how things would differ if I had been raised under different circumstances. Would I have arrived to the same conclusion? What if I were to have kids? Would I see them as an extension of myself, or would they force me to reevaluate my life?