Questions about the Usefulness of Self-Importance

by LeoHolman 3 min read27th May 201810 comments


I spend a great deal of my time thinking about how to develop myself. I often wonder about what the most effective way to achieve a goal is, say, learning Mandarin Chinese, and often find the answer lies in a much more critical question. /Why/ am I trying to achieve that goal. I struggled with this idea of a "root goal" the primary function of my life that would give order to all other subgoals and I eventually settled on "to be a good human being", as unsatisfactory as that is, because I found no meaningful or fulfilling progress in existential questions of this nature.

Moving on with the understanding that I am not able to articulate my /best/ purpose I've been working on figuring out /a/ purpose and achieving that in the best way possible. This has lead me to a point of struggle and I'm hoping for some different perspectives.

I've taken personality and work compatibility survey's in the past and the general advice is to choose something that you feel naturally inclined to do and you'll naturally excel at it. Not necessarily without effort, but you'll fight yourself less of the time which will generally make everything easier. I find myself making plans to solve some great problem and fantasizing about how I would do it. For example, I am a politician in some unnamed American town and I have taken up a policy to move the town into 100% renewable energy. What would I do? I find this to be largely masturbatory as I rarely produce any useful thinking or insight but often have the sensation that I am both great and generous and quite clever.

For as long as I can remember I've placed more importance on potential than actual performance. That is, I don't mind at all if I completely bomb a test if I feel like I've improved a lot since the last time I tried, I'll still have the sense that it's only a matter of time before all past failures are rendered null by my growth. I think this is a personality disposition exaggerated by watching too much Shounen Anime when I was young. I believe that due to this disposition I tend to solve problems top down, finding out what the ideal situation would be like, then working backwards until I have a plan to reach the ideal.

To come back to the point, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life. I'm only 22 years old but I only have a year until I finish my undergraduate. I find that it's becoming increasingly difficult to manage my time mostly because I'm not sure what I will do after I graduate. I alternate between setting up a cozy life that I'm certain I could thrive in, (example: returning to my home town to teach) or committing my life to bettering a portion of the world larger than what's just in front of me at the cost of my own comfortability, or at least my sense of security. (example: pursuing a master's degree in renewable energy to return to my hometown to start a grassroots movement to switch to 100% renewable energy with intent to leverage that position to develop a model for dealing with trash that could be applied to other cities like it. )

My question is this; how much responsibility should I have? I think that people in great positions naturally have greater responsibility, but people of great capability are not always the best choices for great positions. I am namely thinking of Mao Zedong when I say this. Here was a person who was extremely adept at political maneuvers, rising to and staying in power until his death of natural causes. However, his intent virtually ruined China, his paranoia and his ego lead a nation of people back generations in thinking and development. I obviously think that I would do less harm if I found myself in a great position, but I suspect equally that incompetence could cause harm and I am not yet certain my competence is sufficient.

So I come to another question. Since I believe in developing potential, is it better to set my sights as high as possible and spend my whole life striving to meet that goal, or to set a goal that is more realistically obtainable and strive to meet that, creating a new, further goal should I meet the first one? In terms of development it seems to be basically the same, but in terms of planning they are very different. It seems that history generally indicates that many people vying for great positions is generally bad for everyone, and that cooperation is generally smoother in all regard. I've been learning about Chinese history lately so I'm thinking of corrupted communist officials harming the people the are responsible for for the sake of climbing the ladder. I've spoken with a professor at my college who is well respected within the community as an expert in sustainable development, and she forwards the idea that the most stable and immediate growth comes form within a community, not without. That is, when a local leader, perhaps a school board member or a city hall member, organizes community movements that benefit the community, progress tends to stick because it empowers the community to help themselves. I fear that if I commit to a life of trying to obtain a great position I may cause myself unnecessary grief and ultimately do less good than if I merely did what I could with what's in front of me.

Also, Hello everyone. My name's Leo and I'm new here.