The most dangerous word that has wrecked a lot of people in their mid 20’s (if they are self aware) or if they are in their mid 30’s (when they have a grip on their financial success) or in their nearing 40’s (yours truly but largely because of so many different interests) is Purpose.

For many years I have gone through many of these mid life criseses and I regularly expect them whenever I’m embarking on something new or different. I’m here to tell you it’s normal to have these. Especially if it leads to some self awareness and discovery.

I thought the word purpose means something different for everyone. That you must have a purpose in your life in order to exist or have a fruitful life. I wrestled for so many years thinking that Purpose = one thing you were born for. Purpose has to be that for existence (because let’s face it after a certain point you’ll find religion is a good binding story but at the end it is a story). And then I watched Pixar’s Soul.

And it all became clear that what I was wrestling with so many years just needed a Pixar movie to clarify.

Soul focuses on asking an important question. What is the purpose of life? If you haven’t watched the movie, I urge you to watch it before you read this post. Here’s a trailer.

Soul deals with the central proposition of life being given to someone who is ready to live after a spark is discovered. It’s interesting that some personalities are baked in before the birth to almost think that some tendencies are genetic. I have come to believe an environment shapes a person far more than their genes do although there are some tendencies for the gene to dominate. I’m a lot more like my dad as I grow older while being my mom in certain areas.

In order to live one needs a spark to get started but it’s the act of living daily that’s the purpose. Purpose isn’t some one thing that you can do for the rest of your life (although you could and few do), but it’s the act of living in anyway you want within the means afforded to you.

That’s powerful.

Because it liberates you to let you do whatever you want knowing that the only way you can be stopped is if you’re dead. That doesn’t mean it recommends being a murderer or going against the law, it means that should you choose to do something in your life you have the permission to do so. In fact your soul encourages it.

It’s interesting they took Jazz as the background because Jazz is the form of music that’s built around improvisation. There’s no set piece you play, you get into the flow sometimes but a lot of it is just poking, prodding, discovering and then making music. Which is the essence of life. You poke, you prod, you discover, you learn, you make mistakes and then you do it all over again.

That’s the self reflection scene Joe has with Dorothea where he is like, “What happens next?” and she replies, “We come back and do this all over again”. He takes a moment to think and say, “I have been waiting my whole life for this moment, I thought I’d feel different”. And then Dorothea mentions a story of a little fish swimming around asking the big fish where’s this thing called the Ocean that I have heard so much about? “The Ocean?” huffs the big fish, “What you see around you is the Ocean”, he says. The little fish looks around and says, “oh you mean this? This is the water, I want the ocean”.

These 10 seconds of dialogue gives an insight into an important point.

Stop searching for something that makes you lose sight of what’s around you. Life isn’t about some grand one off moment standing that changes everything, it’s about the daily things that you live with.

There’s another scene that’s particularly powerful where they walk through all the achievements the person had after they died. I was riveted looking at that list of “causal” events and our protaganist, Joe, mostly had rejections. This is beautiful storytelling.

Significant events leave an impression on our soul.

There’s so much to talk about Soul and everything Pixar did and I’ll do a full review of all my takes later but I thought this thought about purpose had to be tackled first.

Joe Gardener in Soul