Lou Reed once took some of us who were working on Laurie Anderson’s film to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. On the way, he was telling us that this restaurant made their own tofu. We were all impressed by that idea. He made sure everyone tried it. I had always assumed that making tofu required years of practice to master, like soba noodles.
Last month, out of curiosity, I researched how to make tofu. It turned out to be quite simple. People probably assume it’s difficult because practically nobody makes it at home. But the real reason nobody makes it at home, I believe, is that it’s pointless—because commercially available tofu is quite cheap and good. You would have to be obsessed with tofu to notice any difference. If the end result is indistinguishable from three-dollar tofu, why bother?
I do, not just for tofu, but also for many other things whose results give me no material benefits. It’s like choosing to walk home when your friend offers you a ride. You choose the journey, not the destination.
Living without a purpose can make us feel empty. We are always keeping tabs on what we have completed and accomplished—things we have done, places we have visited, people we have seen. We feel good when we can check items off of our lists. But these are just ideas that we are satisfying; they are not actually satisfying us.
In music, we can palpably feel this difference. There is a difference between performing for an audience and performing for yourself. Why practice, for instance, a piano piece by Bach when countless professional pianists could play it for you much better than you ever could? Because there is joy in playing it, not just in listening to it. And, this act satisfies nobody but yourself. In fact, there is nothing more annoying than listening to someone practice the same musical passage over and over.
In living a life driven by purpose, you are depriving yourself of this type of joy. Purpose is deceptive in that it never serves yourself; it always serves the Other. That is why you perpetually feel empty no matter how many items you check off of your list.
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