Know Your Telos

Which would be worse: To one day wake up in the middle of the night wondering what the point has been of all your hard work, or to go through your entire life without once stopping to ponder that question.

To understand justice and morality, ancient Greek philosophers contemplated what they called telos, or one’s ultimate purpose. This philosophy has carried over into our contemporary culture. In our professional and personal lives some of us take the time to think about why we do whatever it is we do. Others shy away from this sort of longterm thinking, believing it to be frivolous, and instead believe it’s better to muscle through the work at hand—get it all done. Still others may go through the work of developing a mission statement or a manifesto, but then quickly let the notion slip away, buried beneath the demands of the day.

This is a shame. For whatever flaws there are in teleological philosophy, understanding telos is not only important to help us do what is right and just, it is also paramount to having a full appreciation of life.

Knowing your true purpose is an evolutionary undertaking. We must examine it throughout our lives and come to an explicit understanding of why we put in effort the way we do. Such existential quandaries are more than an academic exercise. They allow us to understand how we can provide the greatest meaningful contribution while at the same time feel a sense of joy and fulfillment.

Know your telos. Without it you are neglecting the very core of what it means to be a human being. We have been granted the tremendous gift of self-awareness. To drift through life without pondering your significance and uniqueness is nothing short of tragic. You are significant and unique, and it is up to you to figure out why.

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