I’ve restarted my habit of starting off my morning by scribbling in my “morning pages,” as suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. The question I posed to myself today was, “If you have no intention of becoming someone’s partner or father, what do you plan to do for the good of yourself or your species?” I didn’t expect many answers from myself, but there are options available to the single and the childless to give themselves purpose. Below are a few suggestions.
There are human philosophies (Epicureanism, hedonism) that suggest that the great purpose for life is the pursuit of pleasure, however you care to define it. This is mostly a selfish attitude, dedicated to the gratification of one’s one senses and appetites. More/exotic foods! Adventures! Thrills! Sex! There are entire organizations and cities dedicated to this sort of thing (e.g., Las Vegas and, to a different extent, Orlando). Upside: you’ll have experienced a lot, downside: all of these experiences won’t necessarily make you a better person, nor make humanity as a whole better–though I suppose you’d be contributing to the economy spending on all that stuff.
Altruism could take many forms, from charity/philanthropy to “good works” to the full Mother Teresa route, where you renounce worldly possessions and give yourself over to caring for the poor, the sick, and the otherwise unfortunate. Pure altruism, depending on whom you talk to, is essentially renouncing your own needs to dedicate yourself completely to the needs of others. Altruism has its place, but like anything, it can be taken to an extreme. And one thing that can be frustrating about always doing for others ahead of yourself is that people can be ungrateful or take advantage of your kindness/generosity of spirit.
The arts are pretty broad these days, beyond the traditional forms, such as painting, sculpture, poetry, music (vocal/instrumental), fiction, and theater. To those one can add motion pictures, graphic design, video gaming, culinary arts, and electronic variations of nearly all of the above. You can do art for your own amusement/relaxation or try to make it your source of income (it’s best if you have something else paying the bills in the meantime–note how many actors are restaurant servers, for example). Are you so good at your art that other people will pay you to do it? Great! Are you able to establish a new aesthetic or way of thinking that influences or inspires others? Will your art, however manifested, last “for the ages?” That’s not such a bad way to be remembered, is it?
Leading/supporting a cause
There are any number of good causes out there, created for the benefit of humanity: various religions, environmentalism, animal welfare, etc. Are there causes “larger than oneself” for which you’re prepared to dedicate your life? I’ve got space exploration and settlement. I’m not much of a leader, but I do my part through various means, from paid work to volunteer advocacy. Causes, too, can make you crazy or drain your energy as volunteer organizations are always short of people, money, and time to do things as they would wish. And then there’s this caution: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
You might have a philosophical bent to your thinking. Perhaps you have ideas that others could learn from. Your ideas might be practical and focused (business consulting) or broader (self-improvement). You could be a teacher, lecturer, coach, or book writer. You could help a few lucky individuals or a few hundred thousand. Any way you do it, if you are able to educate and influence others to the better, you might find that rewarding. You’re not forming a cult, though, are you?
Politics & government
Some look upon work in the public sector as a form of service to their fellow citizens. Some folks are attracted to the power or influence government can have on the various challenges facing society. I have differentiated “politics” from “leading a cause” in that I see politics as the implementation of ideas across the population vs. working with a specific segment (e.g., people who are interested in advocating for one particular issue). Government work can have its limitations or downsides, too, such as lower pay, bureaucratic rules that delay implementation of policy, competing interests/political parties, and media/public mistrust. If you manage to do some good, though, bully for you!
This one has some overlap with other activities, such as supporting a cause (religion). The emphasis here is on your improving your own personal insights, knowledge, wisdom, connection to the Infinite, or however you choose to define them. This is more or less where I landed in my pursuits, which usually means buying and reading a lot of books, as that’s my favorite form of learning. Your approach could vary: prayer, meditation, walks through nature, pilgrimages to sacred places, or studying your preferred discipline alone or under the guidance of someone wiser.
Some folks work with their hands and derive great pleasure from designing or assembling useful objects or structures. I’m grateful for these folks because I’m not one of them and would certainly perish if I had to depend on my own tool/machine/home-building skills. Into this category, one might also include agricultural work–those providing food for an always-hungry world. Your work might change the world or it might be taken for granted. It might only be noticed when it’s done wrong, but you are contributing to the business and material progress of humankind.
And so forth. There are, as noted above, many different things you can dedicate your life to in order to find joy and fulfillment. Maybe more than one. The point of this discussion is to have you look at your life and make the decision as to whether you’re making a difference with your life–to yourself or to others–while you’re here. Otherwise, what’s the point?