When Steve was a child he asked his parents what was the purpose of life. “To get a good job, have a good family, and have a good dog,” they said and smiled. Steve had a good dog; her name was Lily. Steve was so excited to grow up so he could get a good job and make a good family. Then he would have everything and he would be happy. But then Lily died. Steve was very sad so he went to church and asked his pastor what was the purpose of life. “To be humble and kind to all your fellow people so that you will be rewarded in the afterlife,” he said. Steve was very kind to his friends and family, and everyone at his school, especially Suzy, the prettiest girl in school. He very badly wanted Suzy to be his girlfriend, but he never showed off in front of her. When Steve won the mile race at school he did not tell Suzy, and he put his trophy straight into his closet. Tommy came in second place but he brought his medal to school and wore it around his neck. He showed it to Suzy and made mean jokes about everyone else he had beaten. She laughed and told Tommy how funny he was. Tommy asked her if she would be his girlfriend and she said yes. They went out to get ice cream and Steve never ran another race again.
Instead he started studying more and doing very well in school. When he graduated high school he was at the top of his class, but he did not know what to do after school. So he asked his favorite teacher what was the purpose of life. “To go to college and learn as much as you can, and never stop learning,” she said. So Steve went to the very best college he got into and took the hardest classes and spent every night studying. After four years he went straight to graduate school and spent six more years working and studying. When he graduated, he had a Ph.D. and over $200,000 in debt. He wanted to stay in school so he could keep learning and be happy, but he did not have any money to support himself. So he went to the bank and applied for more student loans. The accountant told him he was in too much debt and needed to quit school and get a job. Steve told him that the purpose of life was to never stop learning but the accountant laughed. “The purpose of life is to make as much money as you can so you can buy anything you want and never have to rely on anyone,” he said. Steve did not like having to ask for money, so he realized the accountant must be right. He got a job at an investment firm and started working eighty hours a week. After two years he had paid back all of his debt and after two more years had made over a million dollars. He bought a fancy sports car and a giant house, and ate at the most expensive restaurants. His coworkers went on expensive vacations to exotic locations, but Steve never took any time off of work. Instead he worked late every night and even on weekends. He would still be working when the custodians came in to clean the office at nine o’clock pm. One of them, named Reynold, whistled while he worked, and would always smile at Steve. “Working late again?” he would say. “I have to make more money,” Steve would reply, and Reynold would frown. One day Reynold asked him why he did not go home to his family for once. “I do not have a family,” Steve said, and Reynold frowned deeper. “Why do you make so much money if not to support your family?” he asked. Steve told him thatthe purpose of life was to make as much money as you can, so by now he must be one of the happiest men on Earth. Reynold said that he considered himself on of the happiest men on Earth, and he was very poor. Steve saw that this was true and so asked Reynold what he thought was the purpose of life. “To find love, of course,” he said.
So Steve quit his job and began searching for love. He joined every online dating site and went out of his way to meet women. Most of the women were his age, and some were younger, and even a few were older. The women his age thought that he wasn’t mature enough, the younger women thought he wasn’t fun enough, and the older women thought he wasn’t serious enough. They all thought he was not handsome enough. Then Steve met Karen. She shared all his interests, had a similar background, was about his same age, and even thought he was funny. If she thought he was not handsome enough she never said so. They went on three great dates and then Steve decided he was in love. He asked Karen to marry him and she said yes. They got married the very next week and then went for a honeymoon in the Bahamas. They sat on the beach holding hands in the sun and Steve asked Karen if it was not great that they had been able to achieve the purpose of life, but she just frowned. “The purpose of life is to be happy in the moment, and just follow your impulses,” she said. Then she told Steve that she had been sleeping with the bellhop at their hotel and was going to stay and be a hostess at the beach bar.
Steve flew back to his home, alone, and did not know what to do. Each time someone else had told him the purpose of life it had turned out to be wrong. So he decided he needed to discover the true purpose of life for himself. He packed a few necessities into a bag and walked into the mountains. He walked and walked until he was far away from everyone else and there he lived for many years, surviving in the wilderness and pondering his life. He foraged with the bears and ran with the wolves and drank from lakes with the deer. He would go whole days without seeing another living creature and weeks without saying a word. Steve grew very old and his beard began to drag on the ground, but still he had not discovered the purpose of life. So, after many years of living alone in the wilderness, Steve decided to come back to civilization to see if someone had discovered it while he was gone. He walked out of the mountains and into the city. There he saw all the people who had gone on living their normal lives while he had been gone; not much had changed, but he saw it all in a new light now. Walking down the streets he saw children laughing and skipping, businessmen talking on their phones, couples arguing, young people biking, angry drivers honking, men as old as him sitting on park benches alone, people moving with the crowd and others pushing their way against it, young boys talking about baseball, and grown men talking about baseball, and people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages saying hello to each other. Not one of these people had figured out what the purpose of life was, but Steve smiled, because he knew why they had not. There was no universal purpose. Everyone has to figure out their destiny for themselves. The only way someone can be wrong is if they let someone else tell them how to live their life, and the only way they can know if they are doing it right is if they are happy. Walking down the street, looking at all the different people in different stages of their life, thinking about all the mistakes he had made and the deeds he had accomplished, holding his long grey beard so it did not drag on the ground, Steve was happy.