Purpose vs. Friends

“When you have purpose, you don’t need friends,” the captured villain says to the politician. Of course, that only lasts as long as she isn’t threatened with harm to her daughter. Still, bad girl or not, she has a point: When we’re on a mission, work becomes its own reward.

Most of us go through a phase in life when — usually in our 20s — we don’t yet know who we are or what we want to do. As we’re figuring it out, we tend to plaster relationships across the hole, hoping they’ll fill the void. We attend every barbecue we’re invited to, sign up for hip-hop class, and will gladly sacrifice an hour to meet even the flimsiest of connections.

The longer we do it, however, the more we realize: What works as a temporary replacement can’t replace the real thing. Over time, each next round at the pub becomes less satisfying. We find ourselves going back to friends we’ve held since the early days, and we wish we had a bigger picture to serve that doesn’t depend on our latest LinkedIn connection showing up to the introductory call.

Purpose is something you can find. It’s also something you can pick. The more scales you can improvise with on the piano, the more you’ll enjoy playing. Purpose is often a matter of sticking with something long enough until it becomes fun enough to keep doing it forever.

For some of us, that thing will chiefly involve other people. If you’re the one organizing the book club, hosting the annual Gatsby party, or match-making couples for a living, relationships are your purpose. If your mission is a more solitary adventure, however, it’s okay to use Friday nights for resting or tinkering rather than hanging out with friends — and especially with “friends.”

Purpose is the fuel that will never cancel on us last-minute. It is elusive but attainable and, once you have it, usually sustainable. Nothing in this life will completely absolve us of the need for friendship, but when you have your own reason for being here, you’ll jump through a lot fewer social hoops, and you’ll be glad you no longer care whether you’ll stick every landing.

Pick purpose. Cherish friends. May either one carry you where the other won’t go.