The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 24, 2009

Do you know your life’s purpose?

I am not religious. Although I was raised in the Mormon faith, I currently hold no belief in a personal god or any other type of intelligent creator. I don’t pretend to understand how the universe and everything in it came to be (although I’ve read some pretty cool theories), and I’m (usually) okay with the mystery. I love this planet and this life just as it is and derive meaning without any need for supernatural forces.

I realize many Fake Plastic Fish readers hold different beliefs and that’s fine with me. I only preface my post this way because what I’m about to share and the questions I want to ask you are normally discussed within the context of religion or other spiritual system. But to me, knowing our place and purpose in this life is basic, simple, and completely natural.

So here goes. A few days ago, I was walking home from the BART station very late at night and feeling tired and overwhelmed once again. I’d finished a day at my accounting job and was contemplating work I still needed to do for the Oakland Earth Expo. The thought crossed my mind, as it has many times in the last two years, that I could just stop. Quit. Give up blogging and activism and reaching out to strangers. I could go back to my private little life of watching movies, playing with my kitties, and hanging out with Michael. What’s wrong with that?

These kinds of thoughts come when I’m tired and usually dissolve as soon as I’ve had enough sleep. I know that, and was in the process of reminding myself of this fact, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by an inner voice that said, “You can’t quit because this isn’t yours to quit in the first place. The blog… the activism… the reaching out… you don’t do them; they do you.”

I’ve heard this voice before — once on top of a peak overlooking Death Valley and once during last year’s all night vision fast — and I absolutely trust it. If I were religious, I’d probably say it was God. Since I’m not, I just think it’s something we all have inside us that knows precisely who we are and our place in this world, something preverbal and very primal, that can’t be fooled by the machinations of our left brains. The part of us that understands how ultimately, there’s no separation between us and anything else.

I had all kinds of other realizations that night too. It was kind of like being on acid, actually, except without the cool hallucinations. I understood that my eco activism, and this blog in particular, are expressions of my ultimate place in this world, my purpose, and that to quit right now would be a rejection of who I am, in the largest possible sense. I also realized that the parts of me that I perceive as character flaws… jealousy, perfectionism, obsession, even procrastination… are part of what make me perfectly and uniquely suited to carry out that purpose. And finally, I realized how much I love Oakland and that in addition to finding my place in terms of life purpose, I’ve also found my place geographically… the place where I feel truly at home.

When I tried explaining these things to Michael, he thought it all sounded pretentious. And maybe it does. But to me, it feels like the opposite of pretension… like total humility. Because there’s nothing in it I can own for myself, in the small sense. Nothing for the ego to grasp and claim for itself, try as it might.

So, if this makes any sense at all to you, I’d love to know what you think. Do you know why you’re here and what your purpose is on this planet? Do religion or spirituality play a part? Are you searching to figure out who you are and what you should be doing? Are you content to simply be?

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14 years ago

i am an atheist, i do not believe in any god and i prefer to do good for the sake of good not punishment or reward.
i think i know what my purpose in life is but it is related to my field: engineering
i love the challenge to design things that consume as less energy as possible and i can’t understand people that consume so much when for a species to survive it must consume as less energy as possible- that’s why we get fat with fast food

... It's The Journey
14 years ago

We all have that “little voice”, but many times we just push it away, drown it out – pretend it doesn’t exist…
Authenticity exists when we actually pay attention to that voice/feeling/God…
Part of your “calling” is the example you show many….
Beth, may you find many Blessings along your continued “Journey”…

14 years ago

To Clif: That was brilliant. Thanks for posting it.

To Beth:
from Clif’s post:
Using the litter example (always my favorite) – if you think about an irresponsible person dropping it and expect that that person should pick it up, into a bad mood and anger you go.

Does that remind you of something that happened when we were strolling en masse down Market St, having tricked you into thinking we were going to karaoke?

Greg Koski
14 years ago

Don’t stop. Personally, I enjoy your writing, your passion and your friendliness (lack of angry negativism) while continuing to make your points.

While we don’t agree on most, I value your voice. I’m sure MANY people do.

Hang in there, we have many disagreements to cover yet :-)

14 years ago

I had a similar moment earlier this year. After graduating high school with high honors, and going to the best university in the state for two years I still felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, or why I was doing any of it. I wanted to quit it all and just be a professional hippie, just a person who told other people about ways they could be a little more kind to the environment, and themselves. I have always been interested in women’s rights and natural health care, and in pursuing my hobbies, I found what I believe I am truly Meant To Do. I want to be a midwife. I want women to be able to birth their children on their own terms, and I want to be able to help them if they want it. Plain and simple. Call it an epiphany, or message from beyond, but it truly came from nothing, and then seemed so obvious that it was perfect.

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

I’m a Christian (I go to a Presbyterian church but I relate to the Quakers) . As I’m sure you have seen from my blog it drives me nuts that Christians aren’t more environmental. I feel that as a Christian the earth is a gift we should take care of and we are disrespecting God when we don’t.

I also understand the times of just wanting to quit. When my fibro starts to flare and I haven’t slept more than a few hours at a time in weeks and people seem to just be fighting me on all the environmental things I just want to quit but I know I must keep going. I can’t wait for others to do it.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

David, you just keep making those glass straws and spreading happiness. Although we have only met via the Internet, I can tell we’re kindred spirits.


Everyone, thanks for your input. I love how we all find meaning in our own ways, and that the Web makes it possible to share in ways we never could have just a few years ago.

14 years ago

Holy S***, Beth!! The same thing happened to me.

I guess it was obvious to many of us that you had found your calling, much in the same way that I found mine, but didn’t realize it for about a year.

How exciting!! I only wish that there was a way to package it and give it to everyone, but, alas, we can only give it away by BEING who we are and honoring everyone else knowing that they ARE on their path.

Write on!!

14 years ago

Dear Beth,

I just watched you letter to oprah on youtube. I have been following your blog for a long time, and have always found it a wonderful source of inspiration, ideas and information. I wanted to send a quick thank you.


John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

Never doubt the value of your activities. As for returning to previous attitudes, “You cannot be serious” (Johnny Mac).

This is now a worldwide movement of related trends which is affecting current unsustainable practices.

When business sees the value as well the various problems will be addressed.

14 years ago

I am so glad that in the end you decided to carry on! I am in awe of the things you accomplish and the knowledge you possess. You are such an inspiration. For me you have illuminated things that I would never have thought to use like glass straws and skoy cloths. You have helped me to become even more thoughtful about each purchase I make and everything I discard.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


Green Fundraising
14 years ago

I think spirituality comes in many forms. It can be religious or life’s purpose. When you are truly happy with what your focus is in life, and feel that you are truly contributing to leaving a positive mark for the children to come behind you, then you may feel true spirituality.

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on your blog consistently!

14 years ago

Beth – this is indeed your purpose and I for one am thankful that it is. You are a leading light on something that is so necessary and I am in constant awe of how you do so much whilst holding down another job too. But I know what you mean about those moments when you catch yourself unawares and think about the possiblity of stopping. I experience that too.

Yet there is something inside that keeps me going, despite lack of time and everything else I should be doing. I don’t know what it is and sometimes I wish it would run off and leave me to my own devices, but I trust in it. And it’s a huge trust which I rely on to guide me each day. The funny thing is my trust in this instinct sometimes makes me wonder if I’m simply going crazy. But for the first time in years I’m feeling rather sane.

Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re needed. :-D

14 years ago

I don’t mind working with crazy people, or homeless people, or parolees, or gang kids. I don’t mind walking into communities I don’t know, marginalized communities in our country or the third world, and getting to know people and seeing what it is I can do that they think would help them best. I don’t mind these things, and in fact I really enjoy them. But that’s not “normal” in the sense that not everybody could do these things. And knowing this doesn’t make me pretentious. Knowing this just makes it all the more clear to me that if I can do these things but I choose not to… who else will?

I couldn’t go on a crusade against plastic like you’ve done, although I’ve made changes in my life, and convinced other people to make similar changes. On a small scale. I can’t do what you do. So if you don’t do it, who will take it up? Maybe somebody, but not me.

My mom teaches high school. She could never teach elementary school. My friend teaches elementary school. She could never teach high school.

I guess there comes a point at which we decide what it is that we are willing to do, and what we must do. And when these things collide, we can only hope that it is also what we want to do. That’s the lucky trifecta of purpose, yeah?

So go for it. And it’s okay if you get tired sometimes, because you’re lucky in the fact that you *choose* to do this. There’s no “they don’t pay me enough for this”. This is you. Just go for it.

14 years ago

I definitely can’t say why I’m here and what my purpose is on the planet. I do know that I feel urged to love, always love, teach love and be love. I feel that I’m hear to listen and guide those who cross my path and always learn from them as well. I feel that I’m to learn the lesson of how beautiful my surroundings are in their natural state.

being drawn to blogs like yours is part of what’s inside me to want to do more and to be more active and I thank you for posting and doing what you do.

knutty knitter
14 years ago

I like to improve things if I can.

I think my beliefs are much like clif. I can’t fool myself with other people’s inventions no matter how ancient/modern or whatever.

I read here because its fun to see what others are thinking and doing and then to try doing things too. You do inspire and I am still here reading after more than a year :) (and another plastic bag bit the dust today – replaced by fabric.)

viv in nz

14 years ago

Guess my comment on your BARTcard-blog came a entry too early … so, I’ll just repeat it here :)

Beth, ever since I started reading your blog I’ve feeled inspired and really activated to dosomething myself. Few steps have already been taken, but at least my mind has turned. Thank you for that!

Vera, Amsterdam
(who is better in reading english than writing it, sxuse me…)

14 years ago

Although I can’t speak to the higher purpose of life, I strongly feel that you speak to a large audience, and, most importantly, to me! I check your blog a couple times a week and love your activism, even more so because it makes me evaluate what I am doing in my everyday life. Please, never stop!
P.S. It also gives me the opportunity to send pics of you and Michael in costume to Daddy Bo and the rest of the fam. That alone means you can’t stop.

Anarres Natural Health
14 years ago

Dearest Beth,

You are one of the most perfect human beings I have ever encountered. Perfect in the sense of a tree being and doing perfectly its tree-ness. You are DOING in this world and that, for me, is Creator-given purpose. I am a Christian of Jewish Christian practice. I am partnered to a Magician and work with mostly Wiccans and Buddhists. No one needs to follow my patyh unless it is theirs. But I thrive on shared values.

The last time I heard THAT VOICE, which for me was from an angelic being, I was told I was "exigente" (French is my first language) sort of like "exacting" and it was meant as both a criticism and a compliment – rather more like a FACT I need to consider about myself. The first time I was visited I was told I had stuff to do in life. These moments of hearing the undoubtable VOICE are worth a lifetime of acid, pretention, empty religious practice and depressive pondering. Those moments for me are REAL reality.

I wish for you sleep and self care. 9 hours of wholesome rest per night, efficiency infused with joy by day. Because we cherish your work and need you.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

14 years ago

There are a couple of things that came to mind. Let me make the case for selfishness.

> I'm mortal. That means one life with no going back and no re-runs. Being is finite, non-being is infinite. That makes being precious.

The tapestry of your being is yours alone to weave. Suicide is not good because it cuts the tapestry shorter than it could be. Progressing age is fine because you can always change the direction of the weave as you observe what you've done so far. Progress is yours to define.

> If I do one thing, I can't do another. I have no choice but to choose. Pondering a choice is paralyzing. Act!

I could sit under the stars and ask what does it all mean, but no answer will come except from me.

There is no objective meaning though there are standard answers to this question that millions have accepted and that can help to put anxiety at bay. But it is still only individual choice a million times over, that is, what you decide about "what it all means" is in no way inferior to what other decide. If many follow "a way" it doesn't demean your way.

Not to say one can ever be anxiety-free as anxiety goes with consciousness. Keep moving, it will pass or, if it is a constant then check out medications with a doc, there are some very effective ones available. Does that sound materialist? Yes, that's all we have to go on and what makes us tick.

I never wonder about a god because the question is beyond my ability to answer. I can't think of any statement I could make about it that would be any more than make believe. An afterlife, and a benevolent god that loves us sounds great but I can't fool myself.

When my end comes I'll be as gone as a squirrel hit by a car. But oh, my goodness, how indescribably better to have been a human than a squirrel! What luck. How can I complain?

So, putting some ultimate meaning aside as unknowable, a much simpler and direct question drives me – am I making things better or worse? If I go through a day and simply pick up a piece of litter, that day is a success, let alone helping someone carry something heavy, picking up a bike that has fallen over etc. Nothing is too simple to be seen in the better/worse balance. Be vigilant for what needs doing! Simply go outside and look around. I bet anyone could spot room for improvement.

This always makes me laugh because improving the world is so great a task that you can spend your life doing it and still have work to be done. So get busy!

Some people long to do great things – that's fine, but in the mean time do little things. If picking up a piece of trash is good, think of what making someone's day is worth. If my bunny tells me "you're so sweet to me." that gives me a fantastic feeling inside. How can there ever be too much of this kind of selfishness?

The secret to happiness is not to place blame and use it to prevent action. Using the litter example (always my favorite) – if you think about an irresponsible person dropping it and expect that that person should pick it up, into a bad mood and anger you go.

The world is as it is and people are as they are. So what are YOU doing that is making things better even if nobody but you knows about it? It's a great way to be selfish – doing it because you feel good doing it and everyone benefits.

The big question that we all should ask ourselves continually is – why do I do what I do?

I make the answer simple. After all, who needs a headache: because it makes things better.

14 years ago

Your comments today remind me of my all-time favorite quote.
“…Vocation is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet…” Frederick Buechner
It just so happens to be by a theologian, but at the same time I think it transcends religious contexts. I think about it often and try to use it as a compass in deciding how to spend my time, so that I can do more things I am “called” to do, and fewer things that I am “asked” to do. I agree with some of the other commenters that a person’s vocation can evolve and change at different points in life, and that is part of being on this journey. In the past, my vocation was mentoring college-aged women and helping them develop leadership skills. Right now, it is to be a mom and raise children who respect themselves, others, and their world, and I am sure that as they grow and gain independence my vocation will evolve again. Its fun to know that there is still some unfolding yet to be done in my life . . . I am glad yours has drawn you to this work – many of us appreciate your efforts.

14 years ago

I don’t find your post pretentioud at all- I am also not religous, being a member of a certain well known 12 step program, I have learned to believe in a higher power. I don’t belive in dogma or organized religions, but do believe in spiritaulity. I believe in live and let live. And I also hear voices- usually my mom or my boss yelling at me to get to work!

14 years ago

I love that you heard that voice!! I wish we would all have an experience like that. I think what the voice said has been said since the beginning. There is something similar written in The Tao, I believe. I think your mission is one that is important to the earth, but also to those of us here living on it. We are all connected and by seeing how our actions on this earth effect each other we see that we are connected in many ways. You are a vehicle that is spreading a message of connectedness. It comes in many forms! The fact that you don’t have an ego about it…all the better. Thank you for sharing!!

Farmer's Daughter
14 years ago

I don’t believe in any religion. Others would call me an atheist but I prefer to just think of myself as without religion. (Even “atheist” or “non-believer” is too much of a religion label for me.) I believe that I am in charge of my own happiness, and I do things that make me happy. Caring for the earth and living simply make me happy, so I do them. I do, however, feel a responsibility to future generations to preserve the environment for the survival of the human species. Maybe it’s my biology degrees talking, but I think the only real “purpose” we have here is for survival of the species, either by reproducing or caring for the earth so that others may survive.

From a philosophical standpoint, I feel that my purpose right now is to educate. I love teaching, even though it’s tough and sometimes I think about quitting. But like you, I can’t quit because I feel it’s my niche, or my purpose. It’s what I do.

14 years ago

I feel like I don’t know what my purpose is, or I don’t really have one. I’m a little bit jealous that you do. :)

For right now, my most important job is to mother my small children. It will have to do. Although, honestly, it’s so very nearly all-consuming that there’s not room for much else. Later, maybe.

Also, I don’t think you’re being pretentious at all. If we didn’t have people like you, who would spur us on to greater action? Help raise awareness? Found movements? Better to border on pretension than hide and accomplish little.

14 years ago

I’m glad you didn’t give up, because your blog is making a difference. I read you on BlogHer, too and was delighted to see what you carry in your backpack. I’m going to add some of these items to my life.

14 years ago

You have definitely found your purpose, or as so often happens, your purpose has found you. During my life I’ve had various purposes, depending on where I was at the time. Right now, I’m just abiding in my Lord and waiting for my next purpose makes itself known. You are providing a great service and have encouraged my in you fight against plastic. You’ve opened my eyes to all the places it hides, and now I’m much more concientious about trying to keep it out of my life.

Barb in FL
14 years ago

Beth, I think that you found your purpose, with your involvement in making it a better world with the less plastic undertaking (I didn't want to call it a campaign!). I can't say that I've found mine here in sunny FL yet, I try to help make those around me better informed of more earth friendly ways & to spread the word about your blog! I am non-denominational faith-wise, and do feel that everyone has a purpose here on earth–whether they know what the purpose is or not.

14 years ago

Apparently, MY purpose is to make sure my loved are well-informed of the pertinent lolcats and fail blogs, etc. We all have a calling.

14 years ago

I want to let you know that your post is not pretentious at all!

14 years ago

I can SOOO relate to how you are feeling!
Fifteen years ago my husband and I were living and working in suburbia, fighting every environmental battle around and very busy trying to earn a living, raise two wonderful daughters and do our part.
Ten years ago we moved everything to an off-grid home in the woods, a 3+ hours drive away and told ourselves that our days of activism and volunteering were over… from now on we were going to look after our own little piece of the planet!
Well…. as you can imagine… that didn’t last very long. The next thing we knew there was a factory hog farm threatening to open up nearby and a mining company threatening to dig up uranium and guess what… we are right back into the thick of things!
Once you become aware of the problems and start caring about this wonderful planet of ours, you can’t just turn it off!

14 years ago

I absolutely am not commenting with the aim of converting anybody, just to express where I am with this. There is a great quote I read from a pastor named Ray Ortlund, who basically said that if you believe that you were created by a god who knows you, then you are actually not just a random biped grinding through this life, you are fundamentally a strategy, placed here to do something important. Your job is to find out what you are here for. And it sounds like you have! Purpose, calling, whatever; you know you are doing something that is both important and good, and even though that task might be challenging and tiring, it’s “a good kind of tired” :)