Is There Purpose to Your ‘Must-Do’ List?

UPDATED: May 14, 2016
PUBLISHED: May 11, 2016

When my son was small, I was driven by some indefinable urge to teach him how to respect structure. You make your bed because it creates order. He always questioned me as if I was somehow missing something—that it will be undone again. “Why then, must I make the bed?” he asked. It does not change anything. It does not add anything. I laughed, knowing he would someday see the wisdom in my lesson and recognize the silliness of his argument.

Now, as he dutifully follows the bed-making ritual in adulthood, I find myself in reverse. Why must I make the bed? It does not change anything. It does not add anything. It will be undone again ultimately. If things hit enough of an extreme in your life, creating a polar field between abundantly good and despairingly bad, the gap between the ultimates begins to widen. You question what you otherwise might have accepted as fact.

All of this might sound like a workaround for the simple question, “What’s the point?” But I would like to elevate the query: What is ultimate? You can spend a lifetime following checkpoints to progress, running from one manufactured responsibility to another, without any external view of why. But you wouldn’t proceed on an endless, meaningless journey if you know there is no real purpose to your “must-do” list. It’s the very nature of proceeding to be impelled without volition.

Related: Answer 6 Questions to Reveal Your Life Purpose

But if you have to keep rebuilding your life when things fall apart, they start to boil down to what ultimately remains at the end of the pursuit. Why do we just start reassembling destructed material without question? The answer challenges an absolute truth, and ultimately, but for a time, in the absence of the old order, it creates a bit of instability in the framework. A whole host of things formerly presumed “important” fall off. And then you have to dig for what is true, ultimately.

I thought I learned everything about the reason for adversities the first three or four times I lost everything. Among the revelations lending meaning to the struggle: the new life was “better” than the one it gave way to; I have an indomitable spirit and the will to overcome.

But this last round taught me something else. If you stay in a place of loss long enough, you will experience a pause in the urge to make it all good again. Instead, you might find your life driven by a need to do only what changes something, what adds something, because there is no sense to surplus experience.

So that might become the new test. Do only what adds or changes something. I would like to say that as a result of this awareness, I stopped making my bed. But that is not what happened. Instead, I stopped thinking that it mattered, ultimately, and that opened up room for something else that did.

Related: How to Find Your ‘Why’ in Life

Debbie Sanders is a lawyer and the owner of Bar-None Prep where she teaches a bar exam preparation method aimed at creating a "methodical and predictable” approach to the exam while placing an emphasis on the spirit and well-being of the person taking the exam. Debbie is also an author, writing mostly about purpose and overcoming adversity, and in addition to her essays, she is currently writing a book entitled The Spiritual Path to Passing the Bar based on her experiences teaching bar exam students for more than 15 years.