Single Greatest Desire
The connection between purpose and mimetic desire
Wide is the road that leads to destruction, and narrow is the path that leads to creation—to life.
Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList, said: “Pick your one overwhelming desire. It’s okay to suffer over that one.”
I think Naval is partly right. We certainly have to suffer in order to fulfill our greatest desire. But you don’t pick your single greatest desire; your single greatest desire picks you. Your job is to recognize and embrace it.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be sharing more about my journey and the spiritual dimension of mimetic theory—including sacrifice, the origins of violence, the role of prohibitions and taboos, the scapegoat mechanism, and how and why we’re all religious. So strap in.
There’s no avoiding it. If we don’t go there, mimetic desire will only be understood at a surface level. There’s no life hack or tool or technology that solves the “problem” of mimetic desire. In fact, it’s not a problem at all. It’s a reality. It’s part of human nature.
I believe that every person’s single greatest desire involves becoming fully alive, fully human, fully themselves.
Your single greatest desire is to do the one thing that only you can do, which starts with being the one person that only you can be. If you do not—if you are not—then the highest and best contribution that you had to make in this life will be lost to the world forever. You have an unrepeatable mission.
When you find your single greatest desire, you will possess the key to discerning (and deciding) between positive and negative mimesis, which models to adopt, and which interim goals are worthy of your pursuit.
Knowing what you have to do in life is a great winnowing fan that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff.
The longer you wait to put your finger on it, the stronger negative mimesis reigns.
That is the gravity and seriousness and awesome responsibility of what some call a vocation, some call purpose, and some call holiness.
“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to have become a saint,” wrote the French mystic Léon Bloy.
By “saint”, don’t immediately think about plaster statues and religious tropes. Bloy means someone who is capable of such immense and personal love for others that the illusory, imperial, autonomous Self—with all of its wants and desires and needs—gradually becomes less and less important as one’s life is poured out for others.
An example: Enrique Shaw was a successful (and so quite wealthy) Argentine businessman who gave himself completely for others in and through his work. He’s the kind of person who challenged and quite frankly shattered the models of entrepreneurship that I had as a young startup founder.
Shortly before he died of cancer at age 41 after a six-year battle, his workers lined up to donate blood to him. “I can tell you that now almost all the blood that runs through my veins is workers’ blood,” he said after receiving it. “I am thus more than ever identified with you, whom I have always loved and considered, not as mere executors, but also as executives.”
That’s worth putting into your pipe to smoke. Smoke it until you cough. I did.
The way “out” of mimetic rivalries and traps and misery is not to think more and more about what it is we “truly want".” It is—very unironically—to think less and less about it.
It is to lose ourselves and our false desires so as to truly find them.
The journey is long and difficult, and you won’t find a 12-step program or set of quick tips and tactics for doing so in my book, or anywhere else for that matter (and if you do, run.) But what I can say is that the journey is worth it.
I hope you’ll join me.