How to Live a Purposeful Life

Dear friend,

A life suggestion: only make photos which give you personal meaning in life, and live a life which feel purposeful to you.

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What is “purpose”?

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The word purpose comes from the Latin word, propono or “proponent”

And “propono” means to set forth, make known, declare, and to propose/designate.

So to me, a purpose in life is to set forth in your own life, and to make others know, and to declare, your own proposition and designation in life. For you to dictate your own direction in life, for you to let others know what gives you a sense of meaning in life.

Essentially giving yourself a life task which you deem worthy of yourself, worthy of your energy, human metabolism and energy, and the time while you’re still on earth!

Do you need to have a purpose in life?

Not necessarily.

For example, a tree doesn’t need a “purpose” in order to grow, it simply grows.

A dog doesn’t need a “purpose” in life; it simply stays loyal to its master, and lives accordingly.

The same with us — we don’t need to have a purpose to live our lives. However, I would say that having a purpose in life is like sailing our boat with a compass on board: we have a general direction we’re heading, and although we cannot avoid the rough tides and grueling weather, we can decide which direction to steer!

And in your life, you have the power to steer your ship whatever direction you choose. However, the way the weather is going to behave isn’t in your control. But it’s in your control how you react, and you can control your own actions.

Make purposeful photos

Cindy vui

I also feel we should make purposeful photos; photos which give us some sort of deeper meaning in life.

For example, photos that will still be beneficial to society, even after you’re dead!

Funeral grave

I’ve been studying a lot of dead photographers recently, like Philip Jones Griffith, Eve Arnold, and Garry Winogrand. Even though they’re dead, the fruit of their labor (their photos) still inspire and uplift my soul! The beauty they capture amazes me, and inspires me to make my own art.

Philip Jones Griffith also made photos that served a higher social and political purpose —to change the opinion that Americans and the world had about the war!

Lewis Hines was also another influential photographer-sociologist, who used his camera to uncover the brutality of child labor.

How to life a purposeful life

Cindy mom grave

First of all, recognize that your own truth in life doesn’t (and shouldn’t) apply to others. We all should have the power to dictate our own purpose and path in life, and we have the power to dictate what gives us meaning in life.

Therefore, we must announce to ourselves what gives us a strong sense of meaning in our life.


For example for myself, I get the strongest sense of purpose and significance in life when I help empower others. Now this shouldn’t be a universal rule or purpose in life. Instead, I’ve just discovered through years of trial and error, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and this is what helps put me to sleep at night — knowing that I might have written a few words that might have helped a few folks, that I have made a few photos that inspired others to find beauty in their own lives, or provided or shared information that empowered someone else.

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Ultimately I say this:

If your photos, poems, writing, or life has the potential to empower at least one other human being on planet earth, it’s worth doing.

And let’s focus on action — doing stuff! And recognize even your words are action. Text, poetry, and the spoken voice can stir the heart-strings of your reader or viewer.

Zen Kyoto

And yes, as a photographer — you’re also a visual poet!

You’re going to die tonight in your sleep

Cindy Hanoi eric

And lastly, memento mori. You literally don’t know if you’re going to die in a car accident today, or perhaps die in your sleep. So let’s stay prepared — spend your 24 hours today wisely and purposefully. Focus on things which you deem significant and important.

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If today were your last day on earth, what would you make, and what wouldn’t you make or do?


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