Maybe your purpose in life is to serve as an example to others of what not to do? That's a thought that actually cheers me up when I'm feeling down, because at least it adds some meaning to horrible experiences. I was thinking about that when I read about Jud's brush with personal disaster. Anyone searching on BPPV now has a detailed account of what went wrong and how he recovered. That may seem like a small thing, but for a handful of sufferers it will be information that helps them immensely. There's no theoretical limit on how long it could remain useful either – our great-great-grandkids could still be learning from his experiences.
We take economic growth for granted, but did you ever stop and think about what it actually means? Why should the same number of people be able to produce a few percent more for the same amount of effort, year after year, for centuries now? The secret is culture. As one person or organization discovers how to do more with less, that secret gets passed around and remembered collectively by humanity. Productivity is actually a massive series of niche lessons about what works and what doesn't. Our whole world is built on millenia of anecdotes like Jud's.
That's why the internet leaves me with so much hope for the future. Over my lifetime we've created an incredibly powerful way of transmitting our experiences to others who care. Even if there's only a handful of people in the world who might benefit from a particular insight, for very little effort you have a good chance of reaching them and improving their lives.
People ask me if they should blog or Twitter, and I tell them it won't make you money, it won't bring you fame, and in terms of the concrete returns, it's a waste of time. I still encourage them to do it though, because every true story is worth telling. For years despite low traffic I'd keep going because the search logs would tell me there were one or two people a day who found a solution to their problem thanks to a post I'd written. If you think about it, that's hundreds of people a year you can help, just by writing down a few of your experiences.
So, when you look at your life in 2011, ask yourself if you're leaving a trail of breadcrumbs? It might be the most effective way you can make the world a better place.