Defining a Life Project – Defining Oneself

Ortega, dobetterwithdan, philosophy, authenticity

“The stone is given its existence…Man has to be himself in spite of unfavorable circumstances; that means he has to make his own existence at every single moment.”


Josè Ortega, like other existentialists, believed that a person must make himself, that he must define himself in the world.

“The stone,” Ortega writes, “is given its existence.” Things, objects in the world, are what they are. A stone is a stone; it cannot be otherwise.

An individual, on the other hand, “has to make his own existence at every single moment.” But what does it mean to say the individual has to “make his own existence”?

In Ortega, we see echoes of Sartre’s claim that for human beings “existence precedes essence.” We also see something akin to Nietzsche’s notion of self-creation or giving style to one’s character.

(For more information, see my article, Freedom & Responsibility, and my article, Understanding Our Relationship to Suffering)

Life as a Project

Ortega is pointing out that human beings define themselves through their choices and actions, by doing things in the world.

To choose between this or that, he tells us, is to make a choice about what, about who we will become in the next moment.

“At every moment of my life there open before me divers possibilities: I can do this or that. If I do this, I shall be A the moment after, if I do that, I shall be B.”


Beyond the moment, however, the individual can also direct his life with an eye towards the future, towards what he will become or hopes to become. Ortega calls this “a definite program or project of existence.”

“life…is the attempt to carry out a definite program or project of existence.”


We are able to formulate an idea of who we want to be, of who we are, and work towards it. In doing so, we form a definite project or program and attempt to realize it.

We make ourselves into something other than what we were, we reshape ourselves.

A program or life project is not something definite in the sense of fixed once and for all, but rather something we work on, work out, and continue to change or go beyond as necessary.

“man is impossible without imagination, without the capacity to invent for himself a conception of life, to ‘ideate’ the character he is going to be.”


As Ortega points out, it takes imagination to invent a conception of life, to survey our circumstances, our past, and determine what we will be.

Once we have an idea of what we will be, a conception of life, we can then work on making this idea a reality, we can work towards actually becoming that individual.

Each program, each project we create, each self we attempt to become, is an experiment, a trial. If one life project is no longer satisfactory, if we move beyond it, we can always create another.

(See my related article, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation)

“But this second program is drawn up in the light, not only of circumstance, but also of the first. One aims at avoiding in the new project the drawbacks of the old.”


Life as Self-Creation

From Ortega’s standpoint, an individual’s life is this continuous process of trying to determine who he is, to make himself.

His circumstances, his past, provide what framework there is, and within these boundaries he develops a plan, an idea of who he will be.

(See my related article, The Road Less Traveled)

To make himself in the world, to realize his project, is to be alive and have a conception of life. It is through these projects that we derive meaning, value, and understand ourselves.

Self-creation is not only about making ourselves in the moment, but it is about determining what we will be in the future, what we will become.

“the weightiest thing he has to do is to determine what he is going to be.”


In other words, true self-making, having a life project and living authentically, means looking not only at the present choices before us, but also looking down the road, as it were, and selecting the path that is most suited to realizing our project.

As Ortega notes, there are no limits to this self-making and self-realization of the individual.

On the contrary, we are only limited by our imagination; the only restrictions are those imposed by history and circumstance.

Unlike a stone, unlike mere objects in the world whose existence is set, human beings make themselves and determine what they will be in the future. They are able to imagine an idea of who they are and work to realize it, to make it a reality.

“Man ‘goes on being’ and ‘unbeing’—living.”


Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share.

Please see my related articles and posts: Accepting Death, How to Create a Meaningful Life, Perspective – In pursuit of Truth, Developing a Positive Mindset, How to Face Your Fears, What is Strength of Will?, Nietzsche and Nihilism, Kafka’s Parable Before the Law, Belief as a Noble Risk, Imagination, Note to Self, Luck, and Is Life Absurd?

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