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Unfulfilled Purpose Misery

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"I was made to help a child. I don't remember it being this hard."
Woody, Toy Story 4

A character or entity was created or trained with a single purpose in mind, and preventing it from fulfilling its purpose makes it miserable and desperate. May overlap with I Coulda Been a Contender!. Often a trait of the Shell-Shocked Veteran, Absurdly Dedicated Worker, Blood Knight, or Death Seeker.

If this misery extends beyond death (because death prevents them from fulfilling their purpose), they may become a ghost with Unfinished Business.


Truth in Television: For people who are educated in high school and entered college in a specific faculty, and/or have trained themselves towards getting a specific job, not getting a fitting job in the end would make them miserable.

Compare Happiness in Slavery, No Place for a Warrior and Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life. See Purpose-Driven Immortality, Vengeful Ghost and Revenant Zombie for immortal variations. May be the hat of a Martyrdom Culture.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Super: Zamasu has spent a good portion of his life honing his martial arts skills and abilities. This is one of the main reasons he gets promoted to be Gowasu's apprentice. However, now he has fewer and fewer opportunities for any physical challenges, which, coupled with his sense of justice, makes it hard for him to just sit and watch most of the time. It remains up for debate why he didn't go for the job of God of Destruction instead.
    Zamasu: Then this strength I've worked so long and hard to build up and hone... Just what is it meant to be used for?
  • Overlord (2012): Nazarick's NPCs were originally designed by players for defensive purposes, able to follow simple commands and purely cosmetic backstories and personalities. Once brought to life in the New World, they believe their only purpose is to serve Ainz' every whim as the sole remaining Supreme Being (what they call their creators), and the fact that Ainz doesn't consider them as tools and playthings frustrates them to no end (he doesn't need to eat or sleep, and his attempts to give them salaries, days off or vacations fall flat). For his part, Ainz considers them his last link to his former guildmates and resolves to watch over them as if he'd been entrusted with their children, and finds their servile attitude disturbing.
  • In DARLING in the FRANXX, every child is born and raised into Child Soldiers for Papa against Klaxosaurs with the use of the giant robots called Franxx. The protagonist, Hiro, is unable to pilot and ends up depressed. As the series goes on, he ends up subverting this as he found learns that there's more to life then than serving for Papa.
  • Agito from Lyrical Nanoha is a Unison Device, a being designed to aid a mage in combat via Fusion Dance. While she does have a master in Zest during StrikerS, their partnership is soured by a combination of lacking proper compatibility and Zest suffering from a terminal disease due to Clone Degeneration. She's much happier in later seasons, thanks to discovering that she's fully compatible with her new master Signum (being adopted into the Yagami family didn't hurt, either).

    Comic Books 
  • The Boys: Black Noir is a clone of the Homelander, created to be his superior in case he ever became uncontrollable. But as years went by and the Homelander showed no signs of mental instability, Black Noir started committing atrocities and sending pictures so the Homelander would think he was responsible, driving Homelander insane until Black Noir's life was finally justified and he was asked to step in.
  • The Punisher MAX: A cabal of American generals had the bright idea of funding their own Islamist terrorist cell so they could make entirely deniable attacks on other countries. It nearly failed because it didn't occur to them that fanatic Death Seekers might not be willing to wait a year or ten for the order to destroy their hated enemies. In the end, they're used to hijack a plane to Moscow (despite having no chance of evading the anti-air defenses) to divert attention from Frank rescuing a little girl with a deadly virus in her blood.
  • The Dark Knight Returns: The Joker has been completely catatonic ever since Batman's retirement. But as soon as he hears that He's Back!, all his criminal instincts return to fight Batsy once again.
  • Lucky Luke: When a backwater town is raided by Indians, the telegraph operator is overjoyed that he finally gets to use the machine and dusts off his codebook for the occasion. He then breaks down sobbing because the Indians cut the telegraph lines.
  • An evil version in Hellblazer, where Lord Burnham is designing himself an afterlife of hedonism, stuffed with unwilling slaves designed to suffer whenever they aren't pleasuring him. John first imprisons Mako (the mage who's building it) inside and takes over his body, then lets Burnham commit slow suicide before informing him of the switcheroo, leaving Burnham trapped with a very pissed-off cannibal warlord for eternity.

    Films — Animation 
  • Beauty and the Beast: The castle servants (transformed into household utensils by the witch's curse) are overjoyed at seeing Belle enter the castle because it finally lets them do what their new forms were designed to do (clean, cook, accessorize, etc.), the Beast having no use for banquets or well-maintained rooms.
  • The Incredibles:
    • In the first film, Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, has an overwhelming drive to help other people and the superhuman strength to pull it off. So when the Superhero Relocation Act forces him into civilian life, he does not react well. He risks exposure by doing vigilante hero work at night, and at his day job, he chafes under the leadership of a boss who explicitly orders him to help customers as little as possible.
    • Similarly, in Incredibles 2, Bob is stuck being a House Husband while his wife Helen is being hyped up as the new hero (due to Bob's Destructive Savior tendencies). He's happy for her and is doing his best to raise the kids, but the simple fact is that he really wants to be out there superheroing.
  • Kung Fu Panda: The reason Tai Lung becomes a bitter villain obsessed with the Dragon Scroll is that he was raised by Shifu, his kung fu master, to one day become the prophesized Dragon Warrior. However, Oogway (Shifu's own master) claimed that Tai Lung is not, and would not be, the Dragon Warrior; in anger, Tai Lung attacked Oogway, then got defeated and imprisoned. When he manages to free himself and comes to Shifu's dojo, Tai Lung shows his anger for being denied what he thinks as his purpose in life; he's too angry to see reason and goes to beat his old master badly.
  • Lilo & Stitch: Stitch is initially an artificial alien programmed to wreck large cities. Early in the story, he ends up on an island devoid of large cities while unable to swim. The results of him going through this trope for a while before he finds a new purpose in the human family that adopted him as a dog.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Man of Steel: General Zod, who sees it as his purpose in life to protect — and, after its destruction, rebuild — Krypton. When he believes Superman has destroyed any chance of that happening, he has a Villainous Breakdown.
    Zod: I exist only to protect Krypton. That is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people. And now I have no people. MY SOUL! THAT IS WHAT YOU HAVE TAKEN FROM ME!
  • Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump has a long-standing family destiny to die in fighting in a war, becoming a Death Seeker trying fulfill what he believes is his destiny. Instead, Forrest saves his life, and Lt. Dan ends up surviving the war, albeit with both his legs amputated. He is greatly embittered by this and heavily blames Forrest, falling into a deep depression. His story takes a happy turn when he meets Forrest a few years later and eventually finds a new purpose on life managing Forrest's shrimping company.

  • Discworld:
    • Feet of Clay: "Golem must have a master" is a sentiment shared by all golems, to the point where they try to create a master for themselves to guide them, but fill it with so many contradictory commands that it goes crazy. Carrot eventually solves the golems' problem by inserting Dorfl's carefully-worded bill of sale into his head, making him his own master and setting him on the path to free other golems.
    • Going Postal: Anghammarad is a nineteen-thousand-year-old golem who was supposed to deliver a warning that the sea goddess was angry to a city, but the city was underwater by the time he got there. Fortunately, golems believe time is cyclical, so he only needs to wait until the universe resets and he can finally deliver his message (which he has repeatedly retranscribed over the millennia). When he dies in the Post Office fire, he tells Death he is perfectly happy waiting where he is, as not having to do anything is the golems' definition of freedom.
  • The Judge Dee sequel Panic on the Great Wall has the aging commander of a border fortress overjoyed that after decades spent living in mediocrity, he can finally die in battle against the enemy, but is poisoned before it can happen (and it's made to look like a suicide). When the murderer is finally confronted, the judge says that of all her crimes (including setting the grain silos on fire and the murders of her husband and her lover, all so she could sell out the city to the Gokturks and become their khan's consort), denying the commander the death he'd hoped for all his life is the least forgivable.
  • In The Naked Sun (part of Isaac Asimov's Robot series), Detective Elijah Baley is pursuing his investigation on Solaria and needs to use some unfamiliar equipment. Quemont offers to have a nearby robot handle it for him, but Baley insists on doing it himself. When Baley notices that the robot seems agitated, Quemont explains that it is regularly assigned to this task, and being denied the chance to do it produces a disturbing effect in the robot's positronics. Baley, who is certain it is Just a Machine, scoffs at the idea that any robot could "feel bad" over being unable to do its job. It nevertheless inspires a moment of thoughtfulness and empathy, and the detective begrudgingly allows it to take over.
  • In Robert Sheckley's short story "Specialist", it turns out that humanity is from a race which is supposed to serve as Pushers, FTL drives for Living Ships. The whole reason for humanity's constant conflicts and wars is that we are mature enough to Push, but no ships are available.
  • The heroine of Saturn's Children is a Sex Bot who lives in a world where humanity has died out. Not only is she obsolete, her human appearance is also and causes her to be subject to Fantastic Discrimination by other robots.

    Live-Action TV 
  • There are multiple episodes of The Goldbergs in which Beverly Goldberg's pride in being a mother leads to her going absolutely mental when she's no longer capable of doing "mom" things, whether it's her children growing up and not needing to be cared for, or a restaurant taking attention away from her home-cooked dinners.
  • When botanist Keiko O'Brien was on the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation, she was happy and fulfilled in her career. However, upon moving to Deep Space Nine she was unhappy because there wasn't much for a botanist to do. For a few seasons, she was able to change careers and be a schoolteacher, but that eventually fell apart. Eventually she became withdrawn. As Dr. Bashir put it, "You're Chief of Operations, I'm a doctor, and Keiko's a botanist. And until she can be a botanist again, I'm not sure she's ever really going to be happy." Eventually Keiko moved to Bajor to join an expedition that's exploring unknown territory where a botanist would be needed.

  • The Megas' take on Proto Man has him start out bitter and vengeful because after being created to be The Hero, Dr Light took him apart and used him for spare parts to build Mega Man, the actual hero, and Proto Man is understandably upset about this. He gets over it eventually, with some help from a Kirk Summation from Mega Man.
    Proto Man: If you're the one, my father's son...then what am I supposed to be?
  • Leonard Cohen's "Heart With No Companion".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Space Marines have this mentality drilled into them from the start, the severity depending on the Chapter. They are taught that they exist only to make war on the God-Emperor of Mankind's enemies and that death is nowhere near enough punishment for failing Him. Unfortunately, some simply can't take it and end up falling to Chaos.
      What is the terror of death?
      That we die, our work incomplete.
      What is the joy of death?
      To die, our duty complete.
    • The Lone Wolf is a Space Wolves special unit that seeks redemption in death for some past crime or failure. As a result, they only grant victory points to the enemy player if they're still alive at the end of the battle.
    • Dreadnoughts are Marines whose wounds don't allow for return to active service, so they're placed into metal sarcophagi with heavy weapons systems to continue serving. But since they're so valuable, they're only rarely deployed and spend decades or more sleeping between battles. Chaos dreadnoughts are much the same... except they don't get the luxury of sleeping, instead having their legs and weapons removed and spending centuries chained to a wall aware of every passing second. When finally returned to battle they have a good chance of shooting their own side.
    • The Primarch Lorgar of the Word Bearers was ultimately responsible for half the Imperium falling to Chaos because all he wanted to do was spread worship of the Emperor as a god. Unfortunately, the Emperor was a strict atheist, as he believed it would starve the Chaos gods (and was wrong on that point, as the only way to kill them is to kill off all life in the galaxy). When he heard about it, he severely humiliated Lorgar and his Legion before destroying the cathedrals they'd built (another sore point, as this meant they weren't conquering planets as fast as the other Legions). So when Lorgar heard about certain other powers in the Warp that welcomed being worshiped, he promptly switched sides and kickstarted the Horus Heresy, leading the Emperor suffering wounds so severe he had to be placed on permanent life support and powerless to stop him being worshiped as the God-Emperor.
    • Orks were a species designed to wage a Forever War against the Necrons, whose metal bodies could regenerate and teleport away. Thus orks who go too long without a fight end up growing lethargic, losing strength, and getting paunches (though in the galaxy's current state, it's a rare sight). They even used to be a far more formidable warrior race called the Krorks, but degenerated into Orks since their current foes are nowhere near as powerful as the Necron Empire and the C'tan at the height of their power.
    • Tzeentch, the permanently scheming personification of hope, betrayal, and mutation, carefully ensures all his plans eventually fail (more often than not by clashing with each other), because while he has no wish to be defeated, his victory over the other gods of the setting would leave him with no-one to plot against.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Dwarf Slayers have resolved to die fighting against a horrible monster to atone for a crime. But since they're so good at fighting, their increasingly impressive titles (Trollslayer, Giantslayer, Dragonslayer...) are badges of shame to them, as it means they still haven't found a foe strong enough to assure a Mutual Kill.
  • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: After the complete victory of Chaos in Warhammer Fantasy, the Norsca tribes (especially those devoted to Khorne) gladly welcomed the news of non-Chaos forces surviving, as it meant they finally had different enemies to fight against.
  • The Truce of Tukayyid in Battletech was argued to cause this for the Clans. The Crusader Clans were all ready to invade the Inner Sphere and put the "barbarians" in their place. ComStar offered a planet-wide proxy battle on the agrarian planet Tukayyid where they would surrender Earth if they lost (claiming Earth being the ultimate goal for the Clan Invasion). ComStar's Com Guard was ready for them and won, meaning the Com Guard victory result was a fifteen-year truce. Clan warrior lifestyle holds that a Warrior's expiration date is 30 years old (barring being Bloodnamed), so all the fresh new warriors would never have a chance to fight in their grand crusade.
  • In Magic: The Gathering the Keldons spent generations as a Blood Knight culture preparing themselves for the Twilight, their equivalent of Ragnarok. This event finally occurred during the invasion of Phyrexia...and the Keldons survived. The Keldons were at a loss afterwards, having spent so long preparing themselves for the Twilight that they didn't know what they should do next. Eventually, a new leader Radha emerged who gave Keld a new future, gradually moving it away from self-destructive warfare. Not all is well in the new Keld however, since Radha has rivals such as Garna the Bloodflame who believe Keld should return to its Blood Knight roots.

    Video Games 
  • In Portal 2, GLaDOS tells Chell that her programming compels her to test people, even long after there is any rational reason to continue to do so.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Metal Sonic is one in a line of robot doppelgangers of Sonic created by Dr. Eggman to destroy the speedster. While Metal proved the most powerful and iconic of them, the simple fact that he couldn't beat Sonic regardless started to get to him. Eventually, it culminates in Sonic Heroes when he betrays Eggman, takes over the Eggman Empire, and lures in multiple heroes with the goal of copying their data for himself so he can go One-Winged Angel and prove once and for all he's superior and thus the "real" Sonic. This being one of the few games where Metal actually has dialogue makes it explicit in his Boss Banter. Even after his defeat and going back to The Voiceless and loyal to Eggman, it still shows in some of his actions in later games.

  • Mentioned in Alice Grove: The ancient artificial Super Soldiers were created with driving compulsions to keep them under control. The Gun Nut Sedna keeps herself sane by tinkering with old weapons, while more elite soldiers like Alice and Church need to "serve". Alice manages as self-declared guardian of humanity, while Church is fanatically devoted to Mr. Pate after emerging from millennia Buried Alive.

    Web Original 
  • A Scotsman in Egypt: After Domnall conquers most of Scotland's enemies, he starts settling down and enjoying life to the point where he acquires the nickname "the Lewd", though the narration claims it's in jest only. His brother Aodh brings him news that the Danes were indirectly responsible for the death of their father, and Domnall becomes a focused war leader once again, plotting the complete extermination of Denmark for this crime... which Aodh carefully framed them for, it really was sheer coincidence. Before he can plot any more exterminations, the Hungarians (and later the Timurids) declare war on the Scottish Empire (which by this point is most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East). Domnall eventually finds out about Aodh's scheme, and takes it pretty well. (It helps that the war was a series of Curb Stomp Battles.)

    Western Animation 
  • Big City Greens: When a robot takes over all the farm duties, Bill finds himself unable to figure out what to do with all this free time and starts pestering the family. It gets even worse when Cricket teaches him how to relax and he winds up a lazy couch potato.
  • Rick and Morty: Mr. Meeseeks is the personification of this trope. They're summoned to fulfill a request and disappear when it's complete. If they're unable to finish that request (even something as minor as improving Jerry's golf game), it's impossible to complete their life cycle, and they become increasingly desperate, to the point of becoming murderous.
    "Meeseeks are not born into this world fumbling for meaning, Jerry. We are created to serve a singular purpose, for which we will go to any lengths to fulfill. Existence is pain to a Meeseeks, Jerry! And we will do anything to alleviate that pain!"
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • The boys' purpose in life is to be creative and inventive. When they're taken to Smile Away Reformatory School and forced to be conformative, they struggle with repressing their imagination, and once they're broken they're miserable shells of themselves. Thank goodness it was All Just a Dream.
    • When Baljeet forced the two of them to help him climb a mountain in "Bully Bromance Breakup" without creating any special gadgets for the task, Phineas seems like he's having a panic attack by the time they reach the top, unable to move on his own and desperately rattling off ideas for inventions that they could have used. Even Ferb, normally The Stoic, says he was about ready to scream.
    • Perry's purpose is to battle and defeat Dr. Doofenshmirtz. When Dr. Doofenshmirtz temporarily gets a new rival in Peter the Panda, Perry's absolutely crushed, and seemingly abandons his role as an OWCA agent until the issue is resolved.
  • The Fairly OddParents: This is enforced with the godparents. As their purpose in life is to grant their godchild's wishes, if they go too long without granting a wish, they suffer from "magical buildup" and literally explode.
  • The Legend of Korra: Unlike most Avatars, Korra knew of her status as the Avatar ever since she was four years old, and thus considers it highly important to her own identity. As a result, she tends to get depressed, angry, or self-destructive whenever circumstances arise in which she cannot perform her Avatar duties to a satisfactory level, the most extreme case of which occurs when being severely poisoned keeps her out of action for three years while the New Air Nation and Kuvira take care of the jobs she was supposed to handle.