Since the first mind achieved consciousness, the question has existed- “What is the meaning of life?” Philosophers, priests, ideologues, and politicians have all sought to provide an answer to this question, among many others. However, I believe that we are living in a time in which the old answers have fallen short. This is an era of nihilism and hedonism, and the world is reeling in purposelessness. Some seek to cling to the old, failed models, while others strive to envision a world that rejects the past. However, the time has come to realize that the secret to finding meaning does not begin in the world, but within ourselves.
Each of us are born with a particular disposition- some of us are more impulsive and others are more collected. These differences are altered and amplified by our upbringing and social environment. We may be encouraged to read, or discouraged from taking risks, and these interactions shape our growing selves. Inevitably, there are certain tasks that we have an aptitude and interest in, and others that we either are not good at or have no desire to engage in. We may even have an idea of what we’d like to do with our lives at this point, and those desires actually correlate with future job satisfaction.
At some point, however, many of us give up on these earlier interests as the harsher realities of life and responsibility close in. We get older, and many of us compromise. Some take the safe bet and join the family business, or the higher paying but less fulfilling work. Others give up on their personal ambitions and dedicate themselves instead to family, community, or some other group enterprise. By this point, many people have long forgotten what it was that once caused them to be driven and passionate.
This is where the work begins. If you are at a crossroads in your life, then before you make the choice of path you must take the time to know yourself first. Otherwise, you will be walking blind, and only time and hindsight will show you that you have chosen wrong.
Consider the following questions-
What would you be willing to give your life in the pursuit of?
What task do you love enough to do without reward or recognition?
What would the world look like if it were perfect, and what are you doing (or not doing) to bring that world closer to reality?
What is your dream job and why aren’t you doing it?
When did you stop being the kind of person you wanted to be as a child?
Are you proud of the person that you have become?
Are you like your heroes, and would they say that about you if you met them?
If you can honestly answer these questions in a positive way, then you are well on your way towards your goals. However, if the answers you have aren’t the answers you want to have, do not despair- hope is not yet lost. The would you want to build is not lost, just delayed. Your mistakes are your teachers and the feeling of having failed is often the greatest motivation to never fail again. That being said, it will be hard- and the difficulty will break many who try and many more who never even start.
Reality is on our side- but the first task is to determine what the reality is and to bring ourselves into alignment with it. As they say, the truth hurts- but nothing hurts more than the pain of a wasted life. Figure out what kind of person you are, and what you have to do to become the person you want to be. What is the first simple change you could make to bring the two closer together? If your life was perfect, what would it look like- and when was the last time it looked like that, even if only briefly?
Meaning arises at the intersection between our skills and the challenges of the world. There is something that you are capable of doing better or more passionately than anyone else on this planet. Your experiences and perspective are unlike those of any other, but many people sacrifice these differences to fit in- you will not be so foolish. There is something within you that yearns to be expressed- find it and bring it into the world. Failure will stop many before they are finished- you will not give up. You will never surrender.
Your being already contains the hidden purpose of your life, buried deep at the center of who you are. Reach deep into the forgotten caverns of your mind, face down the demons within you, and claim the treasure of purpose that you never truly lost.
Finding meaning is done by searching within, and your purpose is to bring that out into the world- the world of your dreams. Arise, dreamer, and go forth with meaning.
“Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun.”
-Don Miguel Ruiz