Image Credit: brianfabrydorsam.com
Imagine living a life that has no meaning? Let that thought sink in for a moment. Shake it, but don’t stir. This was how I lived my life for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I was aware I had no meaning for my life; it’s just that I never woke up having discovered a meaning for my life.
The idea of having a meaning for life can feel distant. We think, “Maybe having a meaning for life is only reserved for those doing big projects like sending rockets into space and curing cancer.”
Does everyone need a meaning for their life and what does it feel like to have one? It took more than thirty years of my own life, to have anything that resembled the glittery object that is meaning. It all became apparent in one single day.
What did that life resemble? Nothing too exciting.
It looked like words on a blank computer screen, endless cups of tea, hours spent alone in a quiet bedroom, hundreds of bloggers who wrote their way into my head with eye-catching headlines, and complete silence caused by frustration and my own faults which I refused to accept.
It wasn’t a case of endless exploration followed by one defining action.
In my case, discovering a meaning in life came from a lot of little actions that in isolation seemed pretty ridiculous and insignificant. Let me give you a few examples:
- Deciding to write a press release
- Telling one or two friends about a handful of struggles
- Creating a social media account
- Buying some software
- Keeping regular notes in my phone
- Sharing a few experiences rather than keeping them for myself
As you can see, each of these items is pretty small. There is nothing in that list which should seem out of the ordinary or spectacular enough to create a new meaning for one’s life. You won’t see cold showers, early wakeup calls, a new piece of tech, an amazing mentor, or a brilliant book.
What each item has in common is that they were all things I hadn’t done before and came from rather insignificant ideas and even impulses.
There was no intent to find a meaning in life — only a series of tasks that were warm-up sets to the main show that would become a meaning for my life much later on.
As I grouped together the items on this list, a slow change began to occur. The most significant of those changes was that the thoughts in my head began to become less silent. These thoughts were highly critical of who I was and they didn’t go away, they just got quieter.
The change was that these thoughts were replaced by a different type of thought. That thought was this:
“How do I take this experience and use it for something useful?”
I began to play a new game which was finding usefulness out of the seemingly useless experiences that would occur in a normal persons life. This curiosity, looking back, was an important part of finding a meaning for my life.
We’re not born with a meaning for our lives, but we can discover one if we can simply do nothing more than be curious. A curious mind plays with different ideas and tries new things on for size to see how they fit, and whether they could be part of something bigger.
Five years on…
After five years of adopting these small actions on a semi-consistent basis, my focus shifted away from being about myself, the pain and struggles of my existence, and whatever crisis I was currently facing.
Each day I kept finding something interesting from every experience I’d have.
When I got a parking fine, I wondered what it was like to be a parking inspector.
When someone hurled abuse at me, I wondered what sort of person they were at home.
When I’d walk through the park, I wondered what the land might have looked like before humans.
The game was to find meaning from everything around me — or to at least attempt to. Through the process, I began to share these experiences more by writing about them. Did others have the same questions?
I wrote about each of these experiences for a number of years. When putting work out into the world, you assume that nobody is paying attention or that if anybody does notice, they’ll forget about it when they wake up the following day and have their morning latte.
During times where one or two people would notice what I was writing, I still tried to pretend I was at the start when nobody read anything I wrote.
It’s almost as if the isolation of your own thoughts, and feeling as though nobody is watching, make your work more insightful or useful.
Part of the process was to keep writing about any and every experience that I was having no matter how hard it was, or useless it seemed to be.
Because I wasn’t born as a gifted writer and had no training, the other crucial element was to step back from judging my work or trying to measure its effectiveness.
That brings us to today
So what happened today that helped me finally discover the meaning of my life which I’d never really understood?
Well, just like any other day, I published an article. It was about my observations when it comes to toxic work environments. I had worked in an environment like this and I found it difficult to process in my mind.
Plenty of time had passed, but I just couldn’t understand how my experience with a toxic work culture had any value in my life. In my mind, it was a period of my life that would have served more value from being deleted, than being part of my life’s Facebook photo album.
Stupidly, I thought my experience was uncommon and didn’t think for a second that anybody could really relate other than a few misfits who had similar personalities to me.
I hit publish on the article and went to bed. I woke up the next day, and as I suspected, it seemed as though it was another one of those isolated experiences that few could relate to.
“On with the show” was what came to mind. Like I sometimes do, I also published the same article on LinkedIn.
The article was copied and pasted in a mad hurry as my girlfriend was waiting on the couch for my arrival so we could watch a movie. I published the article on LinkedIn without any intent, care or attachment to the outcome.
Another night passed. I woke up and checked my messages. Every inbox, across every platform, was full of shiny red notifications signaling that perhaps other people had experienced something similar.
I felt a sense of duty to respond to people that took the time to comment. One by one, I responded to hundreds of comments on the article. It was this unconscious process and action that led to one overarching thought that caused me to write the headline of this article.
I had finally found a meaning for my life, which was never fully visible to me in this way before. The meaning for my life, I realized, was to serve people by writing about experiences and topics that had made a difference to me.
It was a commitment to search every aspect of my life for the esoteric, strange, weird, odd, insignificant, invisible forces that made up my life, and share them so that they could be a small part in the process of somebody else finding the meaning for their life.
It took 30+ years and in one day, that’s what the final meaning of my life looks like. Now that I know, I can get on with the job — and the responsibility, subtlety, art, patience and consistency that is attached to this commitment.
Imagining other people going from having no meaning for their life, to finding some small or big meaning in their existence is a beautiful idea that could keep me awake for the rest of my life and cause me never to sleep again.
We all have a meaning for our life and it starts from the strangest of places, and the littlest of actions.
The following three ideas are worth keeping in mind: