Creating Meaning in Your Life
Some poor bastard once said, "Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life." Not only is this categorically untrue, but because it's repeated often and unabashedly, many of us now believe that work (even enjoyable work) shouldn't feel like work.
When I was considering job options, many people told me to "follow my passion," or "pursue what I love." This is terrible advice by the way, if only because the things I was passionate about at 22 were not career-material. This is not to say that passions shouldn't be pursued, they absolutely should. But passion cannot always pay the bills. It is incredibly common for young people to feel lost at the outset of their careers, for mid-career employees to look up and wonder what they're doing with their life, for retirees to look back and wish they'd done it all differently.
"Finding" meaning in work or life is inherently passive and happenstance. The likelihood of stumbling upon a fulfilling, rewarding, and satisfying life are slim to none if all you do is look; you must also do. When children search for Easter eggs, they do not simply find them and leave them tucked beneath a bush. They pick the goddamn eggs up. They find as many eggs as they can, collect them, consolidate their spoils, and spend the following days on a crazed sugar high.
Creating meaning takes trial and error. Creating meaning takes time. Creating meaning can take years-it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Everyone experiences periods of life when they aren't sure what their doing. Some people spend their whole lives searching for meaning or connection or a way to make sense of life, coming back from their search tired and beaten down. If all we do is look, we may never find what we're looking for, because whatever we're looking for might not yet exist.
The infamous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl lost his wife and family in Nazi concentration camps. Frankl suffered extreme hardship, but maintained his sanity by holding tightly to a sense of meaning and purpose. Friedrich Nietszche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Frankl was able to create a why in the most horrid, inhumane conditions, which he writes about in his popular book Man’s Search for Meaning.
His "why" was first to help his fellow prisoners survive and honor his family's memory. After being liberated, he spent his life teaching people how to create meaning in their own lives. He believed that having a "why" creates happiness-and not the easy, accessible happiness that lives in food or drugs or sex, but the intangible deeper happiness that so many people are searching for.
Feeling stuck and uninspired is completely normal, sometimes. But un-sticking yourself and becoming inspired will only happen if you create a life that enables you to pursue your why. Finding a job you love doesn't mean that your job won't feel like work, but it might mean that the gross, uninspiring, boring parts of your job will be manageable. If your job helps you pursue and fulfill your "why," even if that simply means you're being paid, you're doing okay. Too, your "why" will likely change throughout your life, and that in itself is a beautiful, healthy, nourishing thing. Your "why" doesn't have to be life-changing, but it sure as hell should give you life.