A global pandemic crisis provides a grand opportunity to consider and re-evaluate our priorities. Amid anxiety and loneliness at times, I’ve been surprised to find that the forced simplification of my life has actually helped me gain a sense of clarity on a personal and emotional level. The most important thing that I’ve realized is that I’m not trying to design a life that I can fall in love with. I’m trying to create one that has meaning and purpose woven throughout it. I want my capacity to be filled with opportunities to pour life into others. I want a life in service to others by using my unique talents and abilities. The moment that I take my eyes off of that, I find that I begin chasing material things and the approval of others.
So how do we create meaningful lives?
Are there universal steps to doing this?
How do we craft and weave passions and purpose into our unique stories in such a way that we increase our quality of life without being pulled into the trap of materialism and the exploitation of others in the process?
I believe that discovering the answers to these questions requires deep diving into who we are — both good and bad. It requires of us the willingness to be vulnerable with ourselves and others despite our fears of judgment or rejection. Once we gain a sense of meaning and purpose, then we fall in love with our lives in an all-encompassing kind of way.
So after much thought, I’ve created a list of what I believe is needed to create a meaningful, purpose-driven life.
Stop Avoiding Pain
We have to stop avoiding pain. We have to find a way to let go of the disappointments when things don’t go as we’d expected, the anxiety of not knowing what’s next, and other forms of suffering. I believe that pain is a call for us to move deeper into empathy for others and connection with ourselves.
Pain and discomforts are unavoidable. It’s part of our contract with life. The decision of how we choose to view and use that pain belongs to us despite what we may be accustomed to believing. Circumstances are predetermined, essentially handed to us. But the thoughts that we attach to those circumstances, the feelings we feel about them, and our actions that follow are within our control.
Many of us have let our fear of pain get in the way of what life has for us. We avoid going after certain jobs because of the fear of rejection. We don’t have difficult conversations with those we deeply care about because of fear of losing them or of being wrong. We don’t set boundaries because we fear confrontation. There’s a whole variety of things that get in the way, but from my perspective, if pain is inevitable, then I’d rather it to be on my terms.
Step Back For Perspective
In our society, losing perspective is common. We’re all so engrossed in consumerism and the need to show our worth (which we’ve tied to our value) through social media and other public spaces. It’s a never-ending cycle that can seem impossible to remove oneself from. But I think breaking the cycle — however that looks for each of us — is the only true way to gain perspective and to make room for meaning in our lives.
Social media has made me feel like I have spotlights on me while also leading me to feel like I’m falling behind. Constantly comparing myself to others drove me to unhappiness which led me to try buying whatever I could, thinking that it would make me happier. Until recently, I found myself drinking more heavily thinking that it would make me like myself more. I was wrapped in myself and striving for acceptance.
What’s happened in my life and perhaps even yours is that we’ve lost sight of what truly matters. We’ve lost the connection to ourselves. Some of us lost it as children given the pressure we experienced from our families and peers. I’ve found that stepping outside of myself and into someone else’s story has made an incredible difference. And while I’m still on this journey of gaining perspective and self-acceptance, I’ve discovered that by staying on this path, the world seems a bit smaller and less scary.
Get Clear About Your Needs
What do you need? Not on a lower level (a reference to Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs), like food or shelter. But on a higher level. What are your emotional needs? What were your unmet needs in the earlier part of your life? Maybe it was emotional safety or stability. Perhaps you needed to feel unconditional love — to know that you were loved regardless of what you did — good or bad).
Some of our parents or adult figures in our lives tried the absolute best that they could. Others didn’t. I was given both and for a long time, I struggled with the shortcomings of both parents. I also spent a lot of time thinking that only they could fulfill my needs, but I was wrong. We’re empowered to provide for ourselves. I don’t know if many of us come to realize that naturally. I think that the discomfort compels us to figure it out on our own. In my case, it took a therapist helping me come to the awareness of this.
Until we meet ourselves and those needs, we will go through life searching for them in other people. We will go along putting our hopes in imperfect people and material things that will ultimately disappoint us. The truth is that a meaningful life is built as we provide our emotional and needs.
Get Clear About Your Passions
Our passions provide our lives with a sense of meaning and purpose. They offer us clues about what we should be building our personal and professional lives around in orderto cultivate a fulfilling quality of life. Some of us don’t exactly know what our passions are. To those people, I would say to start anywhere in your search for them. Try to remember what you were interested in as a kid because that can often provide insight, but also know that a passion for something doesn’t directly correlate with your efficiency at it. Passions are meant to provide us with interest and challenge in our day to day lives, both of which are incredibly important. So start somewhere — anywhere.
Others have multiple passions, and while it sounds ideal, it can also create a kind of paralysis. Our society gives the impression that only a singular passion is permissible, but that’s not true and our rapidly shifting world and global economy proves that. Now more than ever, diverse, interdisciplinary ideas are needed. I believe that everyone has a passion. I believe that we all are multi-passionate. Our ability to embrace this and to use them for good will inevitably create a sense of meaning in our own lives.
Creating a meaningful life ultimately requires each of us to determine our own definitions of “meaningful”. No one else can define it for us although we may often feel the pressure to assume others’ definitions. Your life is your own and it is 100% worth falling in love with.