Avant-propos : Hi, I’m french and this is my very first article translated into English. Please feel free to correct me, it will be very helpful!
Living a meaningful life: everybody talks about it for a few years now. It’s the new success. What if, after all, it doesn’t mean anything?
Speaking Of Meaning Doesn’t Make Any Sense
I’m pretty sure you’ve already felt lost in your life. Out of the blue, in the middle of the day, everything stops and it feels like you’re outside your own body. You make a quick statement of your life and it gives you vertigo.
“Am I happy? Why am I always trying this hard? What’s all that for? Is my job/studies/ *insert a relevant mention* still make any sense ?”
And finally :
“Where the f*** does this take me ?”
Yep, you can be rude. Because even though you’re not unhappy and you don’t have anything to complain about, even though everything is doing kind of fine, that you are privileged, you’re lost. And you’re sick of it.
You thought that, by that age, by that time of your life, you’d be someone else. You’d have achieved more things. Even if you’ve accomplished some things that you’d have never thought about, you feel like you don’t fit with your expectations.
There are several ways to think the notion of “meaning of life” :
- Where does it lead?
- What’s its meaning?
- What’s its value?
- Where does it come from?
The idea that our life has to have a meaning so we can be happy, call out the first three questions.
And they all have a common point :
Their answer is in the future.
You Don’t Give A Meaning To Your Life: You Live It And, Eventually, A Meaning Will Appear
Wanting to give meaning to our life before actually living it, means wanting to predict the future.
This is the time which makes our life. It is the succession of events and experiences that makes it up. Of course, we have a role to play in it, but we have to change our perspective. We have to change our point of view.
We don’t give a meaning to life a priori (philosophically speaking, e.g. before we have experienced it). Our life is not a product created for a specific purpose. We can’t decide in advance what’ll be its use and what’ll do with it in 10 or 20 years.
We have to take away our will from the equation.
Life happens. Time flies. Things happen. And then, and only then, we’ll give to all of it the meaning we want to.
Stop Thinking You Are In Control
It’s urgent to remember that we’re not in control of everything.
Look at who you’ve become. What you’re doing. Who you love. Where you live. Is it the perfect achievement of what you expected when you were younger? Are you the result of anything else but your will?
Do you know what is the problem with the illusion that we’re in control? Actually, there are dozens. But I’ll tell you three of them :
1 — We Put Too Much Pressure On Ourselves
Our actions do determine the rest of our life. And that’s why we always think twice before taking any important decision. But we tend to forget that we don’t know and we can’t predict the consequences of these actions. Forgetting this is what keeps us from letting go.
Four years ago, I started to write a novel. Just for fun. Just to see what it was like to write a story. Really, from all the things I’ve done lately, this is the only one I started without thinking. Without even believing in it. Without any expectations. In the five past months, I signed a contract for both. And one with Harper Collins.
Now, I consider making a living from writing. Four years ago, I didn’t even cross my mind.
2 — We sacrifice ourselves
We sacrifice ourselves in the name of the “future”. We choose security: the less exciting but more stable job, the easy plan instead of the dreamy one. The guy who’s gonna give us kids but make us unhappy. We give up on ideas and projects because they are too time-consuming and ask too much energy; for finally spending our free time scrolling on social media and slaving 40 hrs per week in an office to build someone else’s dream.
We usually pick inaction instead of action. Easiness instead of challenge.
What’s the meaning of all this?
Because we try so hard to give meaning to our future life, we bar ourselves from taking risks. Because we want to anticipate everything. We think we can anticipate. But, by wanting to “ensure our future”, we keep ourselves from opportunities. We keep ourselves from getting what we really want.
In the name of the “future”…
How ironic is that?
3 — We forget we have time
We have time to live.
We have time to screw things up.
And we can’t figure it all out here and now. We don’t bear responsibility for our entire future. The choices we make today won’t necessarily produce the effects we want to.
We have time to try and to fail.
To act without even knowing why, and finding out later.
We have time to grow. To learn. We have time to follow our instinct.
Sticking to the plan we’ve made years ago keeps us from opportunities. To not follow our heart, our passions, our desires, is not being reasonable: it is living with the illusion that we are in control. It keeps us away from achieving what matters most: ourselves.
Let’s See Further
I’ll walk the St James’ way (Camino de Santiago) in a few weeks. Because of the Covid-19, the lockdown, the incertitude about the border’s opening, there is still a part of me who doubts that it’s really gonna happen. But I’m supposed to train anyway.
The problem is: I hate walking the same paths every day. Doing the same loop over and over, always coming back to the starting point, seeing the same landscapes, knowing what’s coming after that bridge… Really, it gets me sick.
And because of the current lockdown in France, I don’t have another choice. So I barely don’t train. Because it doesn’t bring me immediate gratification: a good shape, a feeling of progress. Because it is not walking the St James’ way. It is not the ultimate goal.
Most of all, it doesn’t bring me any guarantee that I’ll actually walk the St James’ way.
But it will happen. I know it. I’ll go, I’ll walk 1 600 kilometers. And I’ll end up there, without any proper preparation, even though I know that I can make things right if I put myself out every day.
Can you see it coming?
I’ve got another one.
After years of hesitation and doubts about what I was going to do with my life, I understood that I just wanted to write. Novels, press articles…
Yet, for months now, I haven’t written anything. Instead, I spend hours and hours thinking about what I could do to reach my goal: making a living from writing. I think about launching a business, going back to school, creating my own independent media, taking classes on web-editing, making myself a journalism training program…
I feel so silly, seeing this written. Because the remedy is SO obvious.
What I can do to reach my goal and make a living from writing is writing. This is where it starts!
This Is All About Time
It’s not because I went for a walk today (and I truly did) that I feel more prepared for St James. It’s not because I’m writing those lines right now that I feel suddenly more confident about the fact that, one day, I might earn a living from my pen.
If there is one certainty about all of this, it is that not doing those things would definitely keep me away from achieving my goals.
Replace your fears, doubts, and need for reassurance by action. Every small step is like a sown seed.
If I had spent 6 more months thinking about what I could to earn a living from writing instead of actually writing, it would have delayed the possible achievement of my goal by 6 months. And I’ve already lost so much time.
Start looking for the meaning of your life. It doesn’t make any sense. What actually makes sense, today, is to do something. To take another step forward in your dreams.
You can’t be sure they’ll come true. But by doing nothing, you can be sure they won’t.
Stop Thinking, Start Acting
You might think that what I am saying is paradoxical. On one hand, you have to stop trying to anticipate everything. On the other hand, you have to start acting today so you can give a chance to your dreams.
So let me summarize :
I’m not saying that you should not bet on your future.
What I am saying is that you can’t decide in advance what will be the best way to get you where you want to go. Because when it comes to life, there is no such thing as Google Maps. You can’t make a road map.
And when we don’t know about the way, we tend to think we won’t get there. And we end up not leaving at all.
What I am saying is that you have to leave anyway.
Stop trying to know what awaits you. You can’t know. And stop rushing. Stop sacrificing yourself. Most important: stop protecting yourself without even being in danger.
If you’re lost and you feel like your life doesn’t make any sense, it’s probably because you never start doing what truly matters to you. It’s probably because you didn’t start doing what could lead you to the idealistic version of yourself that you have while reading those words.
Even though nothing can guarantee that you’ll make it to the top, be sure that it will lead you somewhere anyway. Someplace cool. In a life full of experiences, full of things you love. In a life full of meaning.
The Three Year Rule
Rome was not built in a day.
Yeah, you can smile if you want. Everybody wants its dream to come true in a blink of an eye. We wish that to dedicate ourselves to it is enough. This is why a lot of people give up: the decision is taken (and it wasn’t an easy move), they take the plunge. Mister X launched his YouTube channel, he invested in good supplies, read a lot of stuff on the internet so everything would be perfect. He makes 8 videos in 2 months. And no one watches it. So he discourages himself. He gives up.
You know that it takes more than to succeed. You know that it is never that simple. This is not because he is lame that nobody watched. This is because it takes commitment. It takes time.
A time during which the incertitude is here. Months and months while you don’t get the insurance that it will work out.
This is where Matt d’Avella’s Three Year Rule comes up. For every project you’re willing to achieve, you have to dedicate yourself to it for at least three years. Three years of commitment without ever giving up, no matter what (and especially if nothing happens).
This is the strict minimum to give yourself a chance.
Nobody develops strong skills in two weeks. We can’t produce enough high-quality content in six months, not even in a year. And we don’t become a specialist or a reference in something in two years.
All of this takes time.
But it’s doable.
If you do it.
Introspection Is A Trap
If I had to summarize the issue in a few lines, so you can leave this speech with a clear mind, this is what I’d say :
The idea that we have to find meaning in our lives creates the illusion that we are in control. As if we had to find, in our 20s, the right route to follow so we can live a rewarding life full of joy; and as soon as this route was found, we just had to take a ride and go along it.
It doesn’t work that way. By believing this, we spend some precious time thinking, picturing the futures that are given to us, anticipating several scripts so we can make the best decisions. We tell ourselves stories that scare us and make us choose “wisely”, so we stay safe and protected.
We live our lives in our heads instead of living in the world.
This is what we do when we try to give meaning to our life.
So, start living instead of thinking. You’ll decide what meaning you want to give to your life when you’ve lived it. When it’ll be too late to enjoy it fully.