What does it take to lead a meaningful life?
Ah, the million dollar question…and one that’s been plaguing me since approximately the age of 18.
Socrates said “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I guess that means my life is decidedly worthy, since I spend plenty of time examining it. And examining it. And examining it.
I think Hollywood did this to me. I grew up watching so many movies about people having mid-life crises. I swore to myself, “That will never be me. I’ll never wake up one morning and realize my life is a hollow shell. I will live my life deliberately, and with purpose.”
In many ways, this commitment to purposeful living has served me well. I have never let anything get in the way of my most important relationships. I’m pretty sure that the people I love know how much they mean to me, and I give thanks for these people (and for my dog, Cosmo) every single day.
I stop and smell the flowers (literally). I write and practice yoga and generally live a very mindful existence.
But when it comes to my life’s work — my creative endeavors, my career, and any overlap between the two — I am a hot mess.
I’m being harsh. I am further along on my journey than many people, and anyway, comparing myself to other people isn’t the point. I have tried to make mindful choices about my artistic pursuits and my career for the past 10 years, and in many ways, I have been able to design a life for myself that’s pretty darn awesome. But fulfillment is slippery, at least for me. Satisfaction isn’t static. Something that works for me for a while, suddenly (or slowly) stops working, and I feel like I’m back at ground zero, building again from scratch.
I so badly want to find a way to earn a living that is a deep expression of my truest self, and my most deeply held values. I recently read Tara Gentile’s e-book, The Art of Earning (which I highly recommend), and I believe her premise that it is possible to make money by sharing your innate gifts. But cracking that nut — figuring out the exact “what” and “how” — continues to elude me, and it’s driving me ever so slightly batty.
I try to be patient with the unanswered questions in my heart, as Rilke advises in “Letters to a Young Poet.” But when I’m happy — when I’m fulfilled — I am lit up like a Christmas tree, and when you know it’s possible to feel that way… it’s hard not to want to feel that way VERY BADLY.
“Patience, young Paduan,” the Jedis would say, and I try. I try to focus on all that I have to be grateful for, which is a lot. But like a Jedi, I feel like there’s a destiny waiting for me — I just can’t figure out what it is. I know there’s something bigger and more personal I’m supposed to be doing, some great work. Does that sound arrogant? I hope not. To be clear, I don’t covet this clarity for fame or glory – I want to be of service, and I believe deeply that there is a place where “my deep hunger and the world’s deep gladness” (Frederick Buechner) will meet, and my life will be ignited as a result.
Does any of this resonate for you? Do you feel like you’re stumbling in the direction of a greater purpose to your life?
Today’s post was inspired in large part by a post my friend Colleen wrote called Measure your success by more than your title or pay, which was itself inspired by a piece that Clayton Christenson wrote for the Harvard Business Review called How Will You Measure Your Life?. I also recommend a NYTimes piece I recently read called The Meaningfulness of Lives by Todd May.
Photo of question mark above by Flickr user Ethan Lofton.