I recently had a Skype session with a complete stranger who I connected with on Hacker News. There was a post from a 25-year-old claiming that they felt lost. I replied in the comments that I too had experienced a period of feeling lost and if they thought it would be helpful to have someone to chat with I’d be happy to make myself available via Skype. Someone else who had been reading that thread reached out to me, someone who had been struggling with the same issue of feeling lost in their life.
I sent him a reply, part of which included my redefining what I had felt in the past , not a sense of being lost, but of something else. Here is a snippet from my email:
While the word that I used in that time was "lost", I think really what I was searching for was not to be found, but rather I was struggling with feeling like my life had no meaning, no purpose. There is this song titled Shameful Metaphors by a band named Chevelle. Part of the chorus really resonated with me during that period as I meditated on the words:
"so why then, has my life made no sound?"
I felt like while I was doing a good job at work, had lots of friends, was making good money, was having fun experiences traveling, there was always this voice within me that was asking "is this it?" "where is my great adventure?" and then always saying "you were meant for more".
As I look at that response now, I even wonder if that is correct. What I have since realized was that even though that was the self-talk that I had, I think what I was really telling myself was that I was meant for something different. Not more, not less, not measured on some scale of worthiness, but rather something apart from what it was I was pouring my energy into.
I think therein lies a deep seated stumbling block for many of us. We have created a scale, a ranking, for our endeavors. The selfless non-profit worker is more worthwhile than the selfish private sector worker. The rich entrepreneur’s life is more worthwhile than the low-earning common worker. We have a single line upon which we plot these destinies, each of us with our own ranking.
I’m not so sure this scale is serving me anymore and I no longer buy into it. I don’t think the non-profit worker is doing something more worthwhile than the private sector employee. Whatever that non-profit person is doing will fade, the well they built will break and not be repaired, the person they helped will fall into some other difficulties, the laws they help create will be changed, in the end they are working within the context of a broken world that will never be repaired by human hands. I also don’t think that the CEO is more to be praised as worthwhile than the lowest employee. Whatever revenue the CEO creates will be lost eventually, whatever product they create will become outdated, or copied, or irrelevant. In the end both will have lived, and died, and very little of their lives shall remain. While I don’t think any of these endeavors is more worthwhile than the other, I do think that they are all equally worthwhile in being and doing.
What feels important to me, and what feels worthwhile, is that each person is doing what they feel was placed uniquely within them to do. They do it because to move further into that stream brings happiness, while to move out of it, even a little, brings a diminishment of joy.
A person in the non-profit sector who works because they think they will really change the world will always be left with disappointment. One who works because they have a burden for a particular people group or cause, and who gets to pour their talents into their work, will always be fulfilled, even if nothing changes. The CEO who strives to always be gaining higher and higher levels of success will never be satisfied, they will see their company as a means to an end. The one who enjoys strategy, planning, executing, and creating an organization that is unique and in line with their values will look at their company as a playground, as a place to express their talents, values, and desires, where the company itself is the end.
The question we must ask when we see each other is not “what do you do?”, because we then inevitably plot the response on our scale and weight it against our biases. We must instead ask “are you doing what you must be doing?” to which we should have a binary response. A yes means that we are living within our values, within what we know from within to be true for us. A no means that we are not, that we are living a life that each day lays another block on the tower of regret that we are building.
Take a moment right now and look at your life, no matter what you do or how much or little society values it, is it you? Is what you are doing really you? There is no “I don’t know”, because we all know. Deep down there is always that voice that is telling us so.
What is worth your while?