#88: The Meaning of Life
Updated: Nov 21
Life was simpler when my primary purpose was to advance my career as quickly as possible. Although I’m generally more relaxed as I prioritize balance, I’m equally confused. For the last year and a half, the immediate purpose of my life has been my career and finding a partner. I maintain my health for the chief purpose of advancing those two objectives further. I’ve been afraid to consider anything else, because I’m afraid of losing the momentum. When I started as an intern, my goal was to make an impression and prove myself. As I experienced success making an impression, my goal evolved into proving myself with tangible impact. I’m often shocked that experienced leaders stop to listen to what I have to say AND make decisions based on my recommendations. So far, my recommendations have yielded largely good decisions, which enables me to establish a path for change in the business. If I suggest that engineering works on a specific project to save the company millions of dollars, they do the project. That’s WILD. I used to joke about the level responsibility leaders allow me to have, but it’s not a joke anymore. It’s reality.
As I harness this influence, my career goal has evolved to see what I can achieve. I want to learn how to manage people, learn from mistakes, and test my decision-making skills. As I continue to advance I’ll have greater and greater scope to see what I can accomplish. This is not a game - My decisions impact real people and real financial outcomes. (For the record, I have plenty of people around to disagree with my decisions as they see fit.)
I wonder how executives view their career in relation to their personal lives. How many are primarily interested in making money so that they can retire? How many have kept a similar mindset as mine throughout their career, if any? How do they find meaning in their work, enough to continue pushing their limits? Since work has been a primary purpose in my life, I looked forward to each work day. Including Monday. I didn’t feel guilty for choosing to work on a Saturday afternoon, because it’s what I wanted to do. I’m not saying that I’m no longer passionate about work or don’t enjoy it, but I question how much meaning I can ascribe to it.
What does it matter if realize my wildest dreams, and become a member of an S-team, if it means that I’m held prisoner from 7am – 7pm of my own personal conference room? That’s not glamourous. It sounds lonely and unhealthy. No matter how passionate I am, or how much potential I may have, it’s not worth being miserable. What does it matter if I’m capable of creating positive change, if it means giving up my own pursuit of happiness, right? (As selfish as that sounds…) To be fair, this is based off my limited observations of a few executives…
What’s the point of ‘happiness,’ to begin with? The expanse of the universe makes it abundantly clear that as an entire planet, Earth is inconsequential. This is probably why it’s so important for leaders to present themselves well… to set a good example to steer employees away from an existential crisis.
There are two mainstream opinions to consider. 1) Why does it matter if life has a purpose? Whether or not life has meaning doesn’t change the facts of science, so why worry about it? 2) What about a supernatural being or deity? Or the power of free-will? I’d find it comforting if I could allow myself to believe that I’m contributing to something more – or at least a pawn in a supernatural game. I’m inclined to believe in science, which fails to offer evidence of such power for now, as much as I wish otherwise, since believing in a deity would make my life a hell of a lot easier. I see the validity of both ideas, but I’m not satisfied.
I believe that you can find a perfect answer to nearly every question, as long as you’re willing to invest in finding it. I also know that countless, brilliant people dedicate their lives to answering this question - without avail. I said ‘nearly every question’ in my former statement, because I know better than to speak in terms of such sweeping absolutes, regardless of how much I might like to.
I’m not sure how much of this existential crisis has to do with my upcoming 25th birthday, the [unexpected] change in relationship status that altered my vision of the future, both, or neither. Regardless, I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that as humans, we’re responsible for ascribing meaning to our lives and actions, if nothing else than to make survival easier. (We can debate this another day.)
Following this principle, I suppose that I should ascribe a certain meaning to my life, even if it changes later. Ironically, this leaves me exactly where I started a few years ago: With the objective to advance as much as I can as a well-rounded human. This means that I’m not willing to compromise on health or family for the sake of my career, and vice versa. I want as much of it as humanely possible – if this means that my career doesn’t reach the height that it could in favor of balance in another area, I’m making the conscious decision to be okay with that, when all is said and done. It helps that I’m confident that I can achieve the best outcomes and make the best decisions by being a whole human, especially since the decisions I hope to make affect humans so deeply.