It’s okay to feel lost

I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others. That’s a meaningful day.

Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

Today was an average day. It was mediocrity and bedlam. It was mundane and unfulfilling. In short, it was a day of reacting to the world and whatever task or disaster landed on my desk. There was no planning involved in any of my actions. I was running through my waking hours on autopilot. This day could have had any date attached to it, and I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish it from any other.

This is not how any of us should live, and at some point, we all come to recognize two important truths.

  1. Our time on this world is limited.
  2. Our life can be taken from us at any moment.

At some point we lost sight of the fact that we are actually in control of how we respond to the world. We may be powerless in the face of death, but our lives can be meaningful. You would think that with this knowledge we would choose to dedicate our short lives toward some lasting communal goal. Instead, we often seem to get trapped in a cruel cycle of consumerism—working more hours to earn more money so that we can buy more things. Our lives become focused on these fleeting moments of pleasure found in the excitement of adding something new to our lives, and we get ensnared in a web of working harder to pay for things we never actually needed.

  • It’s time to stop trying to buy happiness.

It’s true. The world dictates many things that remain outside of our control. That’s okay, because we get to choose how we respond to those challenges. Recognize that you make the choice to surrender that power to others—to the world, governments, religion, schools, employers, television, social media, marketing campaigns, video games, partners and family. You can choose to change your position at any time. You can find meaning in life and leave behind the expectations of others.

I started my day without a plan to improve myself, my situation or my future. Instead, I was a creature of habit and my morning ran as if on autopilot and it soon escaped me. My day became nothing more than a to do list of mindless tasks from dawn to dusk.

  • I awoke to an alarm clock ringing.
  • I jumped in the shower.
  • I gulped down a cup of coffee.
  • I sat in an hour of traffic as I commuted to the office.

When I finally arrived at work, I jumped from one emergency after another as urgent issues hit me up on my mobile phone, email, office line, instant messenger and visitors stopped by my office. My day wasn’t very meaningful, and I think that is an all too common reality for many of us. Our routines make us reactive rather than proactive. We’re constantly “running late” and going through the motions of “getting ready” when we should be setting aside time to invest in ourselves. In the end it can feel meaningless. We’re doing the same things over and over again and we’re getting nowhere.

I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to find purpose and personal direction in life is to shift your focus from yourself to others. We can change our point of focus in an instant. We can stop hiding behind our electronic screens and begin to see the difficulties others face in the world. You’ll be surprised how quickly your actions to help others can make a difference in how you feel about your own life.

I look back at Gyatso’s words and there’s this moment of clarity. It’s like there’s this silent partner in my head who finally jumps up from his desk and says “That’s it! That’s how you do it!”

  • A meaningful existence is framed by our actions toward others.

We cannot serve meaningful lives when our focus is only self-serving. That’s a significant shift from the 21st century obsession with “Success.” The truth is we cannot control what the world throws our way. As long as we learn from our mistakes and choose the best response available to circumstances outside of our control, there’s no point in obsessing over misfortune or failure.

  • It’s okay to fail.
  • It’s fine to mess up.
  • It’s going to be alright if you have a bad day.

All this means is that stuff just happens in life. We have to rise to the occasion and choose to respond better, kinder and wiser to these situations than others may act toward us. If we don’t work on improving our responses to these situations, all we can hope to contribute to the world is more anger, resentment and frustration for the next generation.

Thoughts on a Good Life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on what it means to be a good person. There’s isn’t really a user guide available that works for everyone—though I’d recommend A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine as one place to start.

For my own part, I think I’ve found at least four timeless principles I believe we can all still live up to in our modern world if we embrace hardship and uncertainty as the opportunity we need to become better versions of ourselves.

Wisdom —know you’re often wrong in your beliefs and that others are better qualified to illuminate the truth.

Courage —endure hardship in the name of progress rather than retreating to a life of comfort and leisure.

Justice —sacrifice privilege for the security of the whole; we create law and surrender to order so that discord and tyranny do not consume us.

Temperance —accept no extremes and always seek, and if not found, create a middle path; we do not force our beliefs on others but find a way for all of us to share the communal space and its burdens.

Who am I?

Remember, it is far too easy to get distracted in this life. Before we know it, we can quickly lose our way, and a life once purpose-driven can easily become ensnared in the endless pursuit for more.

  • More money
  • More happiness
  • More stuff

It’s an endless cycle where we turn each moment of joy into an obsession for something more than what we already have in abundance. The truth is that there’s never enough of anything when we’re ensnared in this clever trap. So, we hurry on. We race to acquire every fantasy with the hope that it will satisfy this void in our heart.

It won’t.

This entire time that you’ve been working yourself haggard—the sleepless nights—the missed family and quiet time—it was all in vain. All you accomplished was to squander an irreplaceable gift by creating an unending cycle of stress rather than freeing yourself from it.

Who needs that?

Do you really need all this stuff—all these goals or possessions and the debts that come with it? When will you realize that it’s all an elaborate scheme to keep you from focusing on what matters?

So, you focus on this feeling—a false need—like a craving for something sweet. You feel this unquenchable thirst to fill your life with the fleeting joy of owning something new or accomplishing something great. But the thirst never leaves. You crave still greater achievements and grander prizes.

If you stop and reflect, if you take the time to really look at yourself—to talk to yourself—you may recognize that the truth is simple. You just don’t know who you are anymore.

You’re an empty shell. You’ve never taken the time to understand why you’re here on this world. You’ve never been given the chance to sit still and simply exist as who you are—with no expectations. You’ve spent your every waking moment trying to be something more, because that’s what you were taught to do.

  • Learn this.
  • Do that.
  • Look like this.
  • Wear that.
  • Say this.
  • Don’t say that.

We never learned to really think for ourselves. We’re so focused on being told what to know and what to believe that it’s no wonder we’re lost.

  • Google can’t tell you how you feel.
  • Twitter can’t tell you who you are.
  • Instagram can’t make you like yourself.

We’re so disconnected from ourselves that we seek validation everywhere but inside. We’re left trying to fill a void of consciousness that only self-reflection can ever find.

You have to recognize that filling your life with objects, memories and others’ opinions will not bring meaning to your life. It will, however, steal time and give you nothing in return. Learn to live your life. Make your decisions define who you are by answering these timeless questions.

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Why am I here?”
  • “What is my purpose?”

Let your actions define you. Only they can show you who you truly are in the end.