A friend of mine who was my boss some years back recently posted a link that makes a case for what it means to pursue a "significant" life as opposed to striving for "success." It struck a deep chord with me, not only for my own outlook on life now, but also how I would like my teens to assess their immediate futures and then some.
About 20 years ago, this gentleman and I worked for the same company and he was a great mentor. He pushed me into work circumstances in which I was sure I could not achieve success - but he knew that I could. He was right. I learned more about myself at that time of my life and I think it shaped my sense of self in ways that have made me a much better person than I otherwise would have been. It's neat to see that such a person can still share wisdom regarding personal success.
The crew of people we worked with were not greedy; they were professionals who wanted to do their jobs well and receive compensation for their hard work that was fair. We were all pretty young then - most of us in our early to late 30s.
Now, many of us have grown kids and several are - gulp - grandparents. Some are looking for mid-life career changes.
Even though I wouldn't call anyone in the group money-chasers, I can't deny we all weren't looking for biggest paycheck we could get. With families to raise and living in a prestigious suburban area, who wouldn't want to enjoy the good life?
But now we wonder - what is the good life? What does it mean to have a good life?
Without meaning to, do we trip ourselves up in our pursuit for success and happiness, but getting in the way of ourselves and what actually will make us feel satisfied?
The article that he posted is called "Becoming Minimalist." Yep, that's a live link and you can read the whole thing by clicking on that link.
Aside from monetary gain, most of us define success as being "happy." Money, nice things, a good job, great vacations, etc. seem like they'll make us "happy," and in many cases that's true. But is it enough?
“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” —Leo Rosten
This quote starts out the link from the post.
As a middle-aged person, I agree. I want my life to mean something. I want to be remembered for being kind, compassionate, useful and to have made a difference.
And as I listen to high school seniors talk about their lives, without even knowing it, this is what they want, too. They don't even know it.
Their vision may be clouded by that ultimate quest to be "happy" - what does that mean? A cool vehicle to drive? The nicest clothes? The best body? A prestigious university to attend?
Part of the quest for significance might incorporate some of these things (in proper perspective), but without that quest for meaningfulness in life, it won't mean life satisfaction.
There's a fallacy with thinking a life well-lived means always being happy and always getting what you want.
Accepting that life is a combination of many things - physical, spiritual, intellectual - good, bad and everything in between - means that a person is living an authentic life.
I keep hearing again and again that young people are the most unhappy they have ever been. There is more anxiety and depression than ever. Many even report that they have no real reason to feel this way - that they have loving parents and siblings, went to a great university, have good jobs and are pleased with their significant others. But they are still unhappy.
Perhaps then we should all consider that the grace of the human condition, lived to the best of our ability, is our gift. That "expecting" happiness means we are always chasing it, since what we have will never be enough.
That is why it is what we give - of ourselves - that brings us joy.
U2's song "Get Out Of Your Own Way" summarizes this in the final quotes of the song. It's a somewhat puzzling declaration at first, until you realize - the speaker is talking exactly of what gets in our way: Arrogance breeds loneliness, recognizing humility in ourselves is more meaningful than being the center of attention, greed encourages more greed and one can only be free when one releases oneself from what binds us.
"Blessed are the arrogant
For there is the kingdom of their own company
Blessed are the superstars
For the magnificence in their light
We understand better our own insignificance
Blessed are the filthy rich
For you can only truly own what you give away
Like your pain"
In all, the song is an anthem of parenthood, especially to those fledgling children just getting ready to take flight upon graduation.
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