To Live a Meaningful Life, Remember This One Thing
Advice for when you feel like you’re just going through the motions
To many people, there’s a specific order to life: Do big things, then make an impact. We often think we must hit arbitrary goals in order to matter. We say things like:
“Once I score a book deal with a major publisher, then people will pay attention to what I have to say.”
“Once I become a CEO, then I can make decisions that will create an impact.”
“Once I make millions of dollars, then I can help those in need.”
And so we spend our lives trying to hack our days, get ourselves noticed, and climb some proverbial ladder.
But this type of thinking will only lead to disappointment. The moment you reach those goals, you’ll be off on the next chase. You’ll set another milestone for yourself, and another, constantly redefining the point at which you can start to make a difference.
To live a meaningful life, you must know that one thing is true: What you do already matters. Philosopher William James, one of the founders of pragmatism, said it best: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
Unhappiness comes from believing that no one cares about what you do. It’s easy to feel irrelevant in a crowded world. Wake up, go to work, go back home, and watch TV until you fall asleep. You’re just going through the motions.
What you’re forgetting is that happiness is a byproduct of usefulness. And you can be useful in big and small ways every single day. Say you have to send an email to a student informing her that she didn’t get accepted into your company’s internship program. The words you use can make a difference in her decision to try again. Or maybe you’ve taken on an extra project to help out a grieving co-worker. Your work is allowing him to spend much-needed time with his family.
Perhaps you still want to do bigger things. That’s great. Sometimes it takes a while to get where we want to be. But know that the work you’re doing right now matters. Having this understanding will push you to keep going, not because you want to get somewhere else, but because you simply must.