Life has meaning?

Recently, I met with a friend who wanted to talk about his reentry into the world of work. Like many in the Bay Area he had been “degigged” through a corporate reorganization. And like many, he had taken some time off staying at home and spending time with his children as his wife became the sole bread winner.

After chatting and catching up, he started to speak about what he was looking for in his next job and said, in a phrase that has been more or less current for the past 30 years, that he wanted to “make a contribution.”

At that moment I found myself saying, “I have no sympathy.” I went on to elaborate that the field in which I had had the most success, including authoring the best basic book in the field, was one I had stumbled into, didn’t particularly like, was told to get out of, and wound up as an expert. That I may have wanted to make a contribution was not part of the equation. I needed a job and ended up in that field. I did, others might say, contribute there, but certainly my contribution did not have its origin in anything other than pure necessity.

From there we talked of him opening conversations with his friends and business contacts who might know of a job in his areas of expertise. In his situation, like mine then, cash flow and not contribution was the true requirement of the moment.

Later, in reflecting on the conversation I realized that his concern is part of the larger human concern of meaning in life. When I look back on my own questioning here I see three different periods:

● Meaning comes from what I do in life, including the role or roles I inhabit

● Life has no meaning (sometimes with the addition that there is no meaning that it has no meaning)

● Meaning simply lies in living itself. This occurs with the realization that there is no ultimately satisfactory answer or answers to the question of the meaning of life – the question dissolves and does not arise again

There is a peace in the last that was not available in the first two. And nothing changes, one still moves in the world doing the things that we humans do. It’s simply that the questioning about whether something is the right thing for me, is my calling (or, in the religious sense, vocation), is my life’s purpose, is my bliss to follow, or any other variation on this theme vanishes. One is present to one’s life, engaged in living, unconcerned with and unburdened from the angst of meaning.

One Comment to “Life has meaning?”

  1. Who knows, but I think that the phenomenon of “meaning” is going to become very important in the domain of psychology and psycho-analysis in the not too distant future, i.e., a set of distinctions will emerge as a result of examining: searching for meaning versus inventing meaning, which may also impact the arts: creativity as revealed listening vs. creativity as manufactured listening…?

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