How can life be made more meaningful
Why you can stop looking for meaning
You can listen to the article here
"Does everything always have to make sense?"
I had that one sentence. Then I didn't know what to do next.
For years I have been looking for the meaning of what I do. Sometimes I thought I had found it, but then I lost it again. It was never more than a flash in the pan. And now wanted I question the search for meaning itself?
However, I still didn't know what I was getting at. It stayed with this one sentence until I showed it to Jasmin. She planted a thought in me that stuck. Since then, my search for meaning has been downright ridiculous. I've been looking for the wrong thing all along!
But let's start over.
My way from ambition to meaning
Ambition seized me in my twenties. I worked in a startup and had a lot of fun doing it. A number of young people who had just finished their studies or were still in the middle of it turned the big wheel. Sometimes I looked around in the open-plan office and was happy that we were all looking at it together one Thing worked. The Thing I didn't even care.
After work I continued at home, because out of interest I had long since started to create my own websites, with which I soon made good money. Most evenings I sat on it for three or four hours. It continued on the weekend. Work was my default mode and I found that perfectly fine. I wouldn't have known what else to do.
At that time I was fascinated by the possibilities that the internet offered. I had a nose for making money. Online marketing was exactly my thing at the time. I just had to be reasonably clever and ambitious and the money would come on its own. What I earned it didn't matter to me. That sounds strange today, but it was normal back then. In the online marketers industry, it was all about clicks and cash. Of course, that couldn't go on forever. At some point even the last of them noticed that clicks weren't worth that much money. But until then I gave it my all and had little understanding for people who, despite all the possibilities, weren't as motivated to work.
After a year and a half as an after-work worker, I took the next step by founding an agency. There were two reasons for this: I could tell that it would not be good for me to work at home alone and an agency would be more scalable than my solo projects. Once you have 20 employees, you talk about completely different dimensions. At the time, I didn't know that it often looks different in practice.
When my twenties approached the home straight, everything turned out differently. I left my company and traveled around the world. When that turn began, I really stepped on the gas again and pulled up a few websites that should provide me with a solid income. A few of them are still running today. But the motivation soon waned. When I was out and about and the world was open to me, I became less and less enthusiastic about online marketing. While in my twenties I still volunteered 60 to 80 hours a week, it was now getting less and less. I increasingly questioned the quality and usefulness of my work and the more I tortured myself with it, the less time I wanted to spend on the legacy issues. It was (and is) like a blockage in my head.
Today I work far less and think differently. When private and work compete, work usually has to take a back seat. If there is still time after private fun, I can work. I am no longer driven by money. However, I am now driven by something else: agonizing questions of meaning.
Why the questions of meaning come
“In the beginning God created the earth and He looked at it in his cosmic solitude.
And God said, "Let's make living creatures out of clay so that the clay can see what We have done."
And God created all living creatures that move, and one of them was man. And only the clay that was human could speak. God leaned down as the clay sat up as a human, looked around, and began to speak.
"What's the point of all of this?" He asked politely.
“Does everything have to have a purpose?” Asked God.
"Of course!" Said the human.
"Then I leave it to you to make sense of all of this," said God. And He turned and went. "
Quote from "Cats Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut (rediscovered in "We can do it differently")
My personal change from ambition to meaning should not be unusual. A few months ago we asked about the greatest challenges facing our readers in a survey. The answer most often given (47 percent): search for meaning.
Many people wonder: "Who am I? Why I'm here? How can I do my part to make this world a better place? Or: How can I be happy? "
You don't have to ask yourself questions about the meaning, but once you start, you can hardly get rid of them. I suspect these questions have always existed. Most people just didn't have time for this luxury. They were busy meeting their basic needs for food, a roof over their heads, and security. In the last few decades, life has become more relaxed in this regard, but there were still families who had to be put through. In case of doubt, the children should be supported until they are in their own twenties. Only then was it time for the midlife crisis.
When I wrote about a crisis of meaning years ago, some readers advised me: "Wait a minute, at the latest when you have children, you no longer ask what makes sense." But do children really give meaning to life? It didn't really make sense to me. It didn't matter anyway, because I had no children and I have no children. Other people also start their families much later today. This leaves more time to struggle with questions of existence.
Crisis of meaning usually occurs when the previous concept of life goes off the rails. This happened to me when I ended my agency career and went on a world tour. However, it does not necessarily require such a major upheaval. Today's working world has become flexible. Hardly anyone stays in a company for decades. We are constantly subject to change and often bring it about ourselves by changing jobs, traveling the world or becoming bloggers. With the unlimited possibilities, there is first the agony of choice and then the questions of meaning.
I believe that more people are affected who work mentally and just type thoughts into a computer all day - like me. They are decoupled from the result of their work, because this cannot be touched or shown. What is the point of filling Powerpoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets? Marketers may be particularly vulnerable because at some point they wonder who should actually need all the clutter they are marketing. I felt like that. I helped companies sell more stuff by making their products more discoverable on the internet. Only one company displaces the other. The clutter is exactly the same. But what for?
It is not just the job that fosters crises of meaning. People with high demands on life and themselves often torment themselves with such questions, because reality cannot keep up with their expectations. The constant comparison with other people also drives expectations to astronomical heights and of course it has never been easier to compare yourself than it is today. Blogs, Facebook and Instagram show what still everything works while you are just lounging around on the sofa and nibbling on the chocolate.
Low self-esteem reinforces this process even more. People, for whom it does not fit into their own self-image to be good enough and lovable, seek their confirmation elsewhere. I can tell you a thing or two about that. Some days i think having to somehow justify being in the world. Then I ask myself: What do I have to offer? What does the world have from me? How can I give her more to justify my existence?
When the questions about the world trip began, I calmed down first with my travel blog and with introvertiert.org. After all, I often received feedback that these blogs were very useful. But that wore off and at some point my topics were over. Then we started Healthy Habits and I thought: That's it! That makes sense to me!
But in weak moments the questions come back. Then I can't think of anything to write about. Everything seems useless. Why should I write more texts that are quickly forgotten? And anyway: blogging, pff! I should have been an engineer, a doctor, or a science career. But I had to study business administration and now I can Nothing. I have to make myself more useful than writing a few texts.
These are the bad days.
Fortunately, there are a lot more good ones. Then I can live better with it "just" to write. I like to do it and have the time for it. So I use these prerequisites and share my experiences with others. It will definitely help someone.
"We are not born to find answers, but to ask questions." - from "Der Trafikant"
Basically, it doesn't matter what rationalization I come up with. The questions of meaning come back anyway, because they don't exist a Answer. I don't believe in a calling or a passion that just needs to be found. Presumably, any question about meaning will go unanswered forever because it is the wrong question.
What is really behind questions of meaning?
On the face of it, I want to dedicate my life to something meaningful. But in the last few months I've had to honestly ask myself: If I really want this, why don't I? I have all the prerequisites for that.
Years ago I was looking for a volunteer job so that I could do a little more with myself. But I didn't find the right one. The other day I happened upon one of these volunteer websites again. I clicked through the offers, but after twenty minutes I had had enough. For me there was once again nothing there. At least nothing that could solve my questions of meaning.
"Everybody wants to save the world but nobody wants to help mom with the dishes." - Patrick Jake O'Rourke
I already knew then that voluntary work does not generally make you happy, because I had already tried. As Leipzig gradually filled with refugees, help was needed. A fundraising point opened almost on my doorstep. I couldn't talk myself out of that.My offer of help was primarily selfish. I wanted to make myself useful to justify my existence again. I assumed that I would feel important afterwards. But already on the first day it was clear: nothing will come of it.
After hours of sorting clothes and carrying boxes, everything felt pointless: Why do I sort everything from one box to the next? Is all that stuff really needed? Who should wear the junk that the people of Leipzig muck out of their cupboards after twenty years in order to feel a little better? Still, I went a few more times. It was now work and duty, but there could be no question of answering my questions about the meaning.
In the meantime I believe that I was on the wrong track in my search for meaning. No matter how many blogs I start, books I write, clothes I sort or whether I change my job - sooner or later I come across the same questions. If I kept looking, it would only make me unhappy. Because behind the desire for a meaningful task there is something else. It is not our own actions that we experience as meaningful. It only makes sense through other people's reactions. If they don't care what I do, everything remains pointless. If you praise and admire me, what I do becomes meaningful. It took me a while, but then I recognized the real motive in my search for meaning: It was a search for recognition.
After Jasmine implanted this thought in me, I felt better. Not just that I had a subject for this article. I was also relieved that I didn't have to chase after a great purpose, calling, or justification for my existence. I really just want someone to show me: "You're fine the way you are."
Lack of recognition is a key issue for most dissatisfied employees. According to the employment contract, only performance is exchanged for money, but what people really need is recognition. They want to be valued for the contribution they make to the team and to the company. You want to feel: What you do is important! Those who feel unimportant begin to brood and consider whether they can make a greater contribution elsewhere in this world.
It is not necessarily different in self-employment. Here, too, performance is exchanged for money. Customers don't always donate recognition, but see their contribution as rewarded with the paid invoice. For us as internet entrepreneurs, there is also the fact that the environment has little understanding for the online job. When I talk about websites or blogging, I often get incredulous questions: "And you can live on that?" These comments are innocent and not meant to be malicious. Nevertheless, they always convey a message: It's not worth anything. Who should pay for it?
As bloggers, we receive recognition from our readers in the form of emails, comments and likes. But it wears out quickly. If one text was successful, our expectations for the next increase. If there are no likes, we are disappointed.
Like = You are so horny!
The theory of recognition also explains two other things that I have already mentioned: Parents ask less questions about meaning because a child gives a lot of recognition (sometimes it just can't show it that way). The child is dependent on its parents. It takes them. It shows you: You are important!
The clothing collection point also lacked recognition. I went, sorted, and went back home. My fellow participants were people who always help anyway, for them it was normal. I hardly told friends about it so as not to show off. And of course: I never saw the people I was sorting for. So they didn't pat me gratefully on the shoulder.
How do we break away from the big questions of meaning?
What does that mean for us when we are tormented by questions of meaning? In the last few weeks I have recognized three possible solutions for myself. Looking back, I have been using them for some time.
1. Ask yourself whose approval you want
You don't have to save the world right awayso that other people recognize our actions. As I read about the lives of centenarians, I found that they all have a job that gets them out of bed in the morning. They help other people, but none of the centenarians mentioned in the book is committed to climate protection, drills wells in Africa or fights world hunger. They stay in their communities and help out on a small scale. For this they receive the recognition of the village.
I don't want to save the world either. I made it up to myself, but I never really tried because nothing felt right. If I'm honest, the big wide world is not so important to me. I hate to admit it to myself, but it's the truth. If I want to be satisfied, I can't fool myself. Otherwise I'm always looking for something that I don't even want to have.
In my work, I notice what feels best for me: When my friends and acquaintances like it. People who don't only know me from the Internet. Sometimes I find out that they are grappling with each other on the subjects we are writing about here. My heart opens when they say:"We discussed this for a long time."
You can of course feel differently. Maybe you want to get involved in the bigger issues. Regardless of whether it is about recognition or not. Just ask yourself if that's what you are really or whether you are telling yourself to do it out of a sense of duty. Your mind may be right under your nose. The next time you have doubts, ask yourself whose encouragement means most to you. Maybe it's your friends and family - those people who are close to you and whose values you share. You can use these values as a guide instead of looking at things that other people consider to be worth striving for.
2. Acknowledge yourself
I already wrote it at the beginning: People with a low self-esteem are more prone to meaning crises. Since they do not recognize themselves, they seek recognition from outside even more. Well, you don't get good self-esteem overnight.Maybe you never get it, because the basis is laid early in life and is difficult to change later. But if I can give you one tip, it's this: Do things that make you like yourself. I recommend this article to explain this "idea".
There is no other way. If you spend every evening and every weekend in front of the TV on the sofa and then hate yourself for it, there is no self-esteem. How are you supposed to acknowledge yourself for this? Do things that you have to do, but then pat yourself on the back for. Make routines of these thingsthat are firmly anchored in your life, because you know: Crises of meaning arise when your own concept of life gets out of joint.
It works pretty well for me. When I stand with both feet on the ground, know what to do with myself and my day and take care of my well-being, I am not constantly thinking about what else I have to do for this world. I don't have to save the world. It is enough to save myself.
3. Let go of the thought
We are attached to the thought that we have to be important to others. We will never get away from that completely, because recognition is our fuel. Still it is just a thought we often doexaggerate. With a little goodwill, we can at least let go of it for a while.
The next time you're looking for meaning or lack of recognition, accept that everything doesn't always have to be the way you envision it in your head. With letting go comes serenity and maybe you can even smile about it:
"Oh, I'm looking for meaning again!"
PS: My special appreciation today (and otherwise) goes to Jasmin. Not for the first time she has formed a thought out of one of my tormented ideas that made me more relaxed and made this text possible.
You should read the following article related to the topic: Why we please others and thereby harm ourselves
Photo: Man sitting in the sunset from Shutterstock
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