Missing The Point

“Life’s like a jigsaw: You get the straight bits, but there’s something missing in the middle.” – XTC, All of a Sudden (It’s Too Late)

No matter what you do in life, someday you will cease to exist and quickly be forgotten. That truly sucks, yet what’s often missed in focusing on that end point is this: Everything that happens before then is the meaning of life. It can’t be bought, read online, or discovered in some ancient text. The meaning of life is what you make it. No more, no less. Rather than emerging fully formed from an event, action, or sudden epiphany, it slowly emerges bit by bit from the choices you make each day, both large and small. If life lacks meaning, the answer is to make different choices.

It can often seem impossible to change much about your life, no matter how empty and unsatisfying it has become. For young people, graduation is an obvious time for making big choices about the future. Later in life it’s much less obvious that each day brings a significant choice whether to continue with what you’re already doing. The number of “important” things demanding your time and attention can easily obscure other options and make falling into a meaningless rut the default simply because it quickly reduces the cognitive load to a bearable level. Each new responsibility brings with it a basket of behaviors and justifications that make significant change increasingly difficult.

People convince themselves they need A,B, and C before they can do or have X,Y and Z, and follow those assumptions, sometimes for decades, never questioned their source or utility. Not everyone is a drone pilot reaching the breaking point when the weight of murdering innocents eventually becomes inescapable. Most crises of meaning are more easily diismissed and postponed. Yet every postponement is wasting another part of your life.

The top five regrets of the dying was one of the most popular links I ever posted and for good reason. It’s hard to come up with a better test for how you spend your time. If you wrote down everything you did for the previous week, how many things would address any of those likely regrets? What would it say about what you’re making your life mean?

In accounting, a sunk cost is one that’s already been incurred and can never be recovered. Time invested on any path in life is a sunk cost. No matter how much time has been spent on something (career, relationship, etc), it’s irrelevant to decisions about the future. All that matters is whether something moves you toward the meaningful life you want, or away from one you don’t want, from this point forward. Don’t dawdle, dillydally, procrastinate, or worry about what the neighbors will think. Your life is an all too finite resource. Spend it wisely.

The Greater Fool

Find an old picture of yourself when your age was in the single digits. Think about everything that happened to that kid between then and now. Cry if you feel like it. Odds are, somewhere along the line, you took nearly everything that kid valued in life into a dark alley and beat the living shit out of it. Repeatedly. Age and wisdom tend to go hand in hand so it’s easy to dismiss that regime change as part of growing up and escaping the foolishness of youth. But for the average person the level of life satisfaction enjoyed in their teens won’t be reached again until well past retirement age, if ever. This wryly smiling graph illustrates the typical progression (and adolescence isn’t a particularly high hurdle):

Was that younger [arrogant, ignorant, and idealistic] version of you really the fool, or is it you?

Time

A big reason decades roll by so quickly when you get older is that you’ve seen it all before. Unlike when you were a kid, nothing seems that new or exciting any more. You fall into routines of work, kids, chores, and brief bits of rigorously scheduled recreation.

Without a stream of new experiences, a decade can quickly become an empty wasteland simply because there are no vivid memories to fill the space. The worst days of your life can seem so long because they are filled with one unexpected turn after another. Try to make your longest days the best ones instead: Do something new today.