“If you want something you’ve never had before, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done before” – Drina Reed
Recently as part of a leadership training I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we passed around a bowl containing slips of paper on which were written a number of inspirational quotes. We were each asked to select a piece of paper at random, read the quote aloud, and then say why that quote was particularly appropriate to us at that moment. I got the quote above. I have no idea who Drina Reed is, but I like the way she thinks.
A number of things strike me about this experience.
First, I liked the quote and so put it on my Facebook account as a status. Within minutes it seemed, and stretching over the next several days, I got more “Likes” than I usually do, and more comments. Clearly this thought struck a chord. I wonder, why is that?
Second, it did seem to fit, perfectly in fact. In my case, I didn’t even actually choose the slip of paper from the bowl – I was participating by teleconference so it was chosen for me by someone else in the group. So how did it happen that Reed’s quote seemed to fit so perfectly? How does it happen that I can find something deeply meaningful from an event that seems so random?
And last, what is it that the quote means to me – what do I make of it for my life, right now?
I suspect that the answer to all of these questions lies in the fact that many of us, maybe all of us, are looking for something new under the sun, something larger than ourselves, something that will satisfy a craving we have to fill an empty place inside. Do you know the feeling? I heard a tape recording once of a talk that Ram Dass gave about his experiences leading to his transformation from Richard Alpert, contemporary and colleague to Timothy Leary of Harvard and LSD fame, to a spiritual student and teacher with a new name. He described himself as having this feeling of searching, which he described as universal, where each new person we meet we look in the eye and ask, often desperately, “Do you know?”
If you never have that feeling that something is missing, or that there is something more that you want in life, then either you do know, or you are too busy to stop long enough to experience it, or you are too young to care just yet. If so, feel free to stop reading. What follows is for everyone else.
I believe that the craving I’m describing is a desire we all have for meaning. In this context I use “meaning” to represent an answer to one of those ultimate questions we ask ourselves from time to time, the more often as we get older, questions like “Why am I here?” or “What’s the meaning of life?” or, if we are feeling particularly puckish, “Is this all there is?” And the reason that I think that the craving is really a desire for an answer to these questions is that nothing material or fleeting seems to satisfy. Food, a new car, the latest electronic toy, a game of “Angry Birds” – none of these fill the emptiness, or at most fill it fleetingly. Even a “relationship” – in the noun form, where it isn’t a person to whom we are relating but rather the latest courtship or conquest or infatuation designed to stave off our dread of being alone – doesn’t fill the hole for long.
Somehow I think we, at least those of us who think about such things, recognize that most of what we do to satisfy the craving does’t work. Sooner or later we run out of “things” to do or get, and we are still left with the question. I think Reed’s quote strikes a chord because we recognize that, in order to find the answers to our questions about meaning, we need to do something really new.
There is a lot more that could be said about this idea, and I’ll return to it from time to time. For today, I’ll leave you with an idea to play with. I’m not sure it’s right, but I believe it will take you somewhere interesting.
Consider this: the reason that you are still looking for meaning is that you aren’t living your life the way you think you should or, more precisely, the way you want to live it. Perhaps you keep trying to satisfy yourself with substitutes because you are not living in a way that fits your most heartfelt values. I’m not saying it’s so – I’m just asking you to consider whether there is any truth in it for you.
As an experiment, ask yourself the following series of questions. Don’t rush, and don’t answer more than one question at a sitting. Better yet, take a day or two with each question before you move on.
- If nothing were forcing me to continue, what would I stop doing?
- If nothing were stopping me, what would I do more?
- If money were not an object, what would I do for work? If I chose not to work, what would I do instead?
- If there were nothing in my way, with whom would I spend more time, and with whom would I spend less?
- If I could design my perfect day, how would it differ from my typical day? What would it take to make every day more like my perfect day?
The point of this isn’t to suggest that, in order to be fulfilled, you should do whatever you please and consequences be damned, nor that every day has to be perfectly what you want it to be in order to be happy. The point is to ask yourself whether you are holding yourself back from a more meaningful life out of the illusion that you are doing what you “must.” The point is to ask yourself just how fulfilled you could be if you lived according to what you value the most.
When you ask yourself these questions, what do you learn? Will you share?
Les Kertay, The Moments Project