Meaning is not something that you can search for. It’s not a player of hide and seek, disguised under wraps somewhere, waiting to be unturned. It is not a location or an unmarked corner of the globe. It will not greet you as you disembark from a plane in a city four thousand miles away, or appear miraculously as you engage in something new. Meaning is not derived from singular events, and no matter how you may wish it so, meaning is not located behind door number two.
If we accept this as fact, and determine that meaning cannot be “discovered” like an island or a treasure map, we are left to wonder whether “searching” for meaning is, itself, a futile endeavor. Whether it is a waste of precious time to look for something that can’t actually be found. It’s a question certainly worth asking, for if we consider our greatest pursuit in life to be that of chasing an unanswerable question, we might conclude it wise to change course. However, abandoning our forever quest—”quitting” our mission in life—would be an uncomfortable and difficult task.
It would be unlike me to give up so easily on a journey that I, myself, have put a great deal of time and energy into understanding. While my school of thought around meaning and purpose has shifted, I have done anything but give up. I ask the same questions I always have (how can I best live a meaningful life?), but pursue the “answers” differently. I have loosened the reigns, and relinquished control. Instead of searching for meaning and waiting for epiphanies, I patiently accept that the whole story—from front to back—cannot be accurately interpreted through the reading of a few select chapters.
Like any good novel, the point of a book isn’t necessarily grasped by reading until the final word. Often, it’s only through time and reflection that we come to derive any meaning at all from a story. This does not mean that the story is unhelpful or ineffective in its presentation—to the contrary, it suggests that the story provided us with an unparalleled sense of depth and richness. The kind of richness that tastes delicious as it’s consumed, and requires time to fully digest.
I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor am I an expert on Understanding Life. I can only offer ideas for things I feel and know to be true. From my personal experience, I have come to recognize that meaning is derived from my commitments to people, places and things around me. This is vague, certainly, but intentionally so. Meaning, as I’ve come to understand, is multi-faceted, dynamic, evolving and strange. It is not squarely defined, nor can it be taught by way of bullet point-type advice. It is an open door, not a locked secret. “Finding” meaning is good, honest work, and such work requires patience and time.