This morning I read a very interesting post by Trent Hamm in his very popular blog (over one million readers every month) The Simple Dollar. The title of the article is "Building a Meaningful Life from the Bottom Up." The title of the article is a link to the actual article if you'd like to read it yourself.
I enjoy Trent's articles because they are straightforward and make good common sense when it comes to personal finance and living a simple life financially. The first thing Trent said in this article was, "One of the biggest struggles of modern life is the search for meaning and purpose." Boy is he on target with that statement.
We live in a world that is so busy and so stressful that most people simply keep going, doing all kinds of things they consider necessary until . . . well, until they stop, because they are too stressed, have run out of time and are just too tired to do anymore. So, they call it a day and start the next day doing the same thing and end the same way, day in and day out, including the weekends. Is there any wonder that most people realize little joy, contentment and fulfillment in their lives? They simply do stuff they automatically accept as necessary and important without determining if it serves any meaningful purpose in their lives.
I can certainly relate to this. I chose an entrepreneurial route for my life, as opposed to a more traditional employment scenario in a private sector, institutional or governmental career. I found myself, on many more than a few occasions, asking myself "why" and "to what end" am I doing whatever it was that I was doing. Of course, the older one gets, the more confusing this becomes.
For example, I often hear people who are tired of the work routine, regardless of their employment choice - traditional job or entrepreneur, who can't wait for the, supposed, bliss of retirement. Then, I hear the same people, once they've made this leap into, supposed, bliss, complaining that they are now busier than they were before they retired. It doesn't make any sense, but it seems to work this way for many people.
I would often jest with friends, when asked about the self-employed, entrepreneurial way of life, saying I traded 9-5, five days a week for 14 to 16 hour days six and seven days a week and holidays and vacations didn't exist. Looking back at my life, I realized that I complicated my businesses and my life in unrealistic ways because I believed this was expected of me and necessary. Unfortunately, as I look around at other people, including many young people, today, I see the pattern repeated.
What exactly was the meaning and purpose of all the time I spent using up so many of the precious 701,280 hours (80 years, including leap years, the average life expectancy)? I've told myself it was to have a nice home, create financial security, acquire a never-ending list of things I wanted for myself and my family and similar goals. I even said I wanted to make the world a better place. However, the reality was, I had no idea what was really meaningful and served my purpose for ultimately being joyful, content and fulfilled. I wonder how many people live their lives and never do discover meaning and purpose for themselves.
Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." To me this simply means that most people function throughout their lives just "doing" and doing whatever it is without an understanding of any underlying meaning or purpose. But, everyone is desperate to get whatever it is that they do done so that one day some of them will wonder what it was they actually did, why they did it and feel no contentment or fulfillment. And, because they are so accustomed to the rut they've carved for themselves, they may reach retirement and then fill their time with more things to do that produce no contentment or fulfillment. But, it's what they do because they are so conditioned to the idea they are expected to do it.
I remember an early issue of the magazine, Travel & Leisure, then either part of or promoted by American Express, with the major cover story, "The Lost Art of Doing Nothing." That story impacted me. On the one hand, the very concept of actually enjoying doing nothing totally intrigued me, while on the other hand, I couldn't fathom the concept of actually living, even a short period of time, doing nothing. The reality for me was that purpose and meaning were just "doing." It didn't matter what it was, just doing anything. The idea that doing nothing was actually doing something didn't register.
Trent Hamm has developed an exercise for himself that he repeats approximately every three months or so. He calls it "My Life Pyramid." He explains it in great detail in his article (link above). Actually, while I found it very detailed and easy to follow, I remembered that Trent is in his late 20's or early 30's. He hasn't made it to the mid-life 40's and 50's when reality begins to settle in. Reality is that all the dreams and goals of those 20's and 30's are not reality. And those who actually achieve many of them, find there is little that's fulfilling and joyful about the things, especially material accomplishments.
Trent's "Life Pyramid" was inspiring for me. However, by the time I got to the end of the article, I realized that at 69 years of age, while I still have some good life and living ahead of me, Trent's approach to goal setting was just too complicated for me. If you are in your 20's, 30's or maybe even your 40's, it may make more sense for you.
Ed's Living Free Simple Plan For A Meaningful and Purpose Driven Life
I said that Trent's article inspired me and it did. So, I decided to spend a few minutes rather than hours thinking about things that had meaning and purpose for my life and led to fulfillment, contentment and joy. Here they are. They are short, simple, sweet, easy and best of all give me fulfillment, contentment, joy and often (usually) make a difference in other people's lives.
1. Make 12 people smile everyday
2. Stop doing things that are meaningless and have no useful purpose to me
3. Do something to help someone else have some joy everyday
4. Stop thinking, worrying or stressing about things I have no control over
5. Do something everyday that brings me joy
6. Laugh as much as possible and as hard as possible everyday
7. Explore, learn and see something new/different everyday
8. Give as much of my knowledge and experience as possible without expectation of return or reward
9. Do not become dependent on others, but cultivate new friends continually
10. Never forget old friends; we are part of each others' lives
11. MAKE MEMORIES, lots of them, they are the only things that go with you when you die
12. Become financially independent - on MY OWN TERMS based on my needs in life
That's it! These are simple. They all bring me great joy, contentment and a feeling of purpose and meaningful engagement. They are all fluid. My world won't end if I only make 10 people smile on any given day. In other words, if I live the rest of my 5, 10, 15, 20 or any more years and focus on these goals, I will die a content and fulfilled man.
I hope I made you smile as you read this. That's one of many smiles for today.
How do you like this idea? What are your goals to make your life have meaning and purpose?