what does it mean to live a meaningful life?

I gave a talk yesterday to a group of really courageous, strong people. The talk took place during their “meaningful roles” group, so I tried to incorporate that theme as I told my story. I don’t know if I did a great job, but I had a great time. Of course, on my three hour drive home, I thought about all the stuff I meant to say, and I thought about what the phrase “meaningful role” means to me.

Everything I do and think and say is shaped by my core beliefs and understandings about the world around me and my place in it. One of those beliefs that life is insignificant. That idea was one of the guiding factors in my desire to kill myself. Why try when it doesn’t matter, anyway? When I entered recovery, the belief that life is insignificant was the hardest to overcome. I couldn’t just let that belief go, so I decided to hold on to it and re-frame it in a way that works with my desire to stay alive.

My individual existence is insignificant within the scheme of existence, but that does not mean I should kill myself. In fact, I should embrace that insignificance and bask in the strange fact that I am alive. There are trillions of things that had to happen in order for me (and you, and everything) to come into existence. Cool!

So, if my life is insignificant, how can it be meaningful? Well, it’s both meaningful and not meaningful. I get to choose for myself what my own personal meaning of life is, and I can’t take it too seriously because it is impossible for it to matter all that much in the larger realm of existence.

Also, if everything is insignificant and doesn’t need to have meaning, then why pay taxes or get out of bed or do anything that I don’t want to do? I’ll tell you why: I feel emotions. Humans are rational (that is arguable but let’s just go with it for now), and humans are emotional. I’ll give you a real-life example of what I’m trying to illustrate: today I really wanted to go bug my dad and hang out with him while he was at work (not that he would have gone with it, but that doesn’t matter), but that would have meant skipping class. My class today was completely pointless and boring. Whether or not I was there had no impact on anyone. I didn’t say a word the whole time. I didn’t even take notes. The only reason I went is because I would have felt shitty if I had skipped it. I value family more than I value school, but I want to graduate from college and go to grad school (because that will feel good and help me do the kind of work that makes me feel good), so that means I need to pick the days that I skip class wisely. Doing poorly in school kind of dims part of my life. When I work hard, I am proud of myself. So today, I went to class even though it doesn’t matter at all in the scheme of things. Whether or not I go to school makes me feel an emotion. That’s why I do it, or don’t do it.

Thinking that my life was meaningless made me feel shitty. I always said/thought that I wanted to kill myself because it was the logical thing to do based on how I viewed the world. But secretly I think it was because I felt so shitty for so long.

In my experience, the meaning of my life is directly connected to emotion. So, what does it mean to live a meaningful life? I think it means living life in the direction of what makes me feel most fulfilled. My favorite feeling is the feeling I get when I make people laugh. I get the same feeling when I have an honest, reciprocal conversation with someone and we both feel heard. It’s the same feeling I get when I tell people my story and they accept me and relate to me. I get the same feeling when I hold the door open for someone and we smile at each other. The common theme in all of those situations is connection with others. So, the meaning of my life (and I open to the evolution of this) is connection with others.

My story is not unique. The cool thing about my story is that I love to share it with others who want to hear it. By sharing my story with other people, I am inviting them to share themselves honestly and the next thing you know we have a wonderful, vulnerable human connection.

My “meaningful role” is derived from that desire for human connection. Each day I think about what I can do on a daily basis to get that connection, or to accomplish something that will help me get that connection in a more effective way in the future. I like feeling heard, and I want to spend my life ensuring that others are heard, if not by anyone else, then by me. So, I do things that will help put me in a place where I can listen and talk with others. That could look like a hundred different things as I grow and change. I also love flowers and feel happy when I look at flowers. I also love my cat. add something there.

So, what I want to do in my future doesn’t really matter. I need to do something where I will get paid so that I can put food on the table for my family, other than that, I can make it work. I am reminded of Jonny’s first job when he got clean. He was living in a sober home and needed to get a job in just a few days. He accepted a job from the first place that called him back, 7-eleven. He worked there for five months, and he expressed gratitude (almost) everyday for his job. Like me, he loves to make people laugh. Unlike me, he’s really good at it. I think Jonny was one of the most popular gas station cashiers in Austin. He made people’s days better, he became part of their daily lives. It was an amazing thing to watch. He took a job that people might see as kind of shitty, and turned it in to a very meaningful experience. He would tell me about his day at work and I would think, wow, that job sounds really fulfilling. 

The reason I tell that story is because I think it is my responsibility to give meaning to whatever it is I’m doing, or to incorporate the meaning of my life into what I’m doing. I just deleted a whole lot of stuff that I think doesn’t need to be said by me right now. This is the end of my thoughts for now, and I will add to it or take away from it in future blog posts. I wish WordPress had emojis. I would put the dancing ladies right here if I could.

bang bang

Anger and confusion are two feelings that I have a difficult time writing about. It gets blurry and chaotic really fast. But, I’m angry and confused. I think. I’m really not sure how I feel. Almost everyday for the past two weeks, I have spoken to at least one person on my college campus about the subject of school shootings. We talk about our fear that one will happen at our school, we talk about our sympathy for victims of school shootings, we talk about what we would do in that situation, and we talk about how we could support future shooters in order to provide a community that prevents such a terrible thing from happening.

I’m writing this post because today there was an email sent out to the whole school urging us to come to some information sessions so that we can be as prepared as possible in the event of a school shooting. I teared up while I was reading the email.

Before I write any more, I need to say that I know that I am among the most privileged people in the world because my quality of life is just about as good as it gets. I have a doctor who I can call at any time, I have the opportunity to earn an amazing education, I am not worried about how I am going to get the food I need for dinner tonight. I am very aware of all of this. That does not mean I am not allowed to express the negative feelings I have around the fact that it has become necessary for schools all over America to have an action plan in the event that a school shooting occurs.

I spend more time than I probably should worrying about the worst case scenario in any situation (I’m working on it). The topic of school shootings has given my day-mares a lot of ammunition. The reason my phone does not have a passcode lock on it is because if I get shot, whoever comes to get my body will be able to call the people I love without any delay. That’s on the pretty far end of the spectrum of like, “okay, this girl is kind of crazy,” but, it’s still messed up that I think about that. I feel less crazy knowing that I am not the only one of my peers who doesn’t have passcode on lock on my phone for that reason.

There is this eerie fog over my college campus, and I feel like it is permeating schools everywhere. Almost everyone I know has a plan of what they are going to do if a school shooting happens. That is a lot of emotional distraction and I am having a hard time taking things in the present moment very seriously, because there is a constant perspective check going on in my head. Yeah, this homework is important, let me just check my email first. Oh, right, I need to put in my calendar to go to this meeting about our school’s action plan in the event that one of my peers reaches a breaking point. And just like that, I can’t think about the craft elements this author uses in her short fiction story.

I’m suddenly too busy thinking about my family, and who I would call first if a school shooting happens while I am on campus. I start wondering if any of my peers are thinking about it. How can I help them? How can I contribute to my school’s community in a way that will make it a safe place for everyone, including the people who think violent things but are too scared to ask for help? And now the homework that seemed so important before just doesn’t seem as important.

Thankfully, I have been able to stay relatively on task by telling myself, you’re right, it’s not important, so just write something about the topic and turn it in so that you don’t screw-over future Simone. 

I just wanted to write a quick post about all of this because I think about it on a daily basis and I am not the only one who thinks about it on a daily basis, and it’s so weird that our country is at a place where we need to be prepared for this sort of thing because it happens so often.