In wanting to support you living a life that matters, I thought I should write a long piece about this very topic, some weighty, definitive thinking to lay the foundation. But hey, if all of us are smarter than any of us, let’s open a conversation instead. Here are seven clues I spotted, but I'd like to know what you think . . .
why does life matter, and how do you know?
Because you say it does!
On the surface it was a pretty straight-forward exercise; write down 10 year goals for your life in four areas, Personal, Work, Family and Rest of the World. I froze at number four! I was 25 years old, working ambitiously at a business career, picturing myself as soon-to-be CEO of Big-Something Inc. I’d never given much thought to anything outside of this. And now, a blank quadrant on a white flip chart had me struck dumb, and, to be honest, a little scared. I had a sickly feeling, anticipating that something I’d never considered before was about to disrupt my entire life. What would I write in that box, could my life be relevant to the rest of the world?
OK, here’s the deal - its an act of faith whether or not your life matters. Its an assertion that each of us can make, one way or another. Without wanting to sideline thousands of years of philosophical debate, what it boils down to is that we are creatures of choice, and we are at choice when we decide if our life makes a difference. However . . .
. . . you and I already took a choice, albeit without knowing it, about this key question. It happened years ago, as children, when we were forming our beliefs about how we see ourselves, the world and our place in the world. In combination these beliefs act as an auto-pilot, directing our choices and actions every day, without our conscious knowing. If we never revisit those conclusions we are forever run by the auto-pilot, whatever direction it points us in, whatever it says about the meaning of our lives.
All those years ago, the 25 year old Jon was just discovering an underlying belief that somehow my life mattered in a wider context than just my own career success. Trouble was, it wasn't that simple, nor is it now! I also hold other conflicting thoughts, that the world is too big, too complex, the auto-pilot is confused! And so, to this day, one of my ongoing battles is to decide whether or not my life matters.
At some times I’ve acted from deep conviction - I’ve re-oriented my life , moved continents twice, lived thousands of miles from the family that I love, taken on roles I think will serve the world - in each case driven by the belief that my life matters. And yet, on other days, without consciously invoking this, the auto-pilot can make me prey to distraction or overcome by apathy. There’s a choice for me, every day.
Henry Ford said whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re right. Its pretty much the same here. Does your life matter? It does when you say it does!
You have a unique perspective and a contribution to make
No one else sees the world the way you do. Your perspective has been honed by the specific experiences that have shaped you, all of them, the seemingly good, and the others too. Your way of looking at the world can not be replicated by anyone else.
No one else can bring what you can bring to the world. Your capacities, allied to your unique perspective, make it possible for you to bring something into the world that again, is completely unique. Your own brand of life, be it joyous, thoughtful, wise, spontaneous or action-packed, is only available through you.
All of which means there is a contribution you can offer the world that will not otherwise be offered, ever, by anyone else. If there is a grand plan for humanity maybe it is simply this, that we each bring our contribution into service in the world. And then maybe the harmony of all us all singing our own songs, gives rise to a symphony of human expression, rich and alive. And maybe this is capable of shaping a fair and just world, both for now and for the well-being of future generations.
Just reflect a moment on your uniqueness, let that sink in a little, and then ask yourself - why would you withhold you from the world?
You are a channel for love
The poets have said, or at least should have done, that love is the very fabric of the universe. And if we're lucky we get to experience the flow of that love in our relationships, giving as well as receiving. When we are able to allow love to flow through us, in thoughts and words and deeds, we are enriched by this.
I can see this in action every single day, because my wife Sand is a channel for love. Just seeing her interact with people, everywhere she goes, with a ready smile, a genuine interest and care for people, is to see love in action. I’ve seen her connecting with taxi-drivers, security guards, shop-keepers, as well as friends, making them smile and then opening them up, to a joke, to a lighter moment, to love. All of this without any ulterior motive. I know, from the feedback of countless people, that she makes people feel good about themselves and good about the world.
When we touch other people with love our lives matter.
You're wired to know what’s right
Sorry, I know its uncomfortable, and try as you might it won’t go away. Its your conscience. It whispers in your ear every time life is deviating from what your moral compass says is right.
Being someone who is able to hear this voice, and courageous enough to act on it, places you amongst the few. Gandhi talked about having the courage to face being in a hopeless minority, of one! Maybe life will call some of us to help correct the course of the great human journey, as he did, or maybe we just get to use this voice to help steer our own life. Either way, conscience may lead us to sacrifice popularity, or comfort, for what we know to be right.
Perhaps the greatest test of conscience, suggests Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, is our willingness "to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."
Conscience helps make our lives matter.
You have an urge to do something to make the world a better place
I can still vividly recall the first conversation I had with a friend to confess I thought I should "do something" to help save the world. I stuttered out my naive, ill-formed thoughts, she listened patiently, a little confused I recall by my earnestness, but her listening and my admission of this urge was somehow enough to commit me to a path of action.
This impulse is a great gift, its a prompt for movement, give thanks for it. Often this same urge brings confusion and uncertainty in its wake. "What on earth should I do?" is the crie de coeur of many a well-intentioned heart. Answering the question about what to do is another process; for now we’re just going to celebrate the impulse to be in action. Because feeling that, admitting to that, makes you an actor, an agent of change, someone through whom life is co-creating our future.
You stand for dignity
There is a particular circumstance that offends you; its unfairness, or the loss of dignity of any human being.
If dignity is our innate right to be respected, to take decisions freely, to be able to choose our own way to see the world, then its presence should be guaranteed everywhere, for everyone. But sadly it ain't so, and you see all too clearly that the dignity of millions of people is being violated all over the world right now. Sometimes this is deliberate exploitation, sometimes the deprivation of basic rights or access to food and sanitation. And don't think this is just happening far away, the loss of privacy and the right to lawful protest are other examples that maybe closer to home. Whichever it is, you feel it.
Being a stand for dignity, fairness for all, makes your voice matter. Raise it loud until dignity is universal.
You care for the earth
I don’t know when you felt it first, that deep connection with the earth. Maybe as a child, if you were lucky, in the place where you lived or some other favorite spot. For me it was on family camping holidays, amongst the mountains of Britain.
A deep appreciation of nature is one of the symptoms that your life matters. When you see beauty in the natural world, you are drawn to cherish it, care for and protect it. And that is a vital role that, amongst all life, only we humans can play. Your gratitude is a reciprocation for all the seen and unseen ways our lives are made possible by mother earth; by the air we breathe, the waters and the food we consume.
You could argue that we humans are doing a pretty lousy job of caring for the earth, consuming and poisoning at ever increasing rates. So your care, in everyday choices to live more lightly or petitions signed to resist further damage, matters; it matters more than ever.
Now it's your turn, how do you know that your life matters? Please take a moment to contribute your wisdom in the comments section below. Our combined insights will see light of day in an update of this post in the new year. Please also forward this to friends who might want to contribute, with the Share button below.