100% life from concentrate
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Here’s a tiny question: what do you do when reach the edge of heartbreak? Consider the story of my good friend Priya. Let go from a successful career in finance, with no new opportunities on the horizon, Priya bravely decided to write a book about careers and meaning. One long year later, Priya’s blown through her savings, broken up with her partner, moved back to her parents’ place, and generally feels like her so-called future just went Vesuvius.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of…whatever. Ah, screw it: what’s the point, anyways? In that sentiment, Priya’s hardly alone. If you’re under the age of 35 and/or worth less than a few dozens of millions, you probably get the sinking feeling, by now, that you’re being written off by today’s leaders. Here’s the inconvenient truth…you are.
I don’t mean to get post-Bieber power ballad emo on you, but the great danger of this great hurricane of a never-ending crisis is that our will to live is quietly diminished. Not in the sense of jumping screaming off the nearest bridge — but in the less noticeable yet perhaps more lethal sense of resigning ourselves to mediocrity, triviality, lives we don’t want because they don’t feel they count. Hence: the great obligation you and I have right here, right now, then, children of the hurricane, isn’t merely to give up on life — but precisely the opposite: to redouble our furious pursuit of lives well lived.
I believe that each and every one us is here for a reason. Go ahead: get it out of your system. Roll your eyes, purse your lips, LOL, luxuriously wallow in cynicism for a moment — and then consider what tends to happen to those that have no great, abiding reason to be here. They sink, ineluctably, into depression; life seems to pass them by; they feel powerless, hopeless, fatalistic, and finally, come to see themselves as refugees from life; not creators of lives.
You and I know: homo economicus is about as good a role model as the love child of Freddy Krueger and Alien. Each and every one of us needs more than mere stuff and trinkets if we are to fully pursue happiness. We know: we need friends, security, stability, status, respect if we are to have a fighting chance at glimmers of contentment, delight, joy. Yet there is a truer need still: a reason to live fully, wholly, searingly; a reason that elevates us, at our best, past the mundane, and into the noble, good, and true. And unless this need is answered, our lives will always feel somehow reduced, lessened, blunted, a masterpiece seen through a veil of gauze, achingly incomplete. Each and every one of us is here for a reason; and it is that reason that anchors our stretching branches firmly in the soil of life.
So here’s the deal, broski. You and I don’t need a reason merely for romantic reasons; to add a celestial veneer of bogus miracle to the dreary predictability of our lives. Each and every one needs a reason for the most pragmatic of reasons: to evoke the best, noblest, and truest in us; and so to persevere in the pursuit of lives well lived. The tiny miracle of life is us — and whom we can choose to become.
So here are my five tiny rules for creating your reason.
Total surrender. Everyday for the last year, Priya’s gone to the café and…checked her Facebook. The self-help books and the mystical gurus will tell you: just imagine hard enough, and the life you so fervently desire will — poof!! — manifest. Let’s be honest: it’s a pleasant fairy tale for the nail-bitingly insecure. The simple truth is: If you want to live a life worth living, you have to do a lot (lot) more than merely wish for it: you have to work for it. And not merely in the brain-dead sense of “80 hours a week, at a job you hate, with people you hate, for a boss you want to stab, doing work that makes you want to projectile vomit, to benefit sociopathic shareholders that would rather see you miserable, fat, broke, and dead than fulfilled.” I mean work for it in a more profund sense: you must work to create a reason that demands from you nothing less than the furious, uncompromising pursuit of a life well lived; and if, like Priya, your so-called reason’s leading you to spin your wheels and go nowhere fast…it’s probably not one powerful enough to surrender to.
Absolute clarity. A reason is not a purpose. Priya’s real mistake is that she’s confused a purpose — writing books — with a reason: why the books must (not should, but absolutely, totally, must, or else your whole life will feel empty, wasted, pointless, over) be written. Imagine you were a master stonemason. Your purpose might be to build a great cathedral. But your reason might be to approach the divine, to leave a legacy, or simply to do great work. A purpose, then, is a set of accomplishments — but a reason is the animating force behind them; it is the “why” that gives sense to the “what”; and without it, all our “whats” may end up being empty, barren, senseless in the terms of a life that feels well lived. Priya, like many people I know, is a stonemason with a blueprint — but no incendiary, unstoppable, inescapable reason to begin building.
Real life. So if, like Priya, you can’t quite seem to put your finger on your reason, how do you begin? Here’s the trick. The reason isn’t found, or discovered. It is created. It is the great act of a life; the culminating act that joins our choices and decisions into a trajectory that resonates. A purpose is what you make: a book, a company, a bonus. A reason is what you live: knowledge, art, enlightenment, and more. What do you want your life to be? What is it that you want to live? When it comes not just to stuff, but to life, what is that you want to enact? You can’t answer this question like Priya’s been trying to: “books”. You must answer it in a more fundamental sense — “knowledge,” “art,” “education,” “enlightenment.” All these are better answers, in Priya’s case. They’re tiny steps beyond purpose, and towards the beginnings of a reason.
Radical simplicity. You can’t create your reason if your life is, pardon my French, full of bullshit. The answers above share one thing in common: they’re radically simple. Worthy, enduring, fulfilling reasons always are — because the timeless truths of life, which reasons exist to illuminate, are deceptively simple. So, forgive me, beancounters, but (as Priya still thinks) a reason is not a corporate mission statement (“To leverage my educational assets and optimize my career path!!”): it is the very opposite: a radically simple statement of why your life matters enough to you to fully, dangerously live it…past the edge.
Brutal honesty. You can’t create your reason if, pardon my French, you are full of shit. There are many reasons; but not all reasons are created equal. And you probably can’t create a worthy one if you’re not brutally honest with yourself about it. Raising a family and imbuing it with love; this is a grand and timeless reason; it elevates life. Vidal Sassoon’s reason: to bring art back to hairdressing? That’s a fantastic one. Pixar’s reason: creating heartwarming stories that bring people of all ages together? Works for me. Making minigames for advertisers to sell stuff to people they don’t really want to buy with money they don’t really have to live lives they don’t really feel? That’s a sucky reason, because it impoverishes life. Of course, the minigame maker might feel, in the moment, his work is rewarding — and it may be lucrative. But it isn’t likely to feel whole, for the simple reason that it’s reason is wanting in terms of meaningful human outcomes. The point here is not to create arbitrary divisions between which reasons are valid and which are lacking. The point is to start asking yourself, really: what is your reason? What would make it “good”? If you want to grab the top job at that megabank — why? If your reason is “to make a big pile of money,” you might want to think again. Why do you think, having made his billions, Bill Gates is trying to fix the world? He needs a bigger, better, truer reason.
Perhaps it’s true. Not all of us successfully create our reasons. But that is precisely why we must try. For it is in the reasonless that we see the power of life’s reason: the reason gives sense to life, and without sense, life feels like a maze, a trap, a game, an absurdity. We need a reason, because our reasons are what liberate us from lives that feel senseless.
Yet, Priya’s little parable tells us: reasons aren’t rational; they are larger than that: they are constructive. They aren’t tidy equations and models of life — yet nor are they mere wishes nor affirmations. They are the words in the language of life and death; words that come to compose the untidy, messy, often contradictory, thoroughly inconclusive stories we tell ourselves about what it means to have lived. And so they matter because they allow our lives, finally, to make startling glimmers of sense amidst the cruel senselessness and insensible beauty of the searing human experience. Only a reason has the magic to ignite, in the void, the spark; that comes to make a life feel that it has been more than accidents of fate colliding with chance.
And so it seems to me that you and I — the sons and daughters of the Lesser Depression, the orphans of modernity — we have three choices. We may retreat. We may revolt. Or we may rebel. We may retreat into digiphoria; the cold, joyless comfort of softly glowing screens. We may revolt, turning away in disgust, and become, in time, something like the leaders we scorn. Or we may rebel — and choose, here and now, even in the full fury of the storm, to answer the awesome challenge of lives well lived.
Reason is rebellion. It is through the creation of reasons to live fully that we rebel — and ignite lives worth living, instead of merely resigning ourselves to those that feel as if they aren’t. In reason, we rebel against immovable destiny, and gain a measure of freedom back from the stars.
Grace, then, is born in reason. And it is grace that gives us, finally, the power to love. To, through the heartbreak, the grief, and the joy, breathe life into possibility, and so breathe possibility into life. And that is what a life that feels burstingly whole, achingly full, timelessly true, is really all about: the power to love. And only a reason as solid and true as bedrock can give it to you.
So allow me to ask you again: what do you do when you reach the edge of heartbreak? Here’s my tiny answer: you create a reason to take you past the edge of heartbreak. And into big love, mighty grace, searing meaning, and limitless purpose. Hence, my question: what’s your reason?
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