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How to Find Meaning
How do you pick yourself up after your world comes crashing down? How do you move forward again?
Sometimes the world is going to throw slings and arrows our way. Sometimes our lives will change in the blink of an eye. And other times our hearts will shatter into more pieces than we ever thought possible.
We cannot control what will happen, the future is going to surprise us in both painful and beautiful ways. The only thing we can control is how we react to what happens. We can either become bitter or we can find meaning in our struggles. Deep in our hearts, we know every battle is an opportunity — it is an opportunity to hold our heads high for all the world to see, regardless of whether people laugh or cheer. It is an opportunity to become larger and more courageous than we ever were before.
A person who finds meaning in their life will move mountains. They see every encounter as an opportunity to grow, and in turn, they will grow. They will grow into someone stronger than they ever thought possible. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said,
“Those who have a ‘why’, can bear almost any ‘how’.
There can be a purpose for everything, even pain, if we look for it. Maybe our hearts got broken because we are meant to find someone or something else. Maybe we got fired because another vocation is calling us. Maybe there was no prior reason for something happening, but we can make one after the fact. Every setback can change us for the better; it can turn us into someone we never would have become otherwise. If we look at our lives in this way — if we look at every struggle as a chance to do something greater — we will walk farther than we ever imagined.
I remember getting a phone call from my mom a few months ago. It was one of those phone calls where your life is never the same afterwards, where your world is forever changed.
When I hung up the phone, my vision was blurry. I remember being in a state of shock. I could not believe what I heard. I felt like I was dreaming. I remember my mom being in tears. We had no idea how we were going to handle the situation we were now confronted with. At first, we were not sure we could handle it. We wanted to blame someone or something, but we had no idea where to point the finger. Sometimes things just happen.
After the call, I went into my room and laid on my bed. As I laid there, my mind started to race. I was trying to make sense of things. I wanted to find a reason for what was happening. I wanted answers.
I thought maybe what was happening was meant to bring my family together. Some of us had grown apart the past year. Maybe we needed to find our roots again. On the other hand, I thought maybe life is just random. Maybe this was never meant to take place. Maybe things just happen that you can never prepare for sometimes. Maybe all you can do is take responsibility for what you are given and make the most of it. Maybe this is what life is.
While I was processing everything, I got a phone call from one of my friends. This is a friend I chat with often. We usually call each other once a week to catch up. When he called, I was hesitant to tell him what had just happened. I did not know if I should tell him.
Before I could make a decision, my friend told me about some good news. He had just gotten a promotion at work. He was nervous about the additional responsibility but he was excited, nonetheless. You could hear the joy in his crackling voice — a kind of joy that is rarely experienced, the kind you would never want to take away from someone. I put the news I had just received from my mom aside and I tried to share in my friend’s joy, at least for a moment. I pulled my shoulders back and congratulated him. I could not see him over the phone, but I knew he was smiling and that made me smile too.
I decided I would not tell my friend, at least for now. He was in good spirits and I did not want to bring him down. Getting a promotion is a rare experience and I wanted him to savor those good feelings for as long as he could. Who knows how many more job promotions he will get in his life? Moments like that are precious.
After we hung up, I sat on my bed and stared out the window. I live in Southern California, where the weather is usually 70 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. That day the weather was overcast. I remember it being the first sunless day in over a month. There were dark clouds hovering over the trees outside my window. It looked like the sky wanted to cry. It never rained that day but it felt like it was pouring.
The weather outside was not helping my mood so I took out my phone and scrolled through Instagram. Smiling faces filled my screen and I wondered how many of them were experiencing something earth shattering too. You never know what is hidden behind people’s curtains. We all have scars that the rest of us know nothing about. Scars never go away, but they make us who we are. They remind us of where we have been. They show us that we have healed before and we will heal again.
I felt lonely sitting in my room so I put my phone down and walked into my living room. I have two dogs and they jumped with excitement when they saw me. Their tongues and tails were wagging in the air. I think they noticed something was wrong because they immediately calmed down and stood next to me. It was like they were reminding me that they were there for me — they were reminding me that I was not alone.
I kneeled down to give my dogs a hug and I thought to myself, “We have no idea how long we have. We have no idea how long we are going to walk on this road with each other.” Suddenly, the left side of my chest started to feel hollow as my eyes watered. At that moment, I made a promise to cherish every moment. I made a promise to never let life pass me by.
The situation with my family is ongoing. I talk to my mom about it often. She is still worried. She feels helpless sometimes and I think this is natural. I often remind her all we can do is make the most with what we have. We cannot hide our pain but we cannot let it consume us either. We have to use this chapter in our lives to create something beautiful. We have to remember that the rain is what gives us love for the sun. Even if the clouds outside seem endless, we have to at least try to make something out of them. We have to try to find that bright sun in the sky. We owe ourselves that.
When our world comes crashing down, our initial reaction is to retreat. We want to find a safe space away from the danger. However, once we find shelter, we must use that shelter to grow. We must use it as a means to come back stronger. While we cannot choose our fate, we can always choose how we respond to it. We can either turn our situations into a burden or a blessing.
Finding a ‘why’ for our pain does not get rid of the hurt, but it helps us plant seeds for better days. It gives us the confidence to keep going. Maybe having confidence in certain situations is naive, but I will take it. This frame of mind is the only way I know how to persevere in spite of suffering. It has helped me avoid falling into despair.
Some people believe there is a predestined plan for all of us. Others believe there is no hand guiding us, everything is random and we make our own destinies. There is a semblance of truth in both views. When we look back on our lives, we know that certain things were meant to happen — just ask any parent about their child. However, missing certain tides is also possible. Our journey is like a wave and we can either ride the wave or let it pass away.
Whether we seize the opportunities given to us is our decision. Life is a marriage between choice and fate. It is a dance between our freedom and our destiny. The Greek philosopher Democritus once said,
“Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and of necessity.”
How we face our destiny is up to us. The way we confront our fate changes our fate. The same outcome creates two different worlds depending on whether we hold our heads high or not. The person who accepts the hands they have been dealt and finds meaning in them will find a light in the sky. The person who rejects their life will only see a storm.
Just like a movie, the meaning of our lives will become clear at the end. Our responsibility is to create and nurture that meaning before our story is finished. We have the power to turn our world into something better than it was and it is our choice whether we realize that potential.
The first step to finding meaning in our lives is to acknowledge that the potential for something greater is here. When we view every experience as an opportunity, our eyes naturally open. Things we never knew become clear to us. Almost like a reflex, the light in the sky we were hoping to find starts to shine. It tiptoes through our windows and wakes us up like a warm and gentle friend, reminding us they never left our side.
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