What is the meaning of life?
A question that we have all heard and pondered, yet have no answer to. The answer, if there were to be one, would differ for every single individual. It is completely subjective, and anyone who attempts to lump every human being into having the same purpose and being here on this earth for the same reason, is ill-informed and blind. Nonetheless, even when asked individually what one personally thinks the meaning of life is, there is usually no definite answer.
Nobody knows the truth of how we got to be here. Some look to personal religious or spiritual beliefs to make sense of it; some look to science to try and discover truths or at least formulate theories; some do not even know where to begin looking for answers. It is, as of today, still a mystery why we are here and where we came from. It is human nature to want answers. Many fear the unknown. Most will grow uneasy when thinking of the vastness of the universe, and how microscopic we all are in the midst of it, especially since we, as a human race, hold so alarmingly little knowledge of the universe and of life in general. We have come far as a species, but have much farther to go, and are nowhere close to discovering truths about the universe we are a miniscule part of. This can be unsettling, and by all means, it is justified to feel that way.
However, as interesting and mysterious as life and the universe are, there is one thing we do know: we are here, now, on this planet. There is much that we are uncertain of, but as far as proven truths go, we know that we live for a few decades, and then we pass on. Where we go afterwards — if anywhere — is disputable, but regardless of what one believes, one cannot deny the truth that life as you know it in this moment will end someday.
With this impending doom awaiting us all, it should be commonly accepted and understood that with the few decades that we expect to live for, we should be free and open to pursue the lives we desire. As far as we know, we only have (or may have) a limited amount of time on this earth. Afterlife is not certain. A long, full life is not even certain. So, why is it that human beings so frequently abandon their dreams and lead lives that are not desirable to them? Why do we conform to the norms of whatever culture and society we are from, and allow ourselves, to such great extents, to be shaped, molded, controlled, and shepherded by the world around us? Why do we live such complex lives when we are only but minute beings on a small planet in a huge galaxy in a colossal universe, seemingly insignificant in the bigger picture? Why do we become so uncomfortable when faced with a question that asks what the meaning of all of this is, and why can no one formulate a cohesive, unanimous, intellectual answer?
This is the phrase that crawls out of the mouths of individuals all around us, heard by probably everyone in the world, in every language imaginable.
When you come out eagerly with an idea or a dream that you have, there will be people shooting it right down, and spewing that very phrase at you. If your goals are not aligned with society’s goals, then they are thrown into the category of “unrealistic goals and dreams.” They are pushed to the side as you are shepherded further down the path that society has paved for you and everyone around you. Your dreams are soon forgotten by everyone, except you. They taunt you in every step that you take, but you never stray from the crowd. You do as they say, act as they wish, and conform to their rules and plan.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow ourselves to blindly be led by society down a path that most of us do not find ideal? Why do most of us never break free from the crowd of clones marching purposelessly towards a common goal?
At birth, we are all assigned the same goals, and are expected to conform to them. We are expected to attend school, move on to a higher education such as a university, get our degrees, find a job, and spend the rest of our lives working endlessly to repay our student loans (among other debts) and pay for our homes, cars, and families. When one steps out of this line, they are looked upon as rebels, and trigger an endless display of disapproving, shaking heads.
Now, I pose another question: why are these individuals viewed as rebels? The nation is full of people working dead-end jobs, spending their days working a 9–5 and never pursuing any greater degree of fulfillment in this one life they are given. All of a sudden, when there is a person who does not want to live their lives that way, they are deemed a rebel? It does not seem fitting to me. Rather, I would be keener to label them something closer to an innovator.
These people recognize that life is too short to spend at dead-end jobs. They have big dreams, or perhaps they simply have other ideas as to what life should be like. This should not force them into a label with such a negative connotation. The clones of society look down on them with condescending, judgmental glares for a moment until they return to their daily routine that has not been altered in seventeen years.
Why is this so? It can be awfully discouraging to receive such negative, pessimistic feedback when talking about your dreams and your goals in life. I will present you with some theories that you can take however you would like.
First and foremost, some people have been conditioned by society to a point that they no longer can think for themselves enough to step back and realize that maybe it isn’t all about money, or that maybe it isn’t all about conformity. They, like the rest of us, were born into this world with a plan already created for them by society, as were their parents, and as were their parents’ parents. Over time, as society evolved more and more into what it is today, the values shifted and are now focused on financial stability, financial success, conforming to society, and following the pathway paved for us.
Implicitly, these are values held by nearly every individual. People crave stability in this world. It is not cheap to survive by any means, and therefore, money dangerously becomes the core of it all. Money is what people strive towards, and what tends to be prioritized over everything else.
Thus, when someone decides that college is not for them, or decides to pursue a career in art, or decides to travel the world rather than work every day, they are viewed in a bad light. Those people are not putting money first, so they must lack common sense; they must not have their heads screwed on straight. They have now earned those disapproving head shakes.
A big reason as to why some people break free of society’s shackles and others do not ties right into two scary words that we all know: fear and doubt.
People are, overall, inherently afraid of the unknown, and afraid of failure. They are scared and hesitant when it comes to risk-taking because there is always a chance that things will go wrong, and so for them, it makes more sense (and is apparently smarter) to just stay on the path of comfort, stability, and –once again, the unfriendly word that you have seen often in this text — conformity. It is more significant, in the eyes of many, to avoid failure than it is to pursue success in its truest form. People thus lower their standards of success in a way that eliminates potential risky situations, locking their dreams away in a safe that is not to be opened, and expect everybody else to do the same.
This goes directly hand in hand with doubt. When people doubt their chances at success, they tend not to pursue it, and, as mentioned previously, will change their standard of success so that it holds a clearer, simpler path. People want to see themselves in a good light, and by their lower standards, they are considered to be successful. Whether they do it consciously or not (and most probably do it subconsciously) they then carry these lowered standards over to everybody around them. Just like they doubt their own capabilities, they doubt others’ capabilities as well, and do not believe that they can achieve success as it stands in its true form. That is why they expect others to also lock away their true dreams and instead focus on getting that degree, working that 9–5, and paying off those debts, labeling success as being represented by the number in your bank account.
I encourage everyone to push past these boundaries that society attempts to set for us. If you have a dream, do not hide it in the back of your mind. Embrace it, pursue it, believe it, live it…breathe it. Believe that you can, and you will. It is a cliché, but it is a true one. Success cannot be measured by the standards set by society, or by your parents, or by anyone else around you. The bar can only be set by yourself, and you must work towards reaching it. You might fall, perhaps every day, perhaps multiple times a day, but you must stand up, stand tall, and keep on moving forward. It is important to remember that baby steps count, because in the end, you are still moving forward, inch by inch.
Set short-term goals. They are so substantial. Each day, do something small (or big) to bring you a baby step (or a leap) closer to your long-term goals. Do not let others’ negativity rub off on you. Stand tall, with your head in the clouds, and your feet on the ground. Sustain yourself, all the while chasing your dreams, no matter how far-fetched they seem. Fall, fall, and fall again. Learn from your mistakes, appreciate the good times, remember lessons learned, and never give up on your dreams.
After all…life is too short. We do not know why we are here, but we can definitely make our time worth it.