What Does it Mean To Have Direction In Life? (Part 1): Why our lives feel so disconnected.
In a conversation with a friend they explained to me that they were struggling to find an overall arc to their life, that in many ways, their life felt disconnected. It was interesting hearing this description and one I could empathise with as I had experienced that feeling before as well. While I had been mulling over many of these thoughts in my mind already, I really appreciated the conversation as it allowed me to more fully express and clarify my thinking on this topic.
In doing so I tried to build a picture that captures what many of our lives look like when we don’t have an overall direction that we are taking life. This is shown below.
In most of our lives as we go through various stages, it often seems that our lives get pulled in various directions. But then even within certain times of our lives we often have competing parts of our lives that seek to dominate. People often talk about having a “balanced life”. But is this the best way to think about our lives? Should it be a balancing act? Let me explain in a bit more detail what I mean by this picture.
In the beginning, there is “You”. As we begin life, our childhood experiences take us in a certain direction. At this stage when we think about the future, our dreams can be quite big as we discover what is highly valued in our society. When children look at our current society they seem to make an understandable observation that performers and sports stars are the most highly valued members of society. I wanted to be a star soccer player.
For most of us, reality starts setting in within our teenage years and we realise we can’t spend all of our time pursuing these high-status careers and that they are achieved by very few people. For many of us, we will begin to seek tertiary education instead. In many cases, it isn’t necessarily that we are hugely passionate about the particular subject we choose to study but rather that often we aren’t ‘bad’ at it. I studied music at university as I was a decent violinist even if I wasn’t amazing at it. This seems to be one of many major shifts in the direction of our lives.
After university, many people find themselves in a position of not finding a job that suitably matches what they studied. People will often simply settle on any job that is available. This can vary quite considerably and again our life starts going down a new direction. For myself, I know that my studies in music certainly didn’t add many benefits to my job on a dairy farm.
Any job becomes ‘just a job’ after a while if we do not have a clear purpose for why we are doing it (beyond just for the money). The job may have even had some attractive things about it in the beginning but it no longer holds our focus as it once did. And so we seek to switch careers to what we think might be more fulfilling. Some of us might even go back and study again thinking that this time we’ll manage to find something that will last. I went back to university and studied teaching. I taught in primary schools for over 5 years before finally leaving the profession.
Throughout our adult lives, there are more factors that often draw people in different directions. Hobbies, relationships/friendships and family are some of these factors. In many situations that I’ve seen, people’s jobs pay for their hobbies but their hobbies and interests don’t seem to add anything to the way they earn money. It becomes the “living for the weekend” type of attitude. The hobbies and interests are there more for their distraction value than for any deeper reason. But once again they divide our attention and direction. For me, this was swing dancing.
Good friendships and lasting families often seem to be hard to find in today’s society. While there is much to comment on in regards to this topic, one factor is the high value we put on many of our relationships and families as status symbols. This seems to be the case in many romantic relationships and also in the way many people start families. Little time is spent by parents on their children leaving the raising of the children up to various institutions. This leads to people struggling with the way that their relationship and family dramas pull their life off into new directions and often conflict with their hobbies and/or career.
A strange thing seems to happen to people’s direction in life as they reach the older stages of life, particularly retirement. All of that accumulated knowledge and any drive they still had in their career seems to suddenly disappear. Right at the moment when they should have the most insight and knowledge to share, they drop what they have spent so long building. Family too seems to somewhat disappear from the picture as many of the children of retired people don’t live in the same city or area as them. Even if they do, the visits are often just occasional. Hobbies can change as well due to the fact that as our bodies get older we exchange more physical interests for sedentary ones. In my observations and conversations, it seems like many people are starting nearly back at square one in where they are wanting to take their lives.
So is our life really meant to be a war of competing aspects in our lives that seek to gain dominant attention? Can we and should we be seeking ‘balance’ between these competing aspects? What if, instead of trying to balance them, we could begin thinking of our lives as having one cohesive direction? By this, I mean that all the various aspects of our lives are not competing but rather building and adding to the direction that we want to take our lives.
Exploring this question will be the focus of Part 2 in this series.