What Does it Mean To Have Direction In Life? (Part 2): Building a connected and cohesive direction
In ‘Part 1’ I finished with asking if our life needs to be a war of competing aspects such as our careers, friendships, hobbies, and families. What if, instead of trying to balance these aspects, we could begin thinking of our lives as having one cohesive direction?
Now, I am aware that not everybody wants a direction for their life and they may prefer to take the option of drifting in life or to take a balanced approach. However, this article is written for those who do feel that simply drifting makes their lives feel more empty or that feel the stress of needing to constantly correct the balance of their lives only to feel that they are seeing little fruit as a result of their efforts.
To describe the idea of having a direction in life, I have once again created a picture to help capture the idea.
When we start looking at our lives as having an overall direction, it means that the various parts of our lives and the things that we do become less random. Not only can we make what we are doing in the present more meaningful to our direction but we can also look back into the past and ‘mine’ past experiences for nuggets of learning that can add much knowledge to what we are trying to achieve with our lives.
For most of you reading this, your childhood experiences will be something of the past. And so, in this case, we need to ‘mine’ the past. To take those things from the past and realise how it makes you a unique person that is then capable of using that uniqueness to add value to the world in a way that no-one else could. My own school experiences are now valuable memories in helping me in the work I am doing as an educational consultant, as does my early interest in Apologetics where the underlying question was “Why do people believe what they believe?” I can see now how these early experiences are key in the way that I seek to add value to the world.
University and early job experiences may also be in the past for many of you as it is for me. The thing to say about this is that sometimes we struggle to find an application of what (the knowledge content) we actually studied in school and university. However, for me in particular, it was more the experience itself that now lets me empathise with people going through our schooling system and to be able to critique the system not only from a philosophical level but also from an experiential level as well. Once again I have sought to take these experiences and integrate them into helping me achieve the direction I am wanting to take my life. If you are still at the stage where you are considering university or a job experience then the next paragraph below will apply.
A common attitude in our society is that we have jobs to earn money, and we want money to get things that we find enjoyable. This is again what I call the “working for the weekend” attitude. However, having a job is not as important as doing work. Our society often gets this the wrong way around as in the case of the stigmatization against mothers or fathers not in a “job” but raising their own children. Working is simply how you add value to the world. Should what you do be valuable to another person, they may, in turn, reciprocate that with money or some other way. A key question to identify if your work is purposeful is to ask; “How is the work I am doing helping create and build the life and world that I want?” Is what you are doing improving your life and society in general in a way that makes you more optimistic about the future? Is your work feeding into the direction you want to take your life? In my own life, my work in education is improving the way I learn, will be valuable in building a family, as well as impacting society in a positive way. The same goes for my work as a life coach. The conversations I have are valuable to me in that they cause me to evaluate my own life but they are also valuable in a wider societal sense because people who gain a sense of purpose and direction are more interesting overall as well as being more creative and willing to tackle the problems in the world.
Social settings are places where we interact with people, hopefully, people that we enjoy spending time with. These are moments where other interesting people are able to input into our lives. It is also a chance for us to speak our own ideas, see if they resonate with others, receive encouragement or make us aware of things we have overlooked in our thinking. Social settings may also involve developing our physical skills. A group setting is good for this for a variety of reasons including observing others from whom we can model our own actions from as well as gaining valuable feedback interactions. If you have a direction in life, social settings no longer become simply social status events but rather opportunities for personal learning and growth. They are not simply entertaining distractions but become valuable inputs into building the life you want for yourself. Whether it’s bonfires or dancing events, I have come to appreciate the value of these social occasions as moments that can have a great impact on the direction I am wanting to take my life.
Our closest relationships and family ties are also those people with whom we will spend the most time with and that will impact our lives the greatest. The question we need to ask ourselves is; “Do we want a loving spouse or partner and a family simply to satisfy a biological need or is there a deeper purpose?” From my current observations of society, we seem to be all too eager to drop both children and our spouses depending on our fluctuating emotional need of them. Instead of basing our decisions on biological needs I would suggest that we seek our spouse to be someone who contributes to helping us down the path we are wanting to take our lives. Not only that, but we are excited and willing to contribute to the direction that our spouse is also taking in life. The family becomes a microcosm where we learn to add value to each other’s lives. As we do so, we become more aware of how we can add value to the wider world and it refines our direction in life. While I have yet to get married and have children, knowing that I have a deeper purpose for these things beyond mere biological need has been helpful in how I have approached this area of my life.
I don’t think I’ll ever retire. Though in time there may be major hindrances due to health problems, I don’t foresee a time where no more personal growth can occur. Nor do I see a time where I will not be able to add value to the world around me. I am not afraid that I will get to a time where I have no more knowledge to share. The only way that could happen is if I stop going in the direction I have chosen to take my life and I stop learning. The specific actions I take to be valuable in this world may change over time but predicting how this might occur or predetermining the exact age, seems rather arbitrary and irrational. The time in your old age should simply be a continuation of building your life on the foundation that you set earlier in life.
So what does it mean to have direction in your life? In this article, I have sought to create a picture where the various aspects of your life are neither random, nor disconnected, nor by mere happenstance, nor simply based on the biological instincts to gain resources and reproduce. Rather, that everything you do in life has a reason and a purpose in building the life that you envisage for yourself. To know that everything is feeding into your overall direction. That it is not so much a matter of balancing competing interests in your life but that everything you do is helping you down the path you are wanting to take your life.
The great value in seeing life this way is that you are also focusing on progress. That you can see the effect that your actions are having on your life. This sense of progress and direction is key to living a more fulfilled life. And I am convinced that having a more fulfilled life is what many of us are indeed seeking.