Not everybody gets the lightning bolt

Meaning for the purpose-challenged


I suffer from, among other things, the unshakable feeling that I should be doing something important with my life. Safely ensconced in the middle class, dealing with first world problems, there is nothing about my existence that is truly worth complaining about. And yet.

For some, a sense of purpose comes early and relatively easily. Jim Henson didn't always know that he wanted to be a master puppeteer. But he knew he wanted to be involved with television, inspired by the medium in every way. In fact, Henson learned puppetry in less than two weeks to meet a deadline for an upcoming audition. Think on that irony in light of the magnitude of his contributions to entertainment and the positive impact he has had on millions of children. It wasn't a love of puppetry that drove him to learn as much as possible before that first audition; it was his drive to get into television, the thing he was so passionate about.

Unlike Henson, who was driven to create, there are others who can just be. No belly-button sniffing, no second / third / fourteenth-guessing about whether or not they are maximizing their potential. It’s all sum ergo sum. They are complacent or content, which I have come to accept as neither positive nor negative as it applies to other people.

On most days I feel neither passion nor contentment. Only a ceaseless seeking for a fantastical future forever opaqued, without so much as a shadowy, shuffling shape to guide my search.

I try not to pretend to make meaning out of meanness. I have never considered trashcan-stuffing or fat-shaming to be life goals. I have been known to have a sharp tongue and to leave wounds that are not apparent until days later. Please don’t misunderstand; I still do this occasionally. But I am always left with a bad taste in my mouth from it as opposed to using it to justify my existence.


John Lennon sings that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So I resigned myself to the seeking but changed the goal. It wasn't about meaning for my life; it became about how I define meaning itself. When I wake up, I want to:

  • Know what I’m doing with my day.
  • Know why I’m doing it.
  • Know what I’m getting from it.
  • Want what I get from it.

This re-framing has brought a little clarity into my life. Maybe my purpose is not clear, but I’ll settle for translucent for the time being.


Tim Lutero is an analyst, a generalist, and the author of Measured Meaning, a conceptual framework for discovering potential meaning. Essays related to the framework will appear here on Medium.