Want a life with meaning?: It starts with knowing who you are and what you want and with acting on your deepest values and passions.
Searching for meaning
Many people want a meaningful life in sync with who they are, makes a difference, and feels satisfying. Unfortunately, things can get in the way. “I want a meaningful life but…”
- I don’t know who I am or what I want.
- I make decisions based solely on others’ wishes, opinions, or demands.
- I have a hard time integrating or accepting parts of myself.
- I’m afraid of being misunderstood or judged if I were myself or pursued my passion.
“I don’t know myself and I can’t figure out what I want.”
To get what we want we must know what we want and act in ways that will move us in the right direction. If we don’t know our deepest needs, values, and desires, it is difficult to make decisions that result in our feeling that life is meaningful and satisfying.
An important step toward a meaningful life is reflecting on and deciding what is important, what you value, and what you want.
“I’m crippled by other people’s expectations.”
It can be hard to be yourself if you are afraid of what others will think, ignore or neglect your own needs or preferences, or trade your one-of-a-kind, authentic self for a copy of the person you think others want you to be.
Another essential step toward a meaningful life is to become aware of ways you make decisions or act to please others at the expense of being yourself and living out your own values and passions.
“I have a hard time accepting or integrating parts of myself.”
Sometimes, we might know what we like or value, but can’t see how the parts fit together. Perhaps, you want to feel whole, balanced, and at peace with who you are, but you don’t. Maybe at one time you were satisfied, but someone said something critical or cruel, and you haven’t been able to accept the judged part since. Or maybe some of your parts conflict; for instance, you’d prefer an artist’s life (or an otherwise unconventional one), but you also value honoring your parents or providing dependably for yourself and and others. It can be painful to remember hurtful interactions or to be honest and to prioritize your deepest desires, passions, and values.
Finding a good listener to explore these issues with you and provide emotional support can be helpful. For some, this might be a partner, friend, mentor, or spiritual guide. For others, this might be a support group or a counselor. For many, it may be more than one of these. Just knowing that you’re not alone can make a big difference.
“I’m afraid of being misunderstood or judged.”
Often, people know who they are and what they would like to do, but they are afraid others will be critical or won’t understand. It’s hard to put your authentic self out there; many hide their true selves and do not live according to their values and passions. If this is you, it’s understandable and nothing to be ashamed of. You might not feel strong enough yet to claim your true identity and weather others’ judgments. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Ask “What do I imagine is the worst thing that could happen if I put myself out there and was rejected?” Let your response be a clue to what should be your next step toward healing. What parts of yourself must you strengthen so you can be yourself and to live out your values and passions? What parts must you explore and, potentially, compassionately challenge? Is your next step an internal step (something you must discover or decide) or an external step (like finding someone you trust to help you identify what is blocking you from moving forward)?
Wondering what more you can do to embrace a meaningful life? Try these:
- Journal. Think about your favorite novel or fairy tale. What about the protagonist’s story resonates with you? What lessons about overcoming your difficulties and pursuing your passion can you draw from this person’s story?
- Watch. Draw inspiration from others living out their passions.
- La‘akea Perry, Sunny Leutu, Jr. and the men of Ke Kai O Kahiki, a male halau (hula school) in Hawai’i, train like warriors to tell stories through dance like their ancestors did (3:20).
- Aimee Lee, a Korean-American artist, pursues her passion as a traditional hanji weaver, a traditionally male-dominated craft (4:17).
- Lipa Schmeltzer, a Hasidic Jew, fuses hip-hop, R&B, and American modern pop to create Hasidic music unlike any his community has known before (3:10).
- Melissa McCracken, a synesthetic artist whose brain is wired differently than the typical person, harnesses this difference to create art based on musical associations (2:43).
- Civil engineer professor Guy Riefler and painter John Sabraw turn toxic iron deposits into unique pigments and vibrant oil paintings, while cleaning up streams (4:51).
- Talk. Find a person to share your thoughts with. It could be a partner, friend, or therapist.
Many people feel isolated or fear what someone would think of their deepest thoughts, desires and passions. A counselor can provide a safe place to begin. To find a therapist, click the appropriate link below.
To read more about knowing yourself, finding meaning, and living out your values and passions:
“How to Define your Values using a Values Clarification Exercise” by Rezzan Hussey from Art of Wellbeing: A home for personal growth enthusiasts.
A Christian perspective: Theology of Work Project: Chapter 7: Clarifying Our Values, Passions, and Desires by Alistair Mackenzie, Wayne Kirkland, and Annette Dunham.
Heather Inouye is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (#110232) at Sync Counseling Center in Sierra Madre, California, practicing under the supervision of Annie Miller, LMFT (#52595). She has an M.S. in Marital and Family Therapy and an M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. She grew up in a bicultural home in Southern California and has studied and lived in Ireland and Northern Ireland, Lebanon, and Hawai‘i.