“Is This It?” – The Meaning Of Life

“Oh my Lord,” said Carolyn, one of my clients who was a highly successful advertising executive told me last year. “I’m 42 and have everything that I want. But I keep feeling there’s something missing from my life. It’s as though there is a hole inside of me that needs to be filled with something completely different from the things I have been working for all of my life. I can’t believe where the years have gone. What I have is not what I really want anymore. But I don’t know what it is that I do want now. I just don’t know how to fill that hole inside of me!”

When we were kids, we were promised a life of happiness and fulfilment as long as we; studied hard, worked hard, got married, had kids, bought a house and played by life’s rules. Then suddenly, at midlife when we realise that half of our lives are over, despite all of our efforts and sacrifices …..none of these promises have brought us the happiness and sense of peace we desperately crave. Life is not seen to be giving us what we want but what it is we really want that we can’t exactly say what it is? In the meantime, such thoughts are troubling for what can we do, except live as fully as possible by trying hard to enjoy those material, tangible, external things we were being told will make us happy and fulfilled?

This long path first appeared to me at an early age-my first day of school to be exact, when I was five. Here in kindergarten I immediately began assimilating the hidden curriculum of modern life. The fine print read something like this; be a good leader or a good follower, adopt your culture’s values, work hard, and don’t make waves. If you stick to your end of the bargain and keep moving straight ahead on ambitions highway your rewards will be waiting. These rewards will multiply as you get older, until one day you’ll have everything you want and be happy.

So I kept to the road. I worked diligently in school and university, did my part, and for a while the promises came through on schedule.

Then things started going wrong. The first jolt for me came in 1994, I had studied hard to earn my degree in engineering. But when I set out to find a job in my field I discovered that the market for construction engineers had collapsed. The economy was in a recession. I was forced to work in a low level position as a receptionist in a tiny office with four staff.

For other people I know, the shocks came a little later. By the time most people had reached their 40s, the grim reality of common topics discussed when friends got together to talk; soul shattering divorces, chronic illnesses, job losses, addictions, depression. Values and institutions that once made people’s course in life seem so streamlined and predictable-education, marriage, the work ethic, team play, company loyalty, promotion, retirements-were being recalibrated. Under it, if not abolished entirely. And in the shakedown many began to think the unthinkable, that the future might not be better than the past; it might even be worse.

“I was brought up to believe that things were just going to get better and better. Then the years moved along. Each year I realised I was less free than I thought. My financial position and my enthusiasm, my relationships, all getting harder to maintain, not easier. One day I kind of lost it. I remember looking at myself in the mirror, just crying.”Nobody ever told me how hard it was going to be”, I kept yelling at my reflection.

When I was young I was told I could get any job I wanted. Grow up and become any kind of person I liked. An entrepreneur. Astronaut. Prime Minister of Australia. All that rah rah stuff. Today I work at a job I don’t like very much to keep my kid at a decent school. I don’t have the heart to tell my kid that he is going to be trapped in the same way.”

Most of these stories converge on a central theme: life is harder than they told us it would be.

So we have a love affair, expecting a new love will ignite that inner light to enable us to feel whole again. We buy a new car-or at least a new dress. We look for a better job, or work harder at the one we have. We visit the gym. We monitor our diet. We rent videos. On Sundays we peruse the travel section of the paper, looking for an escape that will whisk us away from our stale reality and make us feel like we really alive. Or knowing that it can never be so, we use drugs and alcohol to fill the void.

Yet no matter what diversions we turn to, that little voice keeps returning. “Is this it”? It asks again and again. This home, this job, this life?”

“And if it is, why do I feel so awful at a time in life when I’m supposed to be enjoying the greatest rewards? If these are the best years of my life, why do I feel so empty?”

Why don’t I feel better about my life? Why does time seem to be going by so quickly? What makes me feel so restless and discontented? Why don’t my love relationships give me the fulfilment I thought they would? Why aren’t my children turning out the way I’d hoped? Why don’t these new hobbies and classes and second careers-these attempts to become more “authentic”-give me the satisfaction I expected? Why is it that nothing seems to last? What does it all mean?

We see this phase of life between 35 and 40,” Carl Jung writes in his famous essay “The Stages of Life,” “that a significant change in the human psyche is in preparation. At first it is not a conscious and striking change; it is rather a matter of indirect signs of a change which seem to take its rise from the unconscious. Often it is something like a slow change in a person’s character; in another case certain traits may come to light which had disappeared in childhood; or again, inclinations and interests begin to weaken and others arrived to take their place.” None of us ever really believes we are getting older.”Middle-aged is always 10 years older than we really are.” For the fact is that deep inside ourselves most of us feel 25 no matter what the dates on our personal calendar tell us. “Your body grows old,” a 83-year-old woman said to me, “but in your mind you stay timeless.” But ageing comes as a surprise to everyone.

Carl Jung warns,”Youthful illusions are shared. Repressed childhood ideals resurface. Early interests and ambitions lose their fascination, and more mature ones take their place as a person gropes towards wisdom, and a search for insuring personal values begins at quest for meaning at midlife.”

Italian Roberto Assagioli, are well-known psychotherapist, believed that the search for life’s purpose can begin only after a person has lived long enough and made enough mistakes to recognise that an unexamined life goes nowhere. A “normal” man, Assagioli, insists in his famous essay “Self-realisation” takes life as it comes and never questions its meaning or purpose; he devotes himself to the satisfaction of his personal desires; he seeks enjoyment of the senses, emotional pleasures, material
security, or achievement of personal ambition.” He is, in short, spiritually asleep. Then time passes. This normal man marries, has children, tastes of life’s vicissitudes, and moves into his middle years where one day he is surprised and alarmed by the changes that start to take place in his psychological world.

These changes often come after a major disappointment or an emotional shock. But not always. The Call, as I term it, can also come without any apparent reason. “The change begins with a growing sense of dissatisfaction,” writes Assagioli, “of lack, of something missing. But the something that is missing is nothing material for definite; it is something vague and elusive, that he is unable to describe.” Eventually Assagioli tells us, this disquiet kneeing in a pressure centres on a search for the soul.

As with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once we have achieved the first five levels those being; certainty (safety, security), uncertainty (variety, different choices in life), love and connection (relationships, and a sense of belonging), significance (then need to feel relevant and important), growth (a sense of self expanding), and then finally there is self actualisation, or self-realisation. Basically, this can be interpreted as once we as humans have established all of our needs from external sources (materialism, other people etc) which are covered mostly under the first four levels, we seek to grow to eventually find lasting values and fulfilment within ourselves (our soul).

Still not convinced? Then, let’s take a look at midlife crises? Midlife crises happens to everyone when they reach a point in the middle of their lives when they stop to look around themselves, and realise that what has become of their life is far from what they had imagined for themselves as children. They feel lost, lonely, forgotten, and irrelevant. So man goes on the search for finding out how to fulfil these needs. A new relationship, a new sports car, a new house, or a new look. All of these are means of looking externally(or outside of the self) towards what is missing internally (inside of the self). All of this is also aligned with man’s search for meaning in life.

Why should we make such strenuous efforts to achieve self actualisation? What do we stand to gain?

Firstly, the older we get, the less time we have to repair our mistakes. Suppose I make a disastrous financial investment at age 40. Suppose I’d choose the wrong job at 49, the wrong mate, the wrong road. By the time I discover my mistake I may not have enough time to set things straight all to start over again, the way I could when I was 23 years old. However, if we find life is not giving us what we want, and if we suspect we are headed down a dead-end street, then we have to ask ourselves what we can do to make things better. In my mind there are two options. The first is to do nothing-to go on living the way we have always lived, and accept the consequences. The second is to take a chance, and seek a way out of our dissatisfaction. The first option will be the easiest, but also the most painful as the longer you leave hearing The Call, the louder and more pressing it comes onto your heart, bearing down into your soul and mind to the extent you may even question your own sanity. The second choice is the hardest, as it requires complete honesty with oneself, a deep humility to accept your own failings and a devotion to change your behaviour and patterns. It is a struggle like no other, but the inner growth is immeasurable and the rewards of happiness and fulfilment are permanent.

So how can we fix it? Where to now? What do we do?

The answer is found in self awareness whereupon you come to understand who you are inside. When you realise that we are all here to find our life purpose you will begin your journey. Self awareness offers us the ability to live authentically meaning that we live our lives true to our values and therefore ourselves. Everyone must undertake this journey of self awareness which is a process of releasing oneself of the power ego (pride etc) has over us through the elimination of beliefs and behavioural patterns, to enable us to live more consciously (deliberately). If we could just be free of all negative emotions and enjoy love, appreciation, peace and joy – we would be in heaven on Earth. This is possible!!

It’s the ego which creates within us; the need to be right, the need for drama, the need to succeed, the need to have more …… that continually drives us forward despite the cost to our; relationships, self worth, happiness and sense of peace and joy….if we’re not careful.

To be continued……..

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Comments

  1. Jack Grabon says:

    Thought provoking post, Sue. One reason why people’s lives end up differently from what their calling is is that we don’t give much value to such things in our society. I.e., there is much conditioning to get a job, have kids, pay our bills, and chase the so-called “American dream.” It would really help if we were taught these types of things when we’re young by parents, teachers, the media, etc. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go in changing these things but there will eventually be a shift. Fortunately, there are some that are strong enough to go against the grain who aren’t satisfied by the illusions that society dangles in front of us and calls happiness.

    Looking forward to the continuation 🙂

  2. Thank you Jack. I agree with what you have to say, and am currently writing an online program that will enable people to move through this phase in their life – as for some, it can take a major traumatic event to occur for them to awaken to the fragility of life and the necessity of pursing the journey of discovering who they really are – souls that are having a human experience – playing with energy in form! We’re actually here to have fun and create whatever we want in our realities in order to enjoy life like children……

    Now that is going to be the continuation 🙂

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