My view of the world is composed of entirely of words. I find inspiration in the power of political speech, Mario Cuomo’s address at the 1984 Democratic Convention or Barack Obama’s 2007 announcement of his presidential bid in the cold of Springfield, Illinois.
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My favorite parts of movies are the “Rah! Rah!” voiceovers given by coaches or mentors when the protagonist seems nearly beaten; Sam Gamgee’s “Good in the World Worth Fighting For” speech in Lord of the Rings’ movie comes to mind. I even wince when, in the course of conversation, a person confuses “Affect” and “Effect,” or “Infer” and Imply.” Words are in everything I say and do.
My search for meaning in words is driven by my need to codify the meaning of events, in the hopes that, by paying attention to the millions of emotions expressed in those words, that one day, I might just pull the meaning of life out of thin air. Put more simply, I am searching for meaning and purpose in the same way the rest of us are. I’d love to say that I’ve found it. I’d love to be able to write a passage that creates self- actualization for all the readers here on PersonalGrowth.com. I’d love if it was that easy. But it’s not.
The pursuit of the meaning of life, of understanding one’s place in life, only occurs after a million little failures. Happiness does not come in a binary fashion and it is not a yes or no question. It is something that is actively pursued, lived, and created every day through intentional conscious thought.
Like I said earlier, I am an avid reader, and books frame my worldview. At the moment I am just finishing up Man’s Search for Meaning, a hugely influential spiritual advice book written by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl about the meaning of the suffering of those imprisoned in Auschwitz and other concentration camps during World War II. Frankl’s writings of the camp are peppered with uniquely positive thoughts regarding all the death around him, and, if this post contains only one book suggestion it is for you to that of Frankl. Whether you read it or not, I want you to carry with you the following passage:
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” In his words, Frankl became one of the first to reverse the paradigm of success and happiness.
He began the train of thought that ended with me here, writing inspirationally for you. He created a worldview in which success is found in personal dedication to a cause, whether it be love between two people or passion for work or for creating change or whatever else. It took me a long time to understand that general idea. I identify as the child of a Polish immigrant, and, for the longest time, everything I did was with a frantic pace and with the idea in mind that, one day, all of my work and my family’s work would bring us to a place in America where we would indefinitely be labeled as “Successful” or “Happy.”
It took a lot of soul-searching and admitting weakness to come to a better understanding about myself and my place in the world, where creation isn’t the tool to success, but rather is the success itself.
I live in Chicago, and my long-form fictional writing natural emulates fellow Chicagoan David Eggers. His works are brilliant and burst at the seams with this kind of existential fear that I used to live every single day. But, in his masterpiece, entitled, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggers puts together a few small sentences that are beautiful in their simplicity. “We must do extraordinary things. We have to. It would be absurd not to.”
So go out and do extraordinary things, not just because you can or, worse, because you should. If you’re an artist, go out, grab a canvass and paint, because you would be dull if you didn’t create through that medium. If you’re a business person, go to work and trade stocks or make management decisions, solely because you couldn’t possibly envision a life without those activities. If you’re in healthcare, go take care of the ill, not because you love the sick but because you love yourself when you are taking care of the sick. These are all extraordinary things, happiness-generating things, and to not do them would be absurd.