The meaning of life — Asking yourself the hard questions

A question that we ask ourselves so often that it’s become a mega cliche is some form of, “Why are we here?, What’s the meaning of life? What is my purpose?”, etc.

I think this is especially true after you stop drinking. It’s one thing when you’re working hard, pushing towards the weekend, so that you can cut loose, blow off some steam, “recharge” with a few nights of heavy drinking and then do it all over again starting Monday.

It sounds ridiculous to say that drinking gives your life purpose, but in a sense, it does. Or, at the very least, it stops you from questioning things so much.

Once you don’t drink, you start feeling and thinking a lot more. This can be great for work and creativity, and also a challenge once these existential questions start creeping in.

I’m not going to pretend that I have all (or any) of the answers, but I do have some insight into how to explore the idea a little bit. One of my favorite authors, Tim Ferriss, says that the “What is the meaning of life” question is so undefined that it becomes impossible to answer. And he’s right.

Life will mean different things to different people, who have different desires, goals, values and ideas.

Alcohol prevents you from questioning yourself, from really asking if you’re doing what you want to be doing, and from wondering where the actions you are taking today will bring you tomorrow.

It’s scary to pull back the veil and look yourself in the face with clarity. It’s hard to make decisions that will impact your present and future. But that’s what life is.

Here are some tough questions to ask yourself once you’ve stopped drinking and can’t hide from your own scrutiny any more:

Do I enjoy what I do for a living?

This might be controversial. I know some are of the school of thought that you don’t have to enjoy what you do for a living, and that’s fine. In my opinion, if you’re going to spend roughly half of your waking life doing something, life is too damn short for that thing to be something you hate. At the very least, you should be working towards getting to a position where you can do something you like, or you should like your co-workers, or be learning a lot. There should be some value to what you are spending your time doing other than your paycheck. It really could all end tomorrow.

Have I properly maintained the relationships in my life that matter to me?

This can be a tough one to answer truthfully, but really force yourself to examine your most important relationships. Drinking can make us thoughtless and careless. Make sure you are reaching out and checking in with the people who are important to you. Let them know that you value their presence in your life. It’s easy to have a “great” (read: superficial and fun) relationship with your drinking buddies who you go out with every weekend, but what about your parents, siblings, and old friends who you’ve drifted apart from over the years? Especially as you get older, relationships take work to maintain, and if they’re worth keeping you need to put the work in.

Am I taking proper care of myself?

Obviously, stopping drinking is an instant increase in proper self care. When you drink often, it’s easy to skip the gym and order take-out when you’re feeling too lazy to cook. It can be just as easy to make a total lifestyle change as it is to change just one aspect of your lifestyle. Meaning, stopping drinking is a seismic change, and I honestly think it’s just as easy to stop drinking AND start working out and eating healthy at the same time as it is to just stop drinking and keep everything else the same. You’re already making one change, might as well make a few and get used to the new reality while you’re at it.

Am I focused on self-improvement?

Learning and personal development doesn’t need to end the moment you graduate school. In fact, I think it’s crucial that it doesn’t. So much of life is competition whether we like it or not, and the highest performers are always reading, learning from people, and developing new skills. Start small — read for an hour a day, enroll in a course or start going to a meetup.

What is in my power to change?

I’m not an AA guy, but there is definitely some wisdom to be found in some of the things they say. The quote, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” has always resonated with me. There are some things in your life that you don’t like that you can change — act on them. If you don’t like your body, start a diet and exercise regime. If you don’t like your job, update your resume and start applying for something else. If you need to learn something new in order to change, start today. As long as you are alive, it’s never too late.

What is really important to me?

This one gets to the heart of things. And it might be hard to begin to answer it until you’ve thought about all of the previous questions. But what are the things in your life now that are truly important, and what are the things that you do just to support the important things? This can be people, activities, your career — anything. Don’t judge yourself, just be honest with yourself. If the pursuit of money and possessions is truly what’s important to you — that is an answer. I think that’s unlikely, but I won’t rule it out. Everyone deserves to be happy and everyone has different values.

Am I making a positive contribution to the world around me?

I hesitated to put this one in, because I didn’t want to lead you anywhere. Maybe making a positive impact isn’t important to you. But I think that “a positive impact” is undefined enough that asking this question can be useful to anyone. Humans are social animals, and other people’s opinions and reactions to us matter. We all want to feel valued, and that value often comes from how we see ourselves and how others see us. And feeling that we are contributing something adds value to our lives. It doesn’t hurt to feel a responsibility to others — in fact, I think you’ll find that it can add a lot of meaning to your life in and of itself.

If you start by asking yourself those questions — and BE HONEST TO YOURSELF — you will set yourself up to better explore the “meaning of life” (or whatever you want to call it).

Just be prepared to act. Thoughtful exploration is great, but it’s a waste of time if it’s not followed by action.

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