Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Written in Arambol, March 19th)

I can’t believe I go home in three days.  (Ed. note:  as I'm posting this, it's the day I'm leaving.  Forgive the temporal confusion!) 
(Well, more correctly, I start going home in three days, I actually get there in four.  I fly from Goa to Delhi on the 22nd, then catch a 1 a.m. flight on the 23rd from Delhi to Toronto.)

There have been times when this year has dragged (waiting around for medical appointments for my broken wrist, for example), but mostly it has flown by.  In just over a week, I’ll be going back to work and my “real life”, whatever that is now going to entail.

I think when I started this year, I was looking to figure out the meaning of life — not the big, over-arching, cosmic universal meaning, but the one specific to my life.  I’d figured out the hard way (depression and stress and weight gain) before I left that my life, as it was then, wasn’t working for me.  Oh, I’d gotten some things right:  I like having a challenging job that gives me a sense of accomplishment and lets me do the world some good (in however small a way), so I’m unlikely to chuck it in to become a cocktail waitress any time soon; I have some wonderful friends and an incredible family that will always have my back, whatever I choose to do.  I’d set some goals for myself that were pretty amazing to me when I actually achieved them:  I got my CFA charter, I got my black belt in karate, I ran (and finished) a marathon.  I’d figured out that I was happy being single (mostly), but that it didn’t mean I shouldn’t embrace the romantic side of life, too, wherever it might lead.  These are all good things.

But not everything worked.   It’s not an accident that I started this year-and-a-bit off 40 pounds heavier than I am now; if you eat too much as a means of self-comforting and drink too much to blot out the anxiety and the stress, there’s something very wrong underneath.  I was living in a narrower and narrower little world and finding myself less and less willing to reach out to the people around me.  I wasn’t always this way, but as I got older — and my close friends got married, had babies, moved to the suburbs — I found myself with a shrinking circle of “life” outside of work, and it became easier and easier to spend all my time at the office.  At least there I got some recognition, some sense of accomplishment, and even a sense of community; even more so, perhaps, it was easier to spend time there than to be forced to pay attention that I had less and less in the rest of my life.

So that’s got to change, when I go home and pick up the reins of “real life” again.  I need more time with friends, more openness to new people and new situations, and more time doing the things I truly love to do.  For the last, you’ve probably figured out that one of these things is writing; one of the things I’ve loved about this year off is the concentrated time I’ve had to write, both in this blog and otherwise.  I need to keep this in my life.

I need to keep a challenging job, too, although I don’t know exactly yet what that job should be.  In all likelihood, I won’t be going back to the same job; I talked to my boss a few days ago about another job opening that might be a good opportunity (and would let the manager who took over for me to stay in her job, without me temporarily disrupting things).  While there would be comfort in the familiar, it would probably be a very good thing to start afresh.  Begin anew, and begin as I mean to go on, rather than falling back into the same old rut.  

I’m pretty sure that I want to stay in the public sector, somewhere.  Not government, maybe, as I sometimes find it frustrating to get things done in the huge monolith that is the civil service bureaucracy.  But I like the dedication and passion that most people bring to public sector work; they’re there, mostly, because they care about what they do and have a genuine interest in making the world a better place.    I like being surrounded by those kinds of people.

I didn’t specifically seek to work for the government, but when I was looking to leave the oil company where I worked and a civil service job came up, I grabbed it.  And it’s turned out to be a really good thing; making a difference matters to me, too.  Making a profit for shareholders, the primary aim of my private sector life, didn’t give any meaning to my work.  I am tempted, occasionally, to go back when I see how much money my friends in private-sector finance are making, but you know what?  I do pretty well as I am, and I don’t need to be richer; I’d rather do the kind of work I do for the public good than for  a company’s bottom line.  

(And really, how many pairs of expensive shoes do I need?  I can afford enough already.  As one of the young backpackers I met earlier in India put it, after she learned that I own Manolos and Jimmy Choos and sometimes wear one or the other to work ... I’m “living the dream” already.  Who needs a private sector salary?)

How this is all going to shake out in terms of my day-to-day life, I’m not sure, but as long as I keep thinking about the choices I’m making — not just falling into a convenient pattern — I think I’ll figure it out in a way that makes me happy.  I don’t know that I’ve figured out my own personal meaning of life, but I’m clearer about what is important to me and what isn’t.  

 And, most of all, I’ve had a hell of a good time along the way. 


  1. Hear, hear! The beauty of it all is knowing that there will never be one "right" way to live your life – but finding one that fulfills you, whatever that happens to be, is a wonderful thing!

  2. wow, you're quick ... I *literally* just posted this! Is it still yesterday there and you are procrastinating about going to sleep?

  3. I don't recall who said it, but one of my favourite quotes is along the lines of "just when I thought I knew all of life's answers, they changed the questions".

    (Or, the answer is 42...;)

  4. Ooh, I like that too (I don't remember who said it either) ... so true! I think the point is really to keep asking questions, not to figure out everything about life.

    p.s. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for the second quote.