What is a Life Well Lived?

by | Jul 19, 2023 | Essays, Essays to Myself

Tertium quid – something else entirely

Is my standard response to this question. The question itself is of supreme importance to those seeking the answer, and I use this Latin term, unusual as it may be, for those whose question appears to be honest and borne from a place of sincere intention.

Something else entirely reflects the overwhelming rejection of the status quo to me. Simply put, popular culture will not and cannot reveal the key to a life well lived. The world values productivity, advancement, achievement, financial wealth, power and status. But, those that achieve only these things often find emptiness after a brief encounter with a chemical high produced by the brain, as victory over another obstacle can be declared. The effects are fleeting at best. Don’t misunderstand; achievement obviously is not in and of itself a problem. It’s what we are trying to gain from achievement that dictates whether it is meaningful (or not).

Sadly, these same high achievers, who are ultimately chasing self worth or validation (and extrication from the painful scars of an often tumultuous past), double down in the hopes that the next, greater achievement will offer the desired relief. But, no matter how difficult the challenge becomes, higher achievement never delivers what the world has promised. What’s even more insidious; this “doubling down” process plays out in the subconscious mind. Unwitting players in this no-win game don’t even realize they are trapped into repeatedly playing a losing hand. And, the hamster wheel styled cycle continues.

Moreover, our jaded and cynical world promotes the ideal of a life well lived, for example, by offering up commercials sponsored by global wealth management companies – featuring smiling, attractive, well-dressed, silver haired couples hopping and dodging the remnants of the waves terminating into the sandy beach beneath their feet. Sentimentalizing one of the most important questions one can grapple with in this life is a moral failure of epic proportions. The world has simply let us down.

Perhaps this story will solidify the point. Legend says that Alexander the Great, “wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Having conquered the known world, Alexander had run out of the possibility of achievement. Without the prospect of “more worlds to conquer,” Alexander was left with the unfilled holes in his soul that he discovered could never be mended by conquest (i.e. achievement). He must have experienced the ultimate sense of panic followed by a mournful surrender to the very real possibility of an empty and meaningless future. In short, he had no idea how to live life well. He knew it, and, so he wept.

What’s the answer? Rejection of the world’s illusion of a life well lived is a powerful first step. And, sometimes, knowing what not to do is as useful as knowing what to do. In this context, a rejection of the world is a potent and promising jumping off point. But there’s more.

When I suggest to others that a life well lived is powerfully formed when a person discovers and lives out his or her unique purpose, I never get an argument (just the opposite in fact). Thus, the conversation immediately turns to the next logical question – Yes, but how?

To better understand, we should first look inward to the cellular level as a means of calibrating our thinking around the subject of unique purpose.

Why the human cell? Well, you are made up of cells – lots of them.

Did you know that the human cell contains more instructions than all the books in the Library of Congress? To put this into perspective, that’s over 39 million books stored on over 532 miles of book shelving. And, what’s even more mind blowing – each human being has over 200 types of cells, numbering approximately 10 trillion in total. Ten trillion is a number that the human mind cannot really conceive of, so consider this – 10 trillion seconds is equal to 316,887 years (and some change).

The message should be clear – you are a living, breathing miracle – made for something.

And, you are unlike any other living, breathing miracle. You are wholly unique, and in this knowledge you must know that you are also uniquely made. So, it stands to reason that a uniquely made, one-of-a-kind being would also logically have a unique purpose – and to be clear, you do!

So powerful is your unique purpose that there are things in this world that only you can and should do. You can be the bringer of light to dark corners of the world in ways others cannot. Your light is entirely unique.

Your unique purpose is the only thing in this world in which you are truly entitled – it’s your birthright and your one and only pure personal monopoly. The time for wrestling yourself into a life that doesn’t fit is over. The time for restoration and renewal is upon you.

As you search for your unique purpose, allow the world around you to serve as inspiration while you look inward to clearly define these three key elements of purpose: (1) Passion, (2) Potential, and (3) Principles.

Passion is the common denominator in those activities and things that refuel and renew – those things energize and lift your mind, body and spirit. Look for the common denominator, and avoid confusing obsession with passion.

Potential is the optimal leveraging of your physical, mental, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual domains. Often, we allow several domains to lie dormant while we over-leverage others that feel more natural and offer instant success. But, it is these underutilized, atrophying domains that will complete the circle of potential. Work your domains like muscles to bring them into peak condition.

Principles refer to your personal ethos – your nonnegotiable, moral code. And, if you have never considered this concept, now is the time. Develop a blueprint for living, and a moral compass for making decisions – regret will fall away and integrity and courage will blossom. Consider prompts such as faith, hope, and love when developing a personal ethos. Who are you, and what will you stand for no matter what?

Finding your unique purpose is one-part serendipity and is nine-parts focused intention and authentic, hard work. And, (not to bury the lead) you will discover your unique purpose at the intersection of your passion, potential and principles. Here you will thrive.

Finally, a life well lived is one brimming with meaning and the deep satisfaction that only living out your unique purpose can offer. And maybe, just maybe, it’s as simple as a life spent discovering your unique purpose and the fruit that journey will bear.

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