Photo Credit: Tom Barrett, Unsplash

Written by Matt Hogan
January 8, 2020

“The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” ―Joseph Campbell

Over the course of four months . . .

  • I left my job,
  • Sold most of my belongings,
  • Cashed out part of my retirement,
  • And jumped a plane and left the US for nine months.

As you can imagine, a lot transpired in my life over the course of those four months in late 2018 and early 2019.

From the moment I decided to let my boss know, “It’s not you, it’s me,” to the moment I became clear about the next chapter in my life, I was clear I wanted to create a deeper understanding of humanity and the world. 

From watching my material belongings that I thought I needed so much disappear one by one, to the many moments of self-doubt and worry that I held in my mind about what I’d done or what was to come—those moments were followed by a reminder to myself that I’d made my decisions with intention.

The moment that stands out more than any other was the moment I was sitting on the tarmac of the Austin, TX airport. As we were taking off, I was sitting in my seat saying to myself. “This is really happening. What the hell am I doing?” Which was then accompanied by chills in my body that I have no other experience to compare it with.

And like that, my entire life was changed. What started it all was a thought—rather, a question—that came in the form of a thought. 

“What is the meaning and purpose of my life?”

I wrestled a lot with this question when I was working in my previous corporate job and was engaged to be married. Deep down, I knew I was ready for a change in my job, and that the engagement wasn’t good for either of us.

I’ve often pondered the conversation about a universal meaning of life, and I decided I was more interested in deciding on one for my life alone—because I don’t want to attempt to decide for seven billion freethinkers.

To ponder and decide the meaning of my life, that’s my responsibility and mine alone. To recognize that was an empowering moment for me a few short years ago. And truthfully, to this day, the reminder that I can change my mind about what my life means is freeing.

Often, we’re one thought away from creating or doing something in our lives. And, we often forget the natural source from which our ideas and decisions come from—a thought.

All seven billion of us are thinkers. Without thought, we can’t create. Without thought, we can’t debate. Without thought, can we even know we exist?

Thought is a gift that enables us to guide ourselves through the human experience. It’s what allows us to make decisions. It’s what allows us to write.

Thought is what allows us to create meaning.

Yet, what I’ve noticed is that we often forget this. I know I have many times. Especially when I get too caught up in thinking, and then I start believing my thoughts are some compass of what’s real and what isn’t.

You may be wondering, “Why is this relevant to determining the meaning of life?”

Meaning itself isn’t absolute. Regardless of the source, it’s subjective in nature. Whether we’re talking about what it means when someone cuts you off in traffic, or someone buys you a gift, or—the bigger topic—the meaning of life.

The beauty of thought, when we’re aware of its presence, is we can choose which thoughts we breathe life into. 

We can choose which thoughts are the ones that we want to latch onto and explore further. 

We can choose which thoughts we want to let pass by like a cloud in the sky. We can notice them. We can give them a wave of our hand (don’t wave at your thoughts in public). And then, we can wait for the next one to come in and decide what to do with it.

When deciding what life means to us, we may receive thoughts like . . .

I want to live a comfortable life and take care of my family.

OR

I want to dedicate my life to saving humanity from climate change.

OR

I want to spend my years focused on creating social change.

Whatever one comes to mind, we don’t have to choose that one. We can choose another. That’s the beauty of being human and the beauty of thought. Once one thought passes, another arrives. It’s what you choose to do with that thought that makes all the difference in the world.

So, what’s the “meaning of life?” Since this question’s been asked and debated for many years—and will be for many to come—I propose an alternative question:

What do you want YOUR life to mean?

To hear more from Matt, tune into his interview on the One Idea Away podcast!

Photo Credit: Tom Barrett, Unsplash