How are we to see life? Is it an existence of meaningless movement from one moment to the next? Or is there a larger purpose in life, something to live for?
When we’re young, we think that when we’re all grown up, we’ll have all the answers. We’ll know what we want to do, how we want to do it, and with whom we want to do it.
But when we’re older, we realize it doesn’t work that way. The questions don’t go away, and the answers don’t magically appear. Just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean we’re finished growing.
In the first half of life, the questions are framed by basic economic realities. Eventually, though, we reach a point—usually around midlife— where the answers are no longer obvious. Often freed from the practical (although usually not the “emotional”) responsibilities, we grapple with the question: “Who do I want to be now that I’m grown up?”
Consequently, we struggle not with a “midlife crisis” but a “meaning crisis!” Some of us experience daily life as energy-draining and sprit-crushing. Some remain in service to the story of the first half of our lives, when our souls have already moved on to the story of the second half. And so, the hunger for answers to the “Who do I want to be?” question grows stronger.
But where do the answers come from?
I find my answers by revisiting the wisdom of our ancestors, specifically the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers of Tanzania, East Africa. I have spent much time with them over the past two decades. It’s straight forward (though by no means simple) to hunt animals and gather foodstuffs. The search for the subtle “something we are seeking to live for” is, as this poem from Rumi suggests, at a level far beyond mere survival, or even wisdom.
“Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.
From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood, move to an infant drinking milk, to a child on solid food, to a searcher after wisdom, to a hunter of more invisible game.”
What I am hunting is the “invisible game”—the meaningful life game. In my hunt, I have studied extensively in psychology, philosophy, and ancient spiritual traditions. I have interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life on the question, “What do you live for?” And I have sat around the fires with the Hadzabe elders to learn what they had to teach us about hunting the invisible game. How did these “original people” survive and thrive for 75,000 years?
And not surprisingly, some of the most profound experiences I had, and the answers they led me to, were not what I thought I was looking for.
Here’s what I rediscovered: The meaning of life is to GROW & GIVE. That’s it. Simple to say. Profoundly hard to practice on a daily basis.
In life’s second half, we need to learn to look at things in a new way. It begins with a new mindset, one that values “Growing & Giving” in the present moment as the eventual destination. Instead of constantly striving for our goal, we need to learn to consistently appreciate all that we have in the moments.
The meaning of life is unlocked in the “meaning moments” of life.
~Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, is one of America’s preeminent executive-life coaches. He is ranked by Forbes as one of the “Top 5” most respected executive coaches, and by the Conference Board as a “legend in coaching.” Richard’s work has been recognized with awards from the Bush Foundation, from which he was awarded a Bush Fellowship and the Fielding Institute’s Outstanding Scholar for Creative Longevity and Wisdom award.
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