Excellence Reporter: Josh, what is the meaning of life?
Josh Allan Dykstra: Almost 3 years ago, one of my best friends in the world died after a horrific battle with cancer. He was 34, quite possibly the most talented musician I’ve ever met (and I know a lot of these folks), and without question one of the finest human beings I’ll ever know.
An experience like this naturally brings the question of “What is the meaning of life?” to the vibrant, technicolor surface of one’s mind. After many months of wrestling, I concluded the answer has two parts:
- To make as many amazing memories as possible, and
- To leave something beautiful behind when you go.
Perhaps this seems overly simple, but for me it sums it up quite effectively. Let me explain.
First, memories. Research has shown that our best memories actually improve the quality of our life as time goes by. They are, essentially, appreciating assets that live in our brains. This is why it’s far better to spend money on experiences and not things: pleasant, memorable events actually amplify in our brains over time, becoming additive in their benefit to our overall wellbeing. Acquiring “stuff” might be fun, but just like the shiny car you drive off the lot, those assets mentally depreciate from the moment we exchange our dollars for them. The amazing memories we can create with that stuff, though—now, that is something worthy of our time and attention.
So, in the service of this idea, it’s become my goal to intentionally create as many cool moments as I can in the hopes they will generate memories that will last. Of course, this is much simpler to say than it is to do; for me to get good at this, I have to practice it like an Olympic athlete practices their sport. I have to learn to be more mindful in general, to be more present in the moment I’m in, to be more intentional about how I spend my time, and to create WAY more space in the margins of my life so I’m not just constantly rushing from one thing to the next. (I’m not very good at these things yet, but I’m getting better.)
Second, leaving something beautiful behind. Living one’s life ONLY in the service of acquiring memories, while great for the person living them, just seems to be a bit, well, short-sighted. There’s a great big world around us, and I’ve experienced (as you likely have) how one person can make a profound impact on the people around them. Then add to this notion that everyone seems to be uniquely, meaningfully gifted with unique talents, strengths, and perspectives, and I would suggest it is quite literally a waste for us to not share these beautiful things with the other human travelers we collide with along the journey.
So, to bring life to this idea, I try to integrate and balance my desire for great experiences with working on things that make life a little better for the people around me. This isn’t some kind of saint-like general “volunteering” altruism, though—for me, this is a drive, an obsession, to begin with a hard look in the mirror to discover my own unique gifts/talents/strengths, and to then use those things to create something (or many things) that will be, in the most holistic sense of the word, beautiful… and also last long after I’m gone. It should be noted, too, that I find that being on a larger “mission” can also lead to situations filled with some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had, which is a pretty nice feedback loop!
So, there you have it: the meaning of life.
At least for me.
~Josh Allan Dykstra is a recognized thought leader on the future of work and company culture design. His articles and ideas have been featured by Fast Company, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Business Insider. He is the Co-CEO of Forte, a consulting group that helps organizations and leaders leverage the power of a strong culture, and Co-CEO of Strengthscope U.S., the exclusive distributor of the Strengthscope® product suite in the United States. He co-founded The Work Revolution, a movement/advocacy group that promotes life-giving work environments for everyone, and has an eclectic work background that includes projects with organizations like Apple, Sony, Genentech, Microsoft, HTC, and UCLA as well as startups and nonprofits. He holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his latest book, Igniting the Invisible Tribe: Designing An Organization That Doesn’t Suck, is available on Amazon.com.
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