The Meaning of Life (Number 42 Aside)

Editor’s note: I’m well aware that there are at least 6 months of unwritten blog entries that are due and they shall, over the next few months, come to fruition. For now, however, these are the thoughts that must first be churned through

The Instigator

I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, […] being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.

~ Viktor Frankl

The Long Overdue Result

As most of you know, I spent 2017 traveling the world (not all of it, but a fair bit) with Remote Year. More specifically, I spent it with a tribe called Meraki, a group of 80 individuals (officially, plus a few bonus members who joined us on occasion) who redefined for me what it was to be a community, a family beyond blood.

For the last few weeks of 2017 and the month that followed since saying farewell (for now) to most of my tribe, the quote above has rattled around in my brain, perhaps my soul, refusing to be ignored. I’d read it way back in the summer, from a highly recommended book called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” but, while I’d highlighted it then, it hadn’t really resurfaced until I was forced to face the fact that this chapter of life, amazing and crazy and everything that it was, was coming to a close.

When you first apply for Remote Year, you are asked “Why do you want to travel?” Or perhaps, “What does travel mean to you?” Considering myself fairly well traveled, I’d offered some off the cuff response about “learning new cultures” and “exploring new places” and similar one-liners. Those were true then and they are true now. But what I didn’t realize was just how shallow and incomplete they were.

Travel, like the rest of life, can ultimately be about one of two things: knowing yourself, or knowing others. Those aren’t mutually exclusive, but, for most choices in life, one or the other will take priority. One will be the ultimate end. Do you choose to know others so that you can better know yourself? Or do you choose to know yourself so that you can better know others?

Before people get too up in arms, I need to stress that this is not a passive knowledge, one where you sit back and observe “yourself” or “the world” in some sort of detached way. This is a knowledge that is exploratory and invasive. You’re not just uncovering more about your subject, you’re changing it, interacting with it, molding it with every touch.

Regarding those two choices, for much of my life I’ve chosen to know myself. I was really good at introspection. I could (and often did) have long conversations and debates, even arguing multiple viewpoints, despite there being no one else around. #Nerd.

One year ago, on January 1st 2017, I met a crowd of people who were the opposite. Sure, there were a few like me, but the vast majority were enthralled with the world around them and, as such, knowing their own selves was a secondary drive. I must confess, at first I thought them foolish. How, truly, could you live life well if you didn’t know your own self? Turns out, far better than I had ever done.

What these people knew, consciously or subconsciously, and what Frankl argued so many years ago, was that the meaning of who we are, really, isn’t in our own souls or minds or genetics. It’s embedded in the people around us, in the world we explore (or choose not to), in the community, the family, we partake in.

C.S. Lewis once said:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets…

What I discovered this past year is that the same is true of ourselves. There are parts of ourselves that we can never uncover alone. We need others to invest in us, and we need to pour ourselves into others, to ever truly be who we were crafted to be.

In hindsight, it saddens me at times to realize that it took me the whole year to understand this, as I spent so much time around so many amazing people who I could have invested more into, and made myself more open to investment from. And yet, if after the whole year this was the only lesson I learned, it was worth it.

So thank you, Meraki, for teaching me what “knowing myself” truly means, which is to know, and invest in, others, and to let myself be revealed and polished by every one of my tribe.

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