"Forge meaning. Build identity."
These are the words that have been emblazoned on my mind after watching Andrew Solomon's moving TED Talk about how our most painful experiences make us who we are.
I recently wrote about having no life purpose and posited the notion that the aim is the journey, not the destination. In other words, the aim of life is to live it. And I think that rings truer for me now, having heard Andrew's words, than ever.
You live life, and in the course of living your life you experience highs and lows. It is you who chooses what you take from those experiences. You give them meaning.
Meaning isn't found in the same way that you find your car keys. It's not so straight forward as to be lost or found.
Meaning is created. It is also entirely subjective.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the idea of 'being told' what to do or how to behave. One of the phrases I remember very clearly from my childhood was "Because I said so." And that just didn't sit well with me.
But is it any wonder? From the moment we arrive on this earth, we're looking for answers. "What does that do? ... What does this mean? Why are you doing that?" How often, though, do we get satisfactory, or even honest, answers?
I'm not a parent. And I'm sure that if I ever become one, I will read this blog post in an entirely different light. But I wonder how many parents, aside from Andrew Solomon, will respond to their children when they ask difficult questions, "It's up to you to decide what that means to you."
Of course, we can advise the ones we love. And I've no doubt that sometimes our advice is extremely valuable. But in the words of Mary Schmich (used in the classic 90's track 'Wear Sunscreen'), "Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth."
The way I look at it, advice is a suggestion based on someone else's past experiences, from which they chose to derive certain meanings. It's entirely subjective, and the likelihood of it being directly applicable to your circumstances, and self, is slim.
What advice is, however, is a starting point. It's the opener to a conversation that, ultimately, you need to have with yourself.
People should never feel wounded that their advice wasn't taken, or think to themselves 'Told you so' if the outcome that they predicted as a result of their advice being ignored, results. You have no idea what meaning to that person that outcome will come to have in the future. That supposed negative outcome could very well be a stepping stone to an entirely positive bigger picture, which might not have been as joyous, or even possible, without it.
There's another expression to communicate this idea, which is one that I've struggled to accept over the course of my life when it has been said to me. Until now. "Everything happens for a reason."
Why do I understand this now? It's not because I think that our lives are mapped out for us by some divine force, removing from us any possibility of free will. I identify with this mantra now because it is YOU who determines what the reason is behind what happens. You forge meaning in your own life. Or, as advised by a great friend of mine recently, "Make the decision. Then make it the right one."
"Forge meaning. Build identity." I say: Find positive meaning in your experiences, even if the positivity is simply 'If it hadn't happened, I wouldn't be me'. And when you look back at 50, as Andrew Solomon has, perhaps you'll see beauty in the bigger picture.
Image courtesy of Jarrod Castaing Fine Art Photography.
Please send this to anyone you think might benefit from this thinking and, as always, I welcome your comments.