Mr. Metaphor, here.😁 I don't know why, but I like metaphors a lot when examining a complex problem or issue. Another one came to me last night as one of our granddaughters was in Seattle for a short visit to unload an apartment she isn't using any longer. After a long day for her, we met for Italian food and a drink to catch up.
We got into this erudite (come on! I'm a writer; I'm supposed to use words like that) discussion about the meaning of life. She's in her mid-twenties and, while doing quite well in her chosen field, is questioning what the hell life is all about. With the help of some birthday rooms a while back, she had an 'ah ha' moment. The 'Y' syndrome hit her smack dab in her pretty little face. The 'Y' syndrome - I think I made that up - refers to the avalanche of why-type questions that crop up in any serious examination of life and why the hell we allow ourselves to get sucked into the life vortex that is this swirling mass of crap just above the drain.
The discussion generally focused on why any of this shit matters and why we should play this stupid game of competition and pretend to be, care or believe any of the crap we've been taught. We enter the proverbial rat race and work our asses off all our lives so that we can die knowing we did all the right shit according to society. Fair question, I think I responded.
We are how we've been programmed. From the time we pop out of our mother's bearded clam - I should probably apologize for that term, but I'm in a mood, so I won't - we are surrounded by adults whose sole purpose in life is to mold us into what their idea is of a good human being. It starts with our parents. They will be doing their version of Mr. Spock's Vulcan mind-meld for the next fifteen or eighteen years until they either believe we get it or give up on us.
Add to that the grandparents, aunts, uncles, sometimes older siblings, preachers, priests, rabbis, teachers, coaches, bosses, and the occasional stranger who overhears a conversation and butts in. They mean well, or at least we want to think they do. Each of them has been programmed in their own time; some of this programming can go back generations before radio and TV. I mean, really? WTF do people back then know about our modern world?
The basic program, aside from not picking your nose in public, generally involves getting a good education, going to church (maybe), being kind to others... unless they've screwed with you, getting married, having kids, working long and hard, buying a house, better yet, buy two or three over time, so you're constantly in debt.
And if you're fortunate enough to get into the top 10%, enjoy the shit out of retirement with lots of money. If you don't reach that pinnacle, retire, buy a motor home and matching ball caps and jackets, and tour all the national parks eating Happy Meals. Do understand that I'm generalizing, but also understand there is an element of truth in all this.
My metaphor for our granddaughter's problem was a puzzle. I characterized all the pressure and complexity as like being handed a puzzle of life on the day you are born. There is no picture on the box to tell you what your life will look like down the road. Many of the pieces in that box were placed there by your genetics. Many pieces are blank, waiting to be colored in by your experiences.
You've inherited many likes, dislikes, and tendencies of your parents. There might be a couple of pieces that jumped generations and came from your grandparents. You have to assemble a puzzle that will show your future and the final result. It will take all or most of your life to see what that puzzle looks like.
Some pieces will get lost, others will change shape and color a little, and yet others will be added to the box by all those well-meaning adults who are trying to shape your attitude and disposition in life. You will add other pieces as you have life experiences. The picture will keep changing over time based on the new pieces you get and how the older pieces have morphed. The picture of how you thought your life would play out when you were in your twenties may be very different from the picture you see on the table in your fifties.
Since many of your advisors think they did everything pretty much right, they will want you to be like them. Or, if they struggled a little, they might point to another relative or even a non-relative and encourage you to be like them. They do want the best for you; they just aren't focused on what you want but rather what they wish for you.
This metaphor is not so much the meaning of life as how life unfolds through time as prescribed by society. But, what is the meaning of life? Is it what others have defined it to be? Is it leading your life like Mother Teresa, as some religions might suggest? Is it being a star athlete as some successful or less successful athlete might urge you to do? Is it a life of service, or in music, or science, or even living on the street? You can be sure that whatever your choice is, it will likely disappoint someone in your circle of advisors.
A good starting point might be to look back at how far you've come. When have you been the happiest, the most fulfilled, productive, energized, and, yes, rewarded if that is part of finding the feeling of satisfaction, joy, or maybe the word is nirvana. If you can find that something or someone that gives you that feeling, then spend as much time as possible in that world. You might want to make this assessment several times in your life as circumstances change.
The meaning of life has to mean being surrounded and immersed in the things that are important to you. That may mesh with what some of your advisors prodded you to do, or it may be totally the opposite of what some prescribed. At the end of your life, and even during your life, you have to feel good about what you've done and how you've done it, rather than trying to meet everyone else's expectations.