How to Escape Despair and Bring Meaning to Your Life
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” – Joseph Campbell
I have lost a lot of friends in my life. Each time I came face to face with the pain of loss, I was presented with a choice. In looking back at my life, I have come to realize that the choice was always the same.
At the age of 16, for one and a half years I squandered away my existence, lost in a world of drugs. Two friends who shared this life with me are no longer alive today due to the degree to which we immersed ourselves in despair and self-destruction.
As cliche as this may sound, the truth is, almost overnight, my life changed forever. The movie “Black Hawk Down” shone a light that guided me out of the darkness. In the movie, there is a scene when two Delta snipers volunteer to put themselves in front of thousands of armed men, women and children trying to kill them in order to save the life of one of their fellow soldiers. They gave their lives for one man who is alive today because of their sacrifice.
It triggered something in me to stop living with disregard for the human community. To stop living a selfish existence and start serving something higher than myself. After reading the true story the movie was based on, I decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.
I left a life of despair, but death followed me again on my new journey. This time it came in the form of heroism and sacrifice. While serving as a vehicle commander during the war in Iraq, my friend and fellow Marine was killed by an improvised explosive device.
I wasn’t there with him. I had been traveling the world visiting my family in India when he volunteered to go to Iraq with another unit.
A part of me felt and continues to feel that had I been there with him, it would have been me instead of him. In which case, he would have been back home with his fiancé, been married by now and possibly even have a few kids.
As a result, when I finally got my chance to deploy in 2007, I promised myself that I would never let a fellow Marine die on my watch. A promise that deep down I knew I could never keep. How could I possibly impose a sense of order to the chaos of war?
Nonetheless, fortune prevailed.
Although I by no means have any claim of responsibility for the outcome, we all came home alive. But the 7 months in Iraq took it’s toll on some of us more than others. One of my friends and a junior Marine took his own life less than one year after we returned.
I was plagued by a renewed sense of guilt. I felt like I should have done more to prevent him from losing all hope about the possibility of life. But like every other encounter I experienced with death, there was nothing I could do to change the past.
Once again, I promised myself that I would do more with my life. I would make my life mean something so that others would get value from it and benefit from my experiences so they would embrace the beauty of life and live it with passion.
I searched for new ways to test my own limits. I began exploring the most hostile environments on the planet to find myself and more importantly, discover the infinite capacity of the human potential.
Today, I spend my spare time climbing mountains, diving beneath the waves, skiing across frozen icecaps and embracing the fears that lie waiting for all of us in the unforgiving unknown. The intention being to take that wisdom from a life on the edge and help others climb their own mountains or cross their own icecaps.
I have come to learn that no matter what change you want to make in life, you have to fight for it and break through the hundreds of walls that come in the way of your true destiny. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
The true measure of our lives is how we face that struggle and what we choose to do with it. For courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to persevere despite it. It is through struggle that we discover our potential. Beyond those fateful frontiers of our comfort zone we find our growth and freedom.
In the last 12 years, every time death came into my life, I was presented with the same two choices: To embrace the struggle and create meaning beyond the boundaries of my own existence or to live for myself in the comfort zone of my own reality.
Initially, I brought meaning to my life through war. Now I bring meaning by exploring the planet. Soon I will bring meaning by working in post conflict zones with organizations like MSF.
What meaning do you bring to your life today?
To help you answer that question, follow the steps in this guide below:
7 Steps to Find the Meaning You Bring to Life
1 – Condition a Warrior Mindset
A warrior mindset is one that doesn’t blame external circumstances for anything, as I once did when I was 16. A warrior mindset asks how can I create meaning and value from this experience, no matter how challenging it may be? Victor Frankl attributes his survival during the Holocaust to his ability to create meaning to the suffering. To look beyond it and find value from it as opposed to asking the world why this was done to him.
Life is challenging, get used to it and embrace it. There can be joy in challenge if you choose it. As ultramarathoners often say, it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun. Jack Canfield, in his bestselling book, “The Success Principles,” lists the very first principle as taking 100% responsibility for your life. This is the foundation from which success is built and meaning is created.
To condition this mindset, notice when you complain or blame something else for something and simply stop doing it. Instead, ask yourself, how did I create, promote or allow this event to happen? If you can’t find an answer then perhaps you were truly wronged.
Most of what happens in the world is out of our control. Victor Frankl was most certainly wronged by being subjected to the horrors of life in a concentration camp. Should that be the case with you, choose to accept the realities of the struggle and get meaning from it by asking yourself, what good can come from this? Or what value can I gain from this experience? Or how will this experience help me grow as a person? All these questions will help you condition the mindset of a warrior and let go of being a victim.
2 – Love Yourself
Success is only possible if we believe it to be. Self confidence, or what I like to call self love, gives us the strength to act in the face of struggle. The only reason I immersed myself in drugs was because I wasn’t sure of who I was as a person. Once that changed, the world was mine for the taking. So how do you build a rock solid level of confidence?
There are many ways, a few of which can be found here, but the most powerful way is to take risks. Start small. You don’t have to speak in front of 1000 people if public speaking scares you. Start with just your family, then move to toastmasters and work your way to larger and larger crowds. Each step outside your comfort zone pushes that line further out. Every inch outside builds confidence and further reinforces the inner belief that you are capable of anything and everything. Soon you will start to see that impossible exists only in the mind.
3 – Find your passion
What makes you come alive? What activity makes time stop? What brings you the most joy in life? Ask yourself these questions to find your passion. No matter what you love to do and who you love to be, there is a way to make a living doing it. Online marketing and information products create this possibility for anyone and everyone all over the world. So find your passion and go live it. Your passions are the meaning you bring to life because they are the very things that make you come alive. Consequently, it is vital to find them and become fully aware of them in order to then manifest them.
4 – Visualize yourself engaging in that activity and completing it
In May 2013, I spent one month skiing across the second largest icecap in the world in Greenland. In temperatures as low as -40 degrees, I dragged a 190 pound sled 350 miles. For months before I even set foot in Greenland, I visualized myself completing the journey. By the time I got onto the ice, success was almost guaranteed. I had already arrived at the east coast 100 hundreds times in my head.
Once you have found your passions, to start living them, first take the time every day to visualize yourself completing your goals and doing what you most love to do. What do you see? What do you hear? Most importantly, what do you feel? We are emotional creatures and everything we do is driven by emotion, so it is vital to feel the result you want to create. You can also follow the 3 step process outlined here. Once you create the vision as real in your mind and then act on what you see, you will turn success from an uncertainty to an inevitability.
5 – Burn Your Boats
When Alexander the Great arrived on Persian shores outnumbered by an overwhelming enemy presence, he ordered his men to burn their boats. He told them “either we go home in Persian ships, or we die.” With no room for retreat, his outnumbered army fought like lions and defeated the Persians. There is no force greater than necessity. Devote the entirety of your being to the life you want to create and you will create it.
On Greenland, not only did I visualize my crossing, I spent every dollar I had on it as well, so there was no way I could afford a 15-20 thousand dollar rescue of the icecap even if I wanted to leave early. There was no choice, but to put one foot in front of the other and take every step of those 350 miles. Put all of your heart and soul into your passions and you will bring meaning to every single moment of your life.
6 – Meditate on Death
Steve Jobs once said, “remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Ancient Samurai used to believe that everyday one should meditate on the inevitable end of their existence to truly harness the power of being alive. Every time I lost someone close to me, I became more aware of my own mortality. This was further reinforced by own brushes with death. Each one of those experiences pushed me to redefine my life and give meaning to it.
Most of us live every day as if we have an eternity to turn our dreams into reality. We push our goals back to someday, but we all know that someday is never. By becoming fully present to the inevitable end of our existence, it creates a powerful force and drive within us to act on our dreams, and act on them today! One day, we will all die, but whether or not we really live until that day comes is up to us. Spend some time every day, or every week if every day is too much, imagining yourself on your death bed. In that distant day in the future, ask yourself Are you happy with the life you have lived? Does the answer satisfy you?
7 – Connect Your Passion to a Higher Purpose
Finally, and most importantly, to bring meaning to your life, it is vital to connect the dream to a higher purpose. No matter what your passions, whether they be knitting, cooking, painting, climbing, or investing, the true value of that passion is manifested through the lives you affect as a result of your work.
There are 7 billion people on the planet. The human family is a large one. By connecting your passion to someone or something greater than yourself, you become a contributing member of the human community as opposed to someone living outside of it. Only when you use your passion to serve others will you feel as if you have truly brought meaning to your existence. Serving others is in our best interest as well because it makes us stronger and gives us greater drive to achieve our dreams. Would you do anything to ensure your family is taken care of, even put your own life at risk if need be?
As Gandhi said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
What is the meaning you bring to your life? What are your passions and how you living them? We would love to hear about your journey in the comments section below.
Photo by Zach Dischner