How to Live a Meaningful Life

meaningful life

My life had turned into a series of checklists.

  • Nice car – check.
  • Masters degree – check.
  • Impressive Resume – check.

But there was a problem. As the tears fell from my cheeks, I noticed I was missing a few.

  • Purpose –
  • Meaning –
  • Fulfillment –

…Does my life even matter?

A Life Without Meaning

It was a hard thing to admit – that I’d done everything I was told to do… and felt empty.

Western culture tells us “Get a degree, get a job, get a home, make a lot of money, and happiness is yours.”

I’ve tested the theory… It doesn’t work.

Does Your Life Even Matter?

I used to be a teacher in the inner city. Every morning I would wake up at 530 am to go teach in the poverty stricken neighborhoods of Los Angeles, California.

On some level it felt good. On paper, it looked great. Here I was – in my mid 20’s giving my heart and soul to educate america’s underserved youth.

But if I’m honest, with you, with myself – I did it for the wrong reasons.

I loved the students, but really – it was more about “my image” than actually changing lives.

In my 4th year it all came falling down. I realized – I hate my life and the direction it’s moving.

Not exactly a pleasant feeling…

This Moment is All We Have

So, 2 years ago I made a commitment, a decision that has lead to things I never could have imagined.

I decided to do what I “want to do” – not what my culture told me I “should do”.

I decided to pursue my dream: to become a ninja. Probably sounds a little crazy, right?

Doesn’t really matter what it sounds like, it’s the truth.

I now live in Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan. I train in martial arts as much as my body can handle. I teach English part-time, just enough to cover my expenses.

It’s an irony I still do not yet understand. In being completely selfish, in following my dream – I’ve been able to inspire people from countries all around the world.

Back in November I gave a TEDx talk about the pursuit of a dream. My website was voted the 3rd best Personal Development blog of 2012. People request to interview me. I was quoted on Oprah’s website.

My life now has meaning, purpose, and a sense of fulfillment I never could have imagined.

Now each day, each moment, I step forward with my dream as evidence to you, to the world, that it is possible.

The purpose of this post is straightforward: I want you to understand that your life can only have meaning, if you commit right now – to this very moment…

A Commitment to Live a Meaningful Life

I could give you a step by step formula to “follow your dream”. In fact, you would probably even think it’s good. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about you, your life, and your commitment.

Yes, without a doubt the “how” is very important. But if you are not committed, the steps don’t mean a darn thing.

When I left my professional career in America I had no idea what I was doing.

I didn’t know about the language barriers, visa issues, tears and cultural struggles I would face. My plan was small – move to a foreign country, train in martial arts.

All I had was my commitment: My commitment to live a meaningful, fulfilling life.

Commitment means stopping at nothing.

Commitment is a choice not fate.

Commitment is a decision backed by action.

Today is your chance. You’re either committed to a fulfilling meaningful life, or you’re not.

The First Step

If you are truly ready – then you must ask this question:

What is my first step?

Don’t worry about step 2, step 8, or step 100. Just focus on step 1.

Right now, this moment – you either prove that you are committed… or you prove that you aren’t.

So, which one are you?

Photo by Moyan_Brenn

33 thoughts on “How to Live a Meaningful Life”

  1. Loved your TEDx talk, Izzy! And great article too. When talking to others about the importance of living a meaningful life, I always ask them to consider the opposite: living a meaningless life. The obviousness of the importance of finding meaning in life becomes immediately obvious.

    When we hide ourselves in the folds of someone else’s life (seeking to live up to some standard of someone else’s device or maintaining a public image or checking off the boxes culture proclaims as essential), we start to disappear from the inside out.

    Thanks for the reminder here to do more with life than drift through it.

    1. Yo, what’s up Ken!

      I think it is very powerful for people to become aware of what “meaningless life” involves. In particular, it can be crazy powerful if they realize the life they are currently living fits within this realm.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Hi Izzy!!! I don’t know if this was coincidence or what but your post is so right on to what I am feeling right now. This is my first step – take action. No more idling and thinking things just do it! I really don’t have any definitive plans but all I know is that I need to get out of my current job which is leaving me exhausted and feeling depress and all. Great news is that I’m already rendering my 30 days. To say honestly, I’m really feeling anxious not because I’m regretting what I did. Well, you could say a little? Since I have a lot of responsibilities and bills to pay. I just hope, no slash that, I will make this work so that I can do what I really want and that is to travel.

    PS: Hopefully, next year I’d get to go to Japan, you could tour me there. I really want to see the Sakuras ^_^

    1. What’s up Faye.

      First I’ll say this – I don’t believe in coincidences. You are ready to learn about these things so you are drawn to it when it shows up in your life.

      You have reached a point in your life where you are going to head down one of two paths. You will either dare to move in the direction your heart yearns for or you will take the “comfortable path”. The powerful yet also scary thing about this is that both choices will have have a massive impact on your life one way or the other.

      I definitely recommend checking out my blog – It can really help you figure out your next steps and create a plan :).

      In regards to Japan… It’s a pretty big country – so how about your first buy the ticket, figure out where you’re going and then let me know :).

      1. Hi Izzy!!! ^_^ I dare to follow my heart! No more to the “comfortable path” as you put it. :D I’m already one of your followers even before you wrote here in the change blog and it made me see and realize that I can do whatever I want if I really put my mind into it.

        yep, let you know once I booked that ticket!haha see you soon! :P

  3. I’m impressed by your honesty, Izzy. Not many people would admit to anyone, let alone to an audience, that they did something for the image. You’ve made me question some of my choices and reflect upon whether or not I do certain things for the image or because it is who I am. Perhaps there are a few things I do for the image of it, but that is not usually the case.

    Lately I’ve learned something interesting about myself that could answer your question. I’ve learned that I am incredibly committed and all it takes is that first step, like you said. Once I get the ball rolling, I take off with a furious sprint and let the momentum keep going. I honestly never would have guessed that several months before because I assumed I had commitment issues in most aspects of life. However, I found the things I’m passionate about and what gives me meaning. Thanks for the great article, Izzy.

    1. What’s up Vincent. That is a beautiful thing to become aware of.

      Some people have an intensity about them. I tend to fall into this realm. I go all in on whatever i do – often to a fault :). It’s my greatest strength and weakness.

      I love how you articulate the power of your first step. It just blows my mind how many people are looking for some magical formula but in reality what they really need to do is take step 1.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Elchin Suleymanov

    Hi Izzy…it was great post. I`m agree with you. a journey to a thousand miles begins with one step..!

  5. hey Izzy,

    it’s sad we don’t learn purpose in School… I used to think it was my duty to do what others tell me to (teachers, parents, grandparents, etc), until I later found, I have to re-learn things and find me true purpose in LIFE.

    I guess the first step is to be committed to your second… right?

    By the way, how did you feel being featured on Oprah’s site? Did you ever imagine this would happen?

    1. What’s up Allan :).

      I really like how you put it. The first step is to commit the second – That’s awesome!

      You know, getting featured on Oprah’s site was fairly anti-climactic. If someone told me a year ago that would happen I’d have been shocked. But the deeper I get on this journey, the less it’s about me.

      Of course, it was cool and all – but in my heart, what truly matters is that I impact lives. I just use the “featured on Oprah” as an example so people know what can happen when we step forward with our dreams. You know what I’m sayin’?

  6. Izzy – I like that you talk about commitment in such a simple way, since that’s the secret, right? A lot of people wait for either inspiration to hit, the ‘right time’, or waiting for the courage to get moving.

    But really, all that needs to be done is setting aside commitment for the job at hand.

    Loving this post Izzy.

    – Razwana

    1. What’s up Razwana!

      It’s funny, cause it is simple, yet so hard to reach a point in our life when truly are committed.

      I spent years trying to “figure it out”. But now, that I am truly committed I know what it’s like and I understand what it takes.

      Glad you dig the post Razwana. I dig your comments!

  7. thanks for your post
    i believe we can make our life meaningful by fighting for our goals
    i just remember Al pacino’s quote from any given sunday when he was talking about success “That’s the difference between living and dying”
    thanks: )

    1. Yeah man, I couldn’t agree more. It really is the difference between living and dying.

      So many people walk through each day, blind to the beauty that there life can have. Awesome quote by the way Farouk :).

  8. Thanks Izzy, I always love to hear about your story. It’s so wild! I’m trying to figure out what step one is but I’m at a point where I’m over-thinking it. I really just need to get going but it’s difficult. But you are so right, I think I’m thinking of step 89, but haven’t actually taken step one…

    1. hahaha :). I smile, but I also know this is serious Vanessa. The first step above all else is to recognize that we need to take that first step. It really is an art learning to do this. Our minds can play cruel little tricks on us. It can give us a million reasons to hold back.

      And yes, sometimes there are legitimate reasons. But most of the time, they aren’t legitimate. Feel free to shoot me an email at if you ever want to go into more detail about what you are trying to do. I’d be glad to help in any way I can.

  9. Great, inspiring post Izzy. So many people think that there is something wrong with them because they did everything right but aren’t happy. The issue is, as you discovered, the formula. Finding out who you are, then following you joy, is the only way to really live a worthwhile life. It is the goal of the work that I do with people. Thanks for a great post.

    1. What’s up Brian.

      Very well put. In many cases people get the order all mixed up. We set out on a journey to do all these things and think we will stumble upon something meaningful. But in reality we need to focus on finding meaning and then moving towards that.

  10. Hi Izzy,

    What an amazing adventure! I too have gone on a quest to fulfill my purpose. It’s hard at first. There is so much fear and doubt. You can rely on the comfort of social norms and just get a regular job, or you can be true to yourself. It’s a tough decision. But for those who go after their dreams, even though they may have to slog across muddy ground and battle to keep their head above water at times – like I did, and like you did – they should know that the grass is greener on the other side, and the view from over here is amazing!

    I’m glad you wrote this article to inspire them … and me. It’s a valuable lesson that you can’t revisit enough.

    1. Great point man. I think it’s always a constant process of reinvention. As soon as I think I have it figured out then something arises and I realize I have to go back to the drawing board.

      To me, I feel like it’s a constant funnel. I’m heading down the funnel each and everyday. I am becoming more and more clear all the time. But like you mentioned this will come with a few bumps and scrapes.

  11. Thank you for an interesting read. I’m at the point in my life that I believe I will be happy when I get everything you mentioned in the first paragraph, as I’m just 18. Who knows, maybe there will be two ninjas in Japan soon enough, heh.

    I have however, taken my first step already, just a few days ago (Feel free to read my page), and hopefully my life will take a turn for the better.

    Thank you yet again, for a very interesting read.

    1. What’s up man. If you are 18 years old and already taking the time to read personal development blogs than I imagine you are going to do some big things in your life. Especially if you are already taking action.

      Really awesome!

  12. Thanks for writing a good article. The meaningful of life is different meaning to each people. Some of my friends told me that set a goal and achieve it , its meaningful of life. Some of friends told me that everyday do whatever they like to do is meaningful of life. I believe the goal is really important but must start with first step.

    1. What’s up Jacky. I think (as your comment shows) it’s a case by case thing for each person.

      I do think we all yearn to find meaning in our life. The question becomes “how will you find it?” It’s an important question that many people hide from rather than taking the time to explore it.

  13. Dear Izzy, thanks for the inspiration. It is true that most of us have been living a life dictated by other people’s mentality of a good life, and slowly but surely, we would come to a point where we hate our present life styles. Perhaps we are all exhausted by our hectic lives, no matter how successful they are.

    The Meaning of Life – Book of Ecclesiastes.

    Bless you.

  14. When my first 2years of being away from my family, I feel all the negative feelings in my life. I was homesick and lonely and feel life has no meaning. I asked myself why I am here; What’s the purpose of my life. Then I come to realized that I have no plans with my trip. I just get out of my place to avoid a miserable life. Life without plans and vision has no meaning at all.

  15. This is an interesting blog. Too many people think having more material things than others brings happiness. What do these things bring, but feelings. Underlying it all is how we feel about ourselves. You brought up good points, such as having a plan. Anyone can want to bring more meaning to life, but haphazardly guessing here and there helps some, but not to the point you propose. Certainly being a ninja won’t work for anyone, but at least you had a plan you carried out. I blog about the same topic and it is interesting. Relevant, thoughtful post.

  16. thank you for sharing.
    Really that simple? Simply be committed to live meaningful life, focus on next step… Then it will open up doors and lead me?
    I want to change, to really do something meaningful. Yet so much fears, how to support myself, my family etc.

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