what should i do with my life / non-religious guidance needed
April 26, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I am a little out of sorts sorting out my life as it is. Please give me some advice on how I should go about life in my thirties.

I am 29, male, an average office worker.
I vaguely understand that there is no deterministic meaning to life.

I currently go from day to day
with the following (suboptimal) behavioral guidelines.

1. chase down every temporary high
2. continue on my quest for wealth

I want to find a more satisfying motive to go on with my life.

Please give me some advice/pointers on how to find a more
fulfilling objective.
posted by rawwell to Religion & Philosophy (23 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
what do you want to leave behind when you're dead?

live life accordingly.
posted by RedEmma at 4:41 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

In order for me to help you a little better, I'll need to know a few things.

First, what is the general size of the city you live in? Is it a large metropolis, or are you stuck somewhere rural? This will impact your options for interesting things to do.

Next, are you single, or do you have a family? This will also impact the advice you'll receive.

Last, what is your income level? Are you making money faster than you can spend it, or are you paycheck to paycheck? Again, the advice that I give you will take your financial status into acount.

In the mean time, read this book, it will change your perspective on things a bit, especially at the point in your life. As long as your mind is wide open, the sky is the limit.

(I have a feeling that this post will get a lot of good responses once we have the info above)
posted by xotis at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don Miguel Ruiz The Four Agreements advocates personal freedom from agreements and beliefs that we have made with ourselves and others that are creating limitation and unhappiness in our lives. Ultimately, it is about finding one's own integrity, self-love, and peace within this reality.

agreement 1

Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

agreement 2

Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

agreement 3

Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

agreement 4

Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
posted by netbros at 5:17 PM on April 26, 2008 [50 favorites]

re: Quest for wealth

The first thing to understand is that wealth does not mean high income. You become wealthy by spending significantly less than you earn. Most people with high incomes do not do this. And many people with more moderate incomes do.

Some books that have been helpful for me
-The Wealthy Barber
-The Millionaire Next Door
-Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes
-Smart Couples Finish Rich (don't worry if you're not part of a couple - that makes it even easier :-)
posted by winston at 5:32 PM on April 26, 2008

Why live, I asked myself, when I finally became an full-on atheist. What is there to live for (not counting family and children) when everything I do will be dust in before the final clod hits my coffin? The answer finally came to me: life. Life is it's purpose.

I suspect that this is the only life I will have, and that it will be of a limited length (ie probably not more than 80 years all up). That's ALL the time I have to see every country, learn every discipline, hear every song, read every book. This is all the time I have to be as happy as I can, as reflective, as healthy, as friendly (okay, meh, not so important), and so on.

So, here's the secret that nobody believes until they find it for themselves. Have goals. Be busy. Have something to look forward to. Experience cultures and tastes and extreme sports (which for me is riding my bike on the road). Grow something. Write a song. Meet people and find out what their story is. Go WWOOFing, just to see what you make of it. Do! Lots and lots of doing. And being.

I suspect your temporary highs will translate well into a reasoned search of life experiences. I mean, man, after a couple or twenty totally blotto drinking sessions, they all start to look and feel the same, but Indian food is not like Thai, and swimming in a crystal clear rainforest stream is not like hiking around Uluru.

Do. And then maybe later on, someday, you might also get personal satisfaction from contributing to a community but that's another question...
posted by b33j at 5:43 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Caveat: I'm only the same age as you, which admittedly may limit the insight I have to share.

However, several years ago I had a epiphany about what I believe the meaning of life to be. I realized that deep, meaningful connection with others is what life is all about. I'm not a religious person, but I bet some might understand this sort of connection in a spiritual context. For me, what adds more depth, richness and substance to life is continually deepening the connection I have with those I care about. I decided my work life was not going to be about making money or getting rich. And so I chose a career in which I get to experience what adds depth and meaning to my life - connection with others. I'm a social worker, by the way.

I've also been in therapy for years to try to get rid of all my old issues that serve as barriers to intimacy. This has been a lot of work, but, really, I know it will be a lifelong process. I think my work and choices are paying off. I'm a reasonably happy, fulfilled person, which I think is a result of me figuring out what I want my life to be about - and then pursuing it.
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 5:49 PM on April 26, 2008

The concluding point that I failed to include is that this is something you can only answer for yourself. Others may be able to point you in this direction or that. But really only you can answer this. You have to look inside and figure out what brings you fulfillment, what it is that's going to make this mysterious life livable. You're ahead of the game; you already know it's not wealth-seeking or temporary highs. Two things to cross of the list on this quest!
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 5:55 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could decide which political candidates you support and work to get them elected.
posted by nicwolff at 6:06 PM on April 26, 2008

Start by asking yourself why you're asking this question. Various aspects of your life aren't fulfilling for various reasons. What are those reasons? Can you articulate them? (Mind you, articulating them can be scary).

Once you have a clearer sense of what's missing, you'll have a clearer sense of where to start looking for something more fulfilling.

Next step is to figure out where/how you think you can find what's missing, then try some things that might bring what's missing into your life. If they don't work, keep looking, and try not to get discouraged. IMO, it's better to search in vain for the right thing than to not search for the right thing at all.
posted by treepour at 6:18 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

rawwell, I am like you, if a bit older, and am currently asking myself the same questions. I am certainly no authority, but I'll share what I am thinking.

I have pretty much decided that the most important thing in life is your relationships with others - friends, family, lovers. People that you can trust, open up to, and share mutual respect with.

At the same time, what b33j says is true. You need to experienced "stuff". I wish I had experienced more stuff, and am trying to do so. You need something to share with your friends, family and lovers. Otherwise, the only thing you'll have to talk about is last night's episode of Survivor.

I'd also say, don't spend too much time chasing money. If you are lucky enough to be able to get to a point where you can live your life comfortably and not worry too much about money, then concentrate on enjoying life.

I also agree with xotis' referral to the "Yes Man" book. Not that I have read it, but I get the idea from the review. When you are presented with an opportunity, someone invites you somewhere, or makes you an offer, if it sounds like something different or potentially fun, and it's not going to hurt anyone, say YES. Do it.

I think the meaning of life is ... just to experience life. Enjoy it, and don't take it too seriously. Experience every potentially positive opportunity that comes up. Be a good person, take pride in yourself, and share yourself with the people you care about, and care about you.

I am preaching to myself here. I should heed my own advice.
posted by Diag at 6:21 PM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Also, learn how to say no when something sounds like more trouble than it's worth.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:45 PM on April 26, 2008

work to make life better for other people. work to make the future better. the only immortality you will ever get is by continuing to live on in the memories of others via your good works.

this is what i've been telling myself for the past couple of years as i've reevaluated my life and my life goals. i haven't gotten there yet, but i really hope that i will.

chasing down every temporary high doesn't sound very fun. i know you (probably) don't mean a drug high, but more of a mental/emotional high. instead of looking for really high highs that last just a little while, why not look for more of a long-lasting high-ish? every day isn't going to be a great day, but if most days are decent to great, that's a win.

what do you mean by wealth? material goods? money in the bank/stock market? emotional wealth? a wealth of knowledge? you have to figure that out (and a hint is that it's probably not the first two, or at least most people here will tell you that).

look dude, no one's going to tell us the punchline to this joke, so you have to figure it out yourself. what's the point of life? i don't think it's to collect as many shiny bars of metal as possible, and i don't think it's to be on the highest rung of the ladder. but that's just me. you have to figure out the point yourself. and once you have a point, then you'll have a direction. and you may not always follow it, but then at least you'll know when you've veered off course.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:01 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

actually Im more of a nihiilst than b33j apparently. Worldly Experiences are nice, but in and of themselves are nullified once we shuffle off.

The highest meaning and use of your time here would be to make others' lives better, however you can, IMO.
posted by tachikaze at 7:37 PM on April 26, 2008

Help people when you can.
posted by SPrintF at 7:43 PM on April 26, 2008

my goal is to write my memoirs when i'm 80. my plan is to make them worth reading.

certainly volunteer, or find some creative pursuit. learn a language with the end goal of traveling to a place where that language is spoken in a year. train for a marathon. do outward bound.

there a billion things to do--the question is what you want to have done before you die. start there, work backwards.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:43 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't waste your time living someone else's life.
Find out what gives you joy and spend a lot of time doing it.
Connect with friends, family and people in a deep and meaningful way.
The only thing you need to know about money is that you should spend less than you earn. In this way you will avoid the harsh discomforts of financial duress.
Develop a sense of gratitude for what you've got in life already.
Hours spent in front of a tv or a computer have a low happiness yield.
posted by storybored at 7:49 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go into education. That'll solve any quest for a satisfying motive to go on with life. In the meantime, try being a volunteer for a kids' baseball team or something.
posted by fantasticninety at 8:04 PM on April 26, 2008

Your question hits close to home. I try to do this every day.

This hard to relate but very important to understand... If you could speak to yourself, being 29, to the person you were at 19 what would you tell yourself? Now jump forward, say 10 years- what exactly might this guy say to you today? What are the things in your gut that will germinate as time passes? I do this on a daily basis and try to write about it so as I might get a more clear understanding of what I am trying to understand about my future. Usually these things cut down to the bare bone of matters that perplex me but will eventually be answered as time passes. By asking myself now, which you seem to be doing, I feel better prepared for what awaits me.

Sure, I am sort of restating the question you are asking but I think the true path to understanding it is by looking at the past and comparing it to your present and then laying this template over your future to understand your tomorrows.

So maybe the true answer is to always learn something from your mistakes and clearly understand your victories.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:33 PM on April 26, 2008

Best answer: Life is like a vacation. We know that a vacation of any length will come to an end. Yet, we still decide what we want to do, where we want to go, what we'd like to do before we come home, etc. We do this even though we know it's only a temporary escape from the madness of everyday life. None of us blow off a vacation because we know it will end and doesn't last forever - we enjoy it to the fullest. Look at life in the same way: decide what you want to do, where you want to go, what you would like to accomplish and what you'd like to do before you go home (death). Even though you know it's all temporary - we can still plan and enjoy and live. Life is about living. Nothing more - nothing less. But, isn't that enough?
posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:47 PM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Take one small step today. Do something you never would normally do. Create situations where you have some choices to make. And don't make the choices you normally would.
posted by Wilder at 2:29 AM on April 27, 2008

Totally agree with the point netbros raises with "don't make assumptions."

I was practicing Aikido a couple of years ago and one of the tenets is just that. Now, if I only could live by that I would be a happier soon-to-be-30-rudderless-person than I am.
posted by monocultured at 3:48 AM on April 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all, for your posts and the warmth they convey.

I will add some personal information
for the questions xotis has asked.

Any kind of comment, general or specific,
is appreciated!!

1. I live in a large metropolis. Tokyo, by the way.
2. I am single, and I don't have any immediate plans for marrying.
3. My current income is satisfactory,
meaning that I am not in urgent need of a salary raise.
posted by rawwell at 8:00 AM on April 27, 2008

I'm older than you. I've done a number of things in my life so far that I'm really proud of. I honestly have a few times each day when I can get a "whoa" moment (best said in a Keanu Reaves voice). The weird thing is that while accomplishing these things, they weren't means to an end, they were just what seemed fun at the time.

In contrast, my existential angst comes from periods of sit-and-spin. When I'm just doing the rut I'm in because I'm just doing the rut I'm in. Aikido has been a big part of my life, too. Allegoric aikido teaches me to not oppose, but to flow. This has done wonders for my attitude. Aikido also taught me to enter. Enter a bad situation offering your strongest position. Enter on your terms, or you'll always be reacting to others.

And I don't mean any of this in a metaphoric way, but as rational and literal as you can imagine. Enter. Do.

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." -Thoreau
Why be quiet?
Why be desperate?
Why be part of the masses?

dagnabit, now I've got to go do something worthwhile, having spouted all this...

In short, motivations are always suspect. Do something you like just because. This might be your only chance to do it. And it might lead to other things, which in years to come you'll look back and go "Whoa, I did all that." Which at least makes for good cocktail party conversation.
posted by lothar at 10:06 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Static Electricity Fries Garage Door Opener;...   |   And may their first fruit be a stinky fruit Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.