Discovery is one of the four pillars that contributes to the creation of meaning in our lives. While it can be meaningful in and of itself, Discovery does not constitute a meaningful life without being complemented by and interwoven with the other three experiences of purpose: Love, Service, and Expression. These other elements of meaning aside, Discovery itself is fulfilling when done with the intention of growth and understanding something larger than the self. While introspection is a large aspect of the process and it is important to see that Discovery concerns not only the understanding of self, but the understanding of self in context. By questing to comprehend ourselves to a greater degree through exposure to the unknown and diligent self-reflection, we can connect with and live into multiple ways of being that feel meaningful to us.
Who Are You and What Do You Want?
I’m asking you not because you just barged into my house unannounced, but because I think it would be useful for you to know the answer.
So. Let’s consider these two questions. What is your initial reaction? Is it something along the lines of:
“I am Name, Age, Gender, Job, Relationship, Geography, and I want Happiness, Success, Security, and Love” ?
But... WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? There are millions of possible interpretations of what those words indicate. They can have distinct connotations for every person. For example, how do you define ‘success’? What are some other ways to view it, and what benefits and drawbacks do those have for you? Are you really your job or the place you are from? I know we can be more specific- and that specificity can give us much more to work with. We live our lives under many assumptions about reality, and in many cases these assumptions limit us from discovering the life we truly want to live.
The details of what is meaningful for one individual can be vastly different from what works for another, and its even possible that there are multiple meaningful manifestations of life paths for each of us (not to mention that half the fun is trying out new things to gain further insight!). How do we figure out which of those life paths to pick? I’d offer that in order to figure out what we want, we ought to start by understanding who we are and extending ourselves into new territory.
Many of us do not decide to take the deep dive into who we are because society conveniently supplies us with a sweetly succinct set of labels. However, there are a fantastic number of facets to each of us! The depth of our complexity cannot be captured with titles like wife, executive, student, or American. While the concept of being a farmer might be easy to recognize, it does not reliably illustrate a person’s values, dreams, or wisdom in any significant detail. Recognizing that someone is a farmer will not also tell you that that individual is passionate about philosophy, dedicated to writing poetry, or that they have a dysfunctional family that has affected their understanding of trust.
The resources in this section are topics and practices relevant to discovering aspects of the self -- which in turn aid to illuminate what choices can lead us to fulfillment in our lives. A helpful exercise would be to literally write down your personal thoughts/answers on each of the topics in order to truly tap into them. Pondering is helpful -- but finding out exactly what your answers are will be the most beneficial!
Unfortunately, it is possible that the answers you come up with will be unreliable in some ways. Bummer. But hold up, it’s totally normal! It’s not because you are wrong, but rather that most answers need a closer look and because we (including our beliefs, values, and interests) change throughout our lives. The potential utility of your answers is contingent upon recognizing that the answers are lenses and not ends in themselves. By holding the following concepts as guides to uncover our personal motives and passions, we can create possibility instead of limitation. We must inspect our answers within context and in relation to larger themes in order to utilize the insight these musings can offer.
None of your answers are necessarily carved in stone (hooray!). By examining and questioning current patterns and choices in our lives, we can analyze the structure of our beliefs about ourselves and reality, thus opening ourselves up to a spectacular range of possibilities in our lives.
Q: Where do you see yourself ideally in five years?
- A: Traveling to places I’ve never been, in a committed relationship, and involved in a project that I find inspiring.
This answer does not mean that I ought to flesh out specific plans to make this ideal into a reality. While I could do that, the important information gets glossed over. The answer indicates the things I value at this moment: learning and risk taking (discovery), connection (love), and service. Once I have translated my answer I understand the greater architecture of purpose in my life right now and can base decisions off that information. I do not have to develop an explicit reality, i.e. a goal. If I have a goal, my fulfillment depends on its attainment and thus lies solely in the future. I can make decisions every day to experience these values (discovery/connection/service) and create meaning now.
Q: Where do you see yourself ideally in five years?
- A: Extremely wealthy and successful with a beautiful body and many friends.
This answer is trickier to pick apart and needs closer inspection to extract themes of meaning. Excessive wealth does not relate to the creation of meaning, rather to creating pleasure, and the conventional definition of success is the same (also a very goal-based idea set firmly in the future). Desiring a beautiful body is likely based on social acceptance and definitions of beauty. While it can indicate a need for love, it is not an experience of love, and is likely trapped in the cycle of ephemeral joys to some degree. ‘Many friends’ is a clearer manifestation of a desire for love, although ‘many friends’ may offer comfort and connection over meaning/purpose . To sum up, this answer illuminates that your current life focus is on habits that do not lead directly to meaning or clearly reflect your values. These kinds of answers provide the feedback that you can now continue to explore beyond these initial wishes because they are essentially vague and require clearer definition.
THUS, the answers you land on when pondering the prompts found in this section may require more dissection. Make a practice of ascertaining whether your answers fall under the four pillars or under the transient delights of the Hamster Wheel.
You can determine which one your answers fall under based on what you expect to get from the thing in question. If it is something that you must continue doing in order to experience its payoff (e.g., playing video games) and the payoff is immediate (time killing, avoiding boredom, for the fun of it), it is likely something that does not contribute to meaning. On the other hand, if it is a practice that has a long-term pay off (e.g., meditation), is done with the intention of discovery, love, expression, or service, and is not about instant gratification, it most likely contributes to meaning.