What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of anything you do?
Those kinds of questions can either turn you into a worrywart or drive you to change your life and focus on what really matters to you, depending on how you come at learning.
Entrepreneurs and other inspiring figures who speak at college graduations will tell you to live your life passionately because time here on Earth is short. While you spend a majority of your time focused on your career, you may not necessarily believe that it is your prime way of serving humanity — that’s what a calling is supposed to be, right?
In reality, you can turn anything that you do in your daily career into your way of giving back if you come at it from a different perspective — the perspective of service.
On Service: Moving Beyond the “Why”
Controversial advice: you don’t have to find your calling.
Eventually, many of us settle into the “because I told you so” philosophical statement your parents gave you to shush you as a child. Meaning, you do what you have to do on autopilot to survive the daily grind, and sometimes that means taking “dead-end” jobs that make you want to hit the snooze button five times every morning. When anyone asks how you’re doing, you grin and upsell them on your life, but if you’re not sold on the story you tell the world, it will inevitably begin to fall apart.
There really don’t have to be “dead-end” jobs. The smallest of daily interactions can have a big impact. Anyone who’s ever worked in food service would agree most people need to live a day in the life of a food service worker at least once. It’s humbling what you will put up with to earn a dollar or a pound — and tips, whether you’re a server or a bartender, can make or break your next paycheck. What’s the payoff?
Go back to the word “service.” On the surface, it may make you think of the “customer is always right” mentality. However, it can go so far beyond that if we let it.
The adage is so ingrained in the hospitality industry that my manager had it hanging on the wall in a quaint neighborhood dive bar where I once worked. Service implies a need to be filled. For me, at the time, that was probably a shot glass to be filled with house whiskey.
While it was easy to fall into the mindset of “all I’m doing is serving people booze,” I decided to start coming at my job with the approach of “I’m filling a present need or desire.” Those needs and desires are always multifaceted, and your unique skills, personality and presence are there in the moment to serve another.
Once I began looking at my job that way, I started to care more about my customers and their stories. What brought this person in today? Why are they so crabby? Why did they have a beer or two more than they usually do today? I can ask them.
You should care beyond just going through the motions and doing your job. The smallest of daily interactions can have a big impact on people. What impact will your words or actions have? Even in the lowliest or most seemingly un-impactful jobs, you have the opportunity to find meaning. Once you start to take on this mentality, you can adjust your mindset to find satisfaction in almost anything you do.
There’s No Single “Life Purpose”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that you stay in something that you don’t particularly like forever. But if your present situation really desperately says “I need to stay here to survive,” then do it, but then don’t just survive. Find a way to make it meaningful. You’re going to be there either way, so you might as well make the best of it.
Freud thought life was about seeking pleasure as part of his pleasure principle — which he theorized controls behavior — but pleasure is fleeting. Happiness is more of a persevering condition of being.
Here’s the clincher: There is no one life purpose or calling. You’re human, and you’ll change and evolve throughout your life. People switch jobs, move from town to town, and find new things that inspire them throughout life. Give yourself some slack and more credit.
Instead of making a goal to rediscover your big “why” like you’re squinting and trying to find Waldo, ask what your current “why” is. Do you “have to” do this? Why? Or better yet, why do you get to do this? Once we switch from “have to” to “get to,” we begin to see how lucky we really are. You get to wake up each day and have the opportunity to bring something unique to society.
Though purpose can fade out like a flickering firefly, realize that it simply shifts, as does its timing. While many people probably don’t consider bartending a long-term career, for example, you meet people from all walks of life, living out multiple stories right in front of your eyes. From your regulars to your one-timers, they’ve all got a story, and you’re a character in theirs. What’s your motivation?
Don’t be a tourist in your own life. Don’t be a drone. The biggest clue to being in the groove of life is when you feel a flow and figure out how to move within it.
There are no real answers, only questions. Let go, worrywart, and let your next “why?” — be it big or small — help you find meaning in the moment now.
Kate Harveston is a political writer and blogger at Only Slightly Biased.