Finding Meaning and Purpose in Hard Times

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“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.

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. 

– Steve Jobs

I think about this quote from Steve Jobs from time to time. It’s a great reminder of the clarity that death can bring into our lives.

This past week I’ve been surrounded by loss, both online and offline. A blogger who I’ve followed for sometime lost his life in a freak accident. A dear friend who lives at the RV park we are staying at passed away yesterday. And we recently found out a family member of ours has cancer. It’s been one of those weeks where you are reminded of the sometimes harsh nature of our lives which is– we all share the same end, and sometimes it comes sooner than we hope.

Being an eternal optimist I always try to find the silver lining in the moments that hurt. Even when there is little good in a situation, I try find a way to grow from this moment of pain. This morning that growth comes in the form of a simple reminder.

I’m reminded of how short our lives truly are.

This reminder helps me to re-evaluate the way in which I want to live my life. Sure, I want to travel, write, and all of those things. But on a deeper level I want to live my life doing these three things.

  1. Full of love. This means I won’t take for granted my beautiful bride. I’ll try my best to not let too many days go by without calling my parents or friends. In the work I do, I will do it with love and not out of fear.
  2. Not wasting time. I spend too much time on Netflix and doing things that are wasteful. I don’t want to be a person who looks back on his life and regrets that he spent more time in front of a computer vs. climbing mountains, exploring, and hanging out with loved ones. I want my work to impact people, but I also want to live a full life I can be proud of.
  3. Never putting off the things that scare me. I’m scared of putting together a documentary. I’m scared of starting a podcast. I’m scared to tell people what I think and how much I care about them. I’m scared to write this blog and share a bit more of myself with people. But if there is anything this week has taught me, it’s that I’m not guaranteed another week of this life. If I don’t press send on this today, who knows if I will get another chance?

 

I’m aware this isn’t on topic of the subjects I’ve been publishing here on my blog lately. But here’s the simple truth– sometimes things come up that are more important than business as usual.

I want my blog to be a helpful resource for travelers and people who want to live a life of freedom and purpose. But more so than anything I want it to be real. I want it to be honest. Honesty is sharing a bit more of myself than feels comfortable, so I’m doing that today.

Loss is something we all experience in life. It’s something we don’t talk about enough because it doesn’t make for good conversation, but that denial also makes it more difficult to deal with in the moment.

Seven years ago I wrote a letter to my grandfather. At the time he was in the hospital with cancer and we knew he only had a short time to live. I wrote the letter from the gymnasium at my high school during an all night lock-in called Shattered Dreams, a program created to combat drunk driving. We were supposed to write a letter to our loved ones, telling them all the things we’d want to tell them if we had died and never gotten to say.

It sounds like a heavy practice, and it was– but it was also effective in helping me realize we don’t speak the truth often enough. I wrote that letter my grandfather (and my parents), and told him all the things I’d want to tell him if I had never gotten to speak to him again.

I told him how fortunate I was to have had him in my life for as long as I did. I joked about how he single handedly helped me get over my irrational homesickness (Until I was 9 or 10 I couldn’t stay overnight at friends’ houses and would call my parents to come get me out of being homesick. My first time to leave home was with him and my granny, and spent an entire week away.) I told him I was able to leave my home and stay with him because being by his side was like I was at home. I told him I was grateful for when he made my hold up a fish I’d caught, even though I was crying and didn’t want to stick my hands in it’s mouth. I told him literally all the ways he helped me become a man and most of all, that I would love and live out his lessons for the rest of my life.

Writing that letter helped me say all the things we don’t normally get to say to people before they go. As hard as it was, it made me realize the way I want to live my life. I want to say the things, that while in the moment may seem “heavy”, allow me to tell people how much they mean to me. I don’t want to live in fear of embarrassment or failure.

I think the point of me writing this post today is just a reminder to do the things in life that matter.

Don’t take time for granted. Don’t devote more time to the little things than they deserve. Don’t think you have longer to live than you do. Don’t wait until it’s time to retire to travel. Don’t expect to have forever to spend with your loved ones, because that time slips by faster than you want. Don’t procrastinate living the life you truly want to live.

Our life is short and our time is precious, make every moment count.