A Life of Meaning

What is the secret to a meaningful life? It may sound crazy, but I have an answer. Well, maybe not all the answers, but here is the gist: three secrets and a theory about how to begin this incredible path of “Oh wow, I have stuff to work through.”  A simple and yet challenging formula for a meaningful life.

The first step is combatting the human tendency to run away from problems. A vacation or an “escape” as we say speaks for itself. “I’m going to find myself.” It’s exciting and new in this place and there are strangers or friends even who don’t know you. You “reinvent” yourself, far from the people and places that trigger you. You can forget the hardships faced in the previous place; home; the familiar; and pretend like nothing happened. Unfortunately, this only lasts for so long. You can’t leave to find yourself because you are found. You are here. Those same insecurities back home or wherever you struggle will follow because they attach themselves like a leech. In Judaism we call this the Bad Inclination, or all the traumas and tribulations we have ever faced that haunt us. No matter where we go we can not shake the Inclination until (now here comes the secret) we spill it all into a pile and sift through it. We bust it wide open, find the source of all the triggers and not only comprehend our circumstances, but become aware of what our biggest tikun is, or in English, our biggest “fix”. The attribute that we have the hardest time with. When we dig so deep inside to find what that is, we are already winning. Happiness and self satisfaction are only from within us. They can’t be brought on permanently by our time “away from it all”. It is true that sometimes physical separation is helpful. It can make us objective again and give new perspective. Then, however, the mirage is over. We must learn to build a life in the most meaningful of environments (not necessarily the easiest), even if it is the same one in which we experienced hardships. I can attest that moving to Israel or the land of meaning wasn’t pain free by any means, but I am building my life the way I should.

Secret number two is a stage in which we recognize what our biggest challenge is and we work on it. We strive for goodness and are self aware, and we learn to use our hardship for positive purposes. We search for friends and spouses who have that attribute within them so that we come together to create a whole. We will never be perfect, but we will be on the path of striving, intent, and growth.

Righteous intent leads me to number three and I believe the answer to many questions we have along the way of life. Every inquiry or crisis such as “What should I do next year?”, “Where should I live?”, or “Who do I want to be?”, ask yourself what your best quality is. We all have something or many somethings that we are good at; attributes that come easily to us. We know those and we now know our mission in life: whatever career, passion, home, or people use, extract, or influence our strongest suit to help and bring good to others is our prerogative. So simple and yet the consequences so difficult.

Humans are in a constant search for happiness from outside sources when really only we bring positive change into our own lives. Our outside and inside bounce off each other to create what I call the 180 Theory.

The theory here is more of an algorithm than anything, or the system in which we change and develop. When we start out on the path of self discovery and growth (also named maturing), there is often a drastic 180 or flip. We transform into a shockingly different and sometimes opposite version of ourselves in attempt to even the scales so we can begin anew. It takes form in anything from throwing out religion (or the opposite), going on a party cleanse (again, or the opposite), switching degrees, etc. Slowly, after sitting with our flip for a while, enjoying and exploring, we settle a bit at a time until we get to a medium. It may be a mix of extremes or just a little of everything. We get comfortable and assume the attitude of the final version. That is when something hits us whether it be a life threatening event (in my case a nearly fatal accident), a lesson that stuck out from a movie, or even just waking up on a normal day to cause us to check back in determined to keep digging. We rise gradually and along the way, we may even take a few more 180 spins and settle into a few more comfort zones (I know I’ve had at least three or four rounds so far). However, we always come back to our happy medium, which forever plateaus at a higher point, sending signs to push us when we get stuck. Starting the journey of self can be daunting and the collateral damage heavy, but the day will come where we have an epiphany, or a dramatic outside occurance, or words of advice, or nothing in particular that instills true satisfaction and confidence in ourselves that we are progressing. Never perfect, but always progressing. We will never have no baggage, but we can try every day to lighten the load. Eventually, pieces fall into place, the people in our lives currently and all future acquaintances assume their rightful positions in our lives. The location and type of home we want to build and the careers and projects we choose make more sense. We set goals, big and small, with the courage of one who knows what they want. We never cease to grow, connect, and learn.
Now I reach out to you: the struggling yet happy yet confused individual. The day will come when you look in the mirror and are proud of what you see. Happy and deeply so. Ready for the next step. The moment where you recognize you are heading in the right direction, keeping up the good work, and developing who you want to be. You never know where you will be, therefore, remain open to all possibilities.

So stay safe. Stop running and get to work. Discover what your challenges and talents are, grasp the journey, begin digging, use it all for good, face your fears, and most importantly pause and smile because awareness is already victory.  I believe in me, in you, and in us to achieve anything and everything we could ever want.

About the Author
Shani Weinmann was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She now works as a Madricha in the Midrasha and is studying Dance.