Saturday, October 24, 2020

How to Find the Meaning of Life



Like many of us, I’ve been able to scratch out time from my busy pandemic social calendar to sit back on my front porch and contemplate the meaning of life. 


Cue the violins.


For half of most years I live on a Greek island where temporal things matter.  Big time.  The island’s very existence depends on nurturing a sense in the hearts and minds of the hordes drawn there each summer that our very being is defined by what we possess or consume. The right table in the right restaurant, the right row of beach beds on the right place on the right beach, the right watch, the right late night club, the right bikini—or the right bikini wearer—all matter in the eyes of those who keep track of the things that determine your position in the governing pecking order.


Then I thought about other places I’ve lived: big, medium, and small cities, farm and academic communities, chic apartment buildings and shacks.  They all use different measures, but inevitably the same dynamic is at work everywhere.  Perhaps it’s what you do, where you live, where you (or your children) go to school, what you wear, what you drive, what courses you teach, your publisher, what ranks or distinctions you’ve obtained, but in some way or another they factor into the calculations of those who keep track of your position in their particular pecking order.


And I’m talking now about decisions made once the broader categories of race, religion, ethnicity, political party, and gender have been resolved.


Let’s face it folks, we live in world where categorization is a fact of life.  Jeffrey the writer occupies a different position than Jeffrey the New York City lawyer.  Annamaria the chef, a different position than Annamaria the stripper. Caro the comic a different position than Caro the sincere (okay, so my examples aren’t perfect).


The bottom line is, to be truly free you must be happy in your own skin doing what you want to do.  There will forever be persons out there judging you by their standards, and if you invest in playing by their rules, you will end up living someone else’s view of your life instead of living your own.   


A word of warning to those who might think this is a curse of the capitalist class:  Anarchists can be just as ruthless—if not more so—in determining the status of their adherents in the “anti-isms” rankings of their disparate pecking orders.


As Davy Crockett once said, “Be true to yourself and you shall not fear from any man [or woman…other than Annamaria or Caro, of course].” 


Now that we’re all comfortably settled back into our own skins, it’s time to take the next step in our personal quests for the meaning of life.


It begins with this question:  Why do so many of us think that what comes easily to us, must come easily to everyone else?


The natural corollary to that sort of thinking is that what comes so effortlessly cannot possibly be as meaningful as what does not.  For example, some know precisely what colors and patterns work well together, while others can’t even match black shoes with black socks.  Some can whistle a complex tune with perfect pitch, while others can barely blow their noses. Two unique skills, each too often taken for granted by its possessor.


Then there are writers who breeze through complex narrative portrayals, all the while dreading the eventual paragraphs of dialog to come.  And the artist genius with pen and ink that shrinks at the thought of touching oil to canvas. They, as well as those tortured by the opposite dilemmas, all thinking that what comes so easily to them is not as valued by society as that which does not.


I’m not meaning to suggest that one should not work hard toward mastering the more difficult aspects of one one’s chosen craft, but in seeking to master a skill set you find difficult, do not do so to the neglect of enhancing your natural gifts.  In other words, play to your strengths. 


Yes, we all admire and respect those who persevere and succeed in mastering the most challenging aspects of their work, but what of the many who lose patience in the struggle, become frustrated, and simply give up, sacrificing the potential of their natural gifts in the process.


Each of us has gifts meant for us to develop, nurture, and exploit.  If we pursue what we think is more valued by society, to the neglect of what we’re blessed with, we’re playing into the strengths of those who possess the very gifts we lack.  Our energies should be directed toward successfully competing through our strengths.


It’s like a five-foot-tall natural born jockey who, instead of racing, chooses to compete against seven-foot giants in basketball.  The outcome will assuredly be as unsatisfying for the jockey, as it would be for a seven-footer who decides charging for the finish line astride thoroughbreds is a better choice than heading for the hoop in a pair of Air Jordans.


Bottom Line: “Play the cards you’re dealt.”  But play them well.


That’s all from the front porch for this week. 


Cornets please.




  1. Ah, Siger, isolation has not dulled your wisdom. Thanks.

    1. Ahh, Mr. Dietz sir, you're far too kind, but please feel free to go on. :)

  2. Thanks, Jeff. One of your best columns.

  3. A week late, Happy Oxi Day. I called a friend who is from an island near Corfu and works at a nearby store and wished her a Happy Oxi Day. It made her day. I learned about that history and the heroism of the Greek people from this column. I then went on to read much more about what happened to Greece in WW2.
    When I asked her what would have happened if Greece had surrendered, she replied, "It would have been worse." So, a strong Greek patriot.

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Kathy D. Same to you. The battle that ensued in Greece kept the Italian army tied up for months, causing Germany to divert troops to Greece and delay its invasion of Russia. The results were horrific for the Greeks.