For anyone who works an office job like me, it can’t be emphasized enough how great it feels to have a personal email pop up in your inbox during your work day. It’s such a small thing but for some reason, I pounce on it when I see that beige envelope icon pop up in the corner of my screen. This is in stark contrast to the groan I let out whenever I get an email from someone in my office. It’s really amazing how such a little thing can be such a bright point in your day. I’m sure there is some Jack Handey-esque deep thought to be explored about the importance of friendship and the grayness of corporate life but I’m going to bypass that gimme topic and go straight into something with a little more meat.
This journey of non-physical self exploration began on a typical work day, when I received an email from a friend of mine, who was equally as bored. As usual, I drop whatever I’m doing (unless it’s lunch) and spring upon my latest personal correspondence. There was the usual banter with a deeper question thrown in to spark a conversation that would help pass the time: “What do you think the meaning of life is?”
Wow. But I was ready for it. I forwarded my phone to voice mail, threw the contents of my inbox into a drawer and minimized my spreadsheets as I flexed my fingers dove onto my keyboard and after I was done, the results were both frightening and eye opening. Here is my response verbatim:
“This brings us to your timeless question regarding the meaning of life. Honestly, I haven’t found it. I’ve debated it with myself but I can’t really reach a lasting conclusion. With that I mean I usually appease myself periodically by telling myself that the meaning of life is to live it to the fullest, be a good person, have fun, find somebody (or some bodies) to love, etc. But then I later think, ‘You’re a fool, H. You were just feeling good because it was Friday and it was sunny.’ Or something like that. The point is, I feed myself these lame clichés to avoid bringing myself down and to keep me from hanging myself with my necktie. (Actually, I’d probably do something a bit more shocking like going out Michael Hutchence style – hey sometimes you kick and sometimes you die from auto-erotic asphyxiation.) Anyway, my point is that while those stereotypical ‘enjoy what you have, make the most of each day’ arguments are nice ideals, the reality is, I sit in a windowless cubicle 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. I sit in traffic for a minimum of 1.5 hours a day, 5 days a week just to get to this carpeted rut and it’s for the sole purpose of accumulating material possessions so that society will see me as a ‘success’ whatever the f that means. Sadly, what it [success] is defined by is your material possessions.
As much as we scoff at the ‘he with the most toys wins the game’ license plate covers on those base model Porsche Boxsters, it is the root of what anchors most of us down for the second best years of our lives. The first is life before you’re 18-22, that’s when you’re truly free…that really is the best it’s going to get. I’m sorry but it is. Then you get burdened by responsibility…yeah, you may find the love of your life and have great kids, but you’re so busy trying to provide a great life for them that you end up blowing your own…working hard to provide and then carting kids all over town for various club and sports commitments, helping with homework, feeding them and then maybe getting an hour or two of exhausted ‘me time’ at the end of the day…and you’re so wrapped up in it you don’t even notice. Well, maybe you do but you convince yourself that you do it for them, which is valid but then we go on to wrap ourselves up so tightly in our kids’ joy and comfort that we don’t realize what has really happened: on a subliminal level our once fun lives are so entwined with these kids that we’re actually truly living vicariously through them. Their success and happiness means the same for you. You live it as well. It’s like we’re the Matrix and they’re the bodies that haven’t been woken up. At least that’s what I see. And I’m not advocating being a deadbeat parent…I really believe you have an obligation to do these things and live this way if you have kids.
And if you don’t have kids, you may enjoy some more free time and thus your life, but even those people seem to end up working longer hours to earn more cash to buy better things and go on increasingly fantastic vacations. All of which is cool until you stop to realize that their only on these vacations for a few weeks or you only drive that car for an hour a day or you only really enjoy that big house on weekends, all of which represent a very short amount of time out of a very long year that is spent earning those things…so instead of kids, you’re a slave to yourself.
There are bright spots, falling in love, enjoying time with friends and family, and just having fun. Unfortunately, in proportion to the average year, in terms of time, this stuff doesn’t happen with nearly enough frequency.
And if you shirk all these so-called goals, suddenly you’re a ‘loser’. If you wait until you are retired, you’re too old and broken down to really live it up the way it should be done. And I really believe that a lot of people convince themselves that they are happy when in reality, if they took a step back and really took a look at their lives, they’d be reaching for the Prozac and pouring a tall glass of Smirnoff on ice. I also think a lot of people are latently aware of this and choose not to confront it because of how sad this truth is. Sure there are some exceptions and there always are, but in the end the bottom line is that, as Adrian Balboa so eloquently put it, ‘You can’t win!’
So that was quite the rant. Probably not the happy go lucky thing someone would want to hear. Meaning of life? The meaning of life seems to be subjective. For me it’s staying laid back, trying to get my fun where I can get it while slowly succumbing to these expectations of society and doing my best to stay out of prison. So what’s your definition of the meaning of life?”
(Note: To elaborate on that last paragraph, when I wrote, “trying to get my fun where I can get it,” the word ‘fun’ encompasses time with loved ones as I explained earlier in my rant. I clarify this because I don’t want to have to explain it on the phone later.)
So that was it. Three things became apparent to me after writing this response and then neurotically re-reading it several times after it was sent. Number one, I have way too much time on my hands. Number two, I need to switch to decaffeinated coffee. Number three, maybe my outlook on life is a bit too much on the jaded side.
The funny thing is that I really don’t have a good reason to be that jaded. My life is good, either by my own definition or by what is generally viewed as “a good life” by society. I guess it’s just the definition of what criteria make up a good life that I don’t really like so much. Unfortunately, I live by the credo, “I didn’t create this world, I just try to live in it.” Thus, I won’t be crusading for any changes to social values. However, I can’t refrain from sharing my observations and I’m not even sure we can explain the meaning of life, especially since it seems to vary from individual to individual.
Basically, I’m a true product of Generation Y: a cynical observer devoid of any motivation to actually make changes in the world because I think it’s unlikely my efforts would result in any personal reward.
So upon reflection, would I change my definition of the meaning of life? No. To save myself from upsetting people, I may respond with a more philosophical reply like the one I just wrote: it can’t be generalized because means different things to different people. It’s as simple as that. Right?