My parents used to tell me stories about life lessons when I was a kid. I was stunned as I listened, but I had no idea what was going on. Now that I am an adult, life has taken on a new meaning for me.
What exactly is the purpose of life? There are three types of responses in general:
- Yes, life has meaning, as many philosophers argued;
- No, life has no meaning, as many ordinary people believe.
- I don’t give a damn.
The last type of response is common, possibly because you’re too busy to consider, perhaps because you’ve heard the question too many times without finding a satisfactory answer, or maybe because you don’t care.
I don’t have all the answers to your questions about life’s meaning, but I believe you must care. Different people may find different meanings and purposes in life, and here’s how I arrived at mine:
I’m prone to getting myself into mischief. Instead of venturing out of my comfort zone to tell you this story, I could have stayed at home and slept. I had a goal while I was in high school. I wanted to be the student union president because I was ambitious and didn’t want to waste my youth doing mundane tasks.
I was born in Hong Kong and had my education in Hong Kong. I experienced the most gruelling public examinations in my country. This examination is to determine which students are qualified to attend the higher institutions. Most students wanted to achieve a good grade to get into the top university and acquire a decent career with a good wage after graduation. I was no exception; the other difference was that I decided to run for student union president because I like to get myself into trouble.
My physics teacher cautioned me at the time, “If you become the president of the student union, you will almost certainly be unable to attend university because you will fail your public examination. According to statistics, most presidents were too preoccupied with organising events, maintaining relationships with their girlfriends, and studying for the public test.”
I had a girlfriend at the time. She was the best student in my class, receiving all A’s in all of her subjects. Her ambition was to do well on the exam, get into business school, work as an accountant with a steady paycheck, and save enough money to purchase a house and have a family. But we’re two very different people with very different aspirations. She was from Venus, and I was from Mars. In terms of academic performance, I was one of the worst students. I was an idealist, and she was a realist.
As you may recall, I was a puberty-affected adolescent trying to figure out what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I was conversing with a lecturer in a university orientation at another time. I read a lot of his books because he was a philosophy professor. His discourse on the meaning of life piqued my interest. In addition, I studied Chinese philosophy, which discussed the distinction between people and animals. We distinguish ourselves as humans because we have sympathy, are concerned about justice, and love others more than ourselves. These concepts were motivating and had a significant impact on my decisions.
My decision to serve vs not serve was influenced by the Chinese humanitarian concept. As a result, I decided to take a chance and run for President of the Students Union. Despite all of the challenges, time limits, and disappointments, I was elected and served my fellow students, making it one of the most memorable eras of my life.
Finally, I completed my public exams with 1 A, 1 B, and 1 C in three courses, which was good enough to get into university with my primary subject. And the lesson I received as president of the students’ union was far more essential than the results of the public examinations.
That’s when I realized what life was all about:
Learning to be a leader brightened my youth. The one-of-a-kind learning experience was sufficient in and of itself, with no additional explanation.
I went through the ups and downs of a relationship with my partner. This companionship alone provided me with a sense of purpose in my life at the time.
By serving in the student union, I contributed to the community and society. It meant a lot to me to give up my time since I cared about my classmates. The leaders of my fellow students with whom I formed a friendship.
To summarize, my meaning of life was learning, relationships, and contribution. And I was only able to figure it out because I was so invested in finding the best solution to this question. Of course, you’d have to figure out the meaning of life for yourself, but the first step is to recognize the significance of caring in the context of life.