How to find meaning — No matter what

I have spent the majority of my adult life in search of the answer to that question. On a mission to find my life’s sole purpose; my true calling; the thing that I needed to discover to be happy and fulfilled.

Only to be left depressed and anxious when I could not conjure up a suitable response.

The problem was I had no idea what the f*** I wanted to do with my life. 

I made a decision to step on the conveyor belt of higher education when I was 18. From there, the sample size of options that I was exposed to became hyper concentrated.

While at a top business school, one is instructed to pick a major and start actively pursuing internships in that field from the moment you step on campus. So, as a naive 19-year-old, I chose the major that I thought would make me the most money, finance. And I never looked back over the next four years.

Four internships and two jobs later, I still have no clue what the hell I want to be when I grow up.

I took my first job out of college at a top consultancy due primarily to the fact that it had the highest salary. I had no interest in restructuring consulting. Quite frankly, I had no idea what the job even entailed. But I thought it would sound cool at cocktail parties.

After a couple of months at the job, I started to struggle with a massive amount of existential anxiety. I had absolutely no desire to go down the path I was on. I had simply chosen the path of least resistance, but as I looked at the managers and partners in my firm, I knew I wanted more, but I had no clue WHAT that meant or how to find it.This brought on spells of intense panic and fear that I would always be lost.

This brought on spells of intense panic and fear that I would always be lost and directionless. I vividly remember sprinting to the bathroom multiple times throughout the day to vomit from the panic.

Oh, the joy.

Eventually, I made up my mind to leave my job and find my “dream job.” A job that would move me closer to my purpose.

I found it at a startup in NYC. It was everything I wanted. A cool office, fast growing company, and a position that had a lot of responsibility for a kid who had no clue what he was doing.

Finally, I had found my dream job, my purpose. I thought to myself as I skipped down the golden brick road. 

However, after a couple of months at the new job, the same feeling of meaninglessness started to creep back into my consciousness.

Taking the new job had quieted the lion inside my head, but as I began to grow disinterested with my vocation again, my anxiety roared back.

What the hell was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be content with my job? Everyone else was cool with paying their dues for a couple of years and then bouncing onto something else. Why couldn’t I?

I would beat myself up for my lack of clarity of where I wanted to take my career and what my purpose was. I would spend hours trying to contemplate my purpose in life. Voraciously journaling and visualizing what I wanted my life to look like. None of it worked.

What I did not realize at the time was that I had the wrong map. I was trying so hard to think my way into my purpose that I failed to DO anything about it.

A New Map

After months of paralyzing self-doubt, I realized that all of this introspection had a ceiling. And once I hit that ceiling it caused more harm than good.

Hitting a wall and feeling like I had no idea where to go next, I conjured up a small dose of confidence and sent an email to one of my “virtual mentors.” A person I have never met, but get a lot of value out of their writing.

I asked him what he had done to figure out his purpose of being a writer. His answer was blunt and beautiful.

Read Man’s Search for Meaning. And do something every day that gets you closer to becoming the person you want to be. Stop thinking. Start doing.”

Immediately, I implemented his latter advice and started doing something every single day that interested me.

It is fundamental to note here that I had no idea if the direction I was heading toward was the “right way” or if it would lead to “my true calling.” All I knew was that I would spend a little time each day doing something that I enjoyed.

I pursued what I was interested in and started small.

For example, I did not start out by committing to run a half-marathon, but by committing myself to running 3-times a week (I now run 20-miles a week). Or by committing myself to started a venture-backed company, but by spending an hour every morning building a side-business (I just sold it after grossing 210k in 18-months).

Ultimately, by DOING these daily activities, I began to get more clear on what excited me and what did not. Instead of wishing that my true purpose would magically fall out of the air and into my consciousness, I started to create a dream life around the things that interested me.

However, the true catalyst for change in my life came from his former advice. Read Man’s Search for Meaning.

A couple of weeks later, I picked up Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I read the entire thing in a single sitting. It is the most impactful book I have ever read.

Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The book outlines his discovery and analysis of the forces that helped victims survive the atrocities of the camps. It is an amazing book of the human condition and how we all have the power within us to find meaning, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Frankl outlines three paths or avenues that a person can travel down to find meaning in their life — no matter how bad or good your life is.

How to Find Meaning — No Matter What

“The meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his psyche.” – Viktor Frankl

The 3 Paths

1. Creating work or doing a deed that uses your unique skills

“Although I had no strength…I had to take advantage of this opportunity. Encouragement was now more necessary than ever. “

Frankl used the writing of his book as a way to find meaning in a meaningless situation. His encouragement and advice to the men in the camps not only helped them survive, but it also gave him a sense of deep meaning.

In my own life, this first path has been so beneficial to my own growth.

I was able to implement this first strategy by channeling all of my energies into my first side-business. I would wake up every morning and work on it for an hour or two before going to my job. By having something to work on every day that needed my skills, I was able to build a sense of confidence and self-worth.

I challenge you to start something small. Maybe it is a side business you work on for 30-minutes every morning. Maybe it is painting every night after dinner. Or maybe it is just offering a helping hand to someone in need.

It does not matter. What is important is that you start. Stop trying to find the perfect business idea. Stop waiting until next month to join that stand-up class.

Take action. Now.

2. By experiencing someone or something

Travel. Love. Nature. Beauty.

There is a reason humans tend to be attracted to these things. They give us meaning and excitement. They force us to realize the power and sheer depth of the world around us.

By being engaged with something or someone outside of yourself, it forces you to stop thinking about yourself and realize the beauty that is all around you.

Go for a walk. Go on an expedition. Dig deeper into that relationship. Ask that girl out. Pay for guy’s coffee behind you in line.

The moment we move the focus away from our needs and wants, and on to the needs of others, a funny thing starts happening. We tend to become happier and more grounded.

3. By the attitude, we take towards our suffering

“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.” — Viktor Frankl

This final pathway to meaning has been a truism in my own life that has helped me on my darkest days. When I was struggling with depression and anxiety, all of my focus was on myself and my problems.

Why was this happening to me? How can I get rid of this feeling? Why was I being punished?

In reality, these were the wrong questions. As Tony Robbins is famous for saying, “the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions.”

Frankly, the questions I was asking myself were low quality. And that was the result I was getting. A low-quality existence.

After reading about how people in the concentration camps had transformed their suffering into meaning, and as a result had been able to get through it, I began asking myself better questions.

How can I use my struggle to help others? What is the meaning of my suffering? How can I help others who are going through the same thing?

It was this last question that catapulted me out of my previous unfulfilling job and onto the new path I am on now. Helping men who struggle with darkness and dissatisfaction with their life and job start living a life that is more meaningful.

So, in a way, I guess my meaning now, is to help others discover theirs.

I have no idea if it is my true purpose, but I no longer care about that type of thing. I believe a purpose is something you realize you had AFTER doing the work.

To Wrap it All Up

Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from Frankl is this. It is not about finding the meaning of life, but about creating it. Fulfillment and meaning are always within our control.
Whether you create a project, business, relationship, or a change in your mindset towards suffering; It does not matter. What is important is the willingness to create meaning for yourself through action.

Stop wishing for your dream job or a passion in life, go out there and create one for yourself.

You have all of the power within in you to create a life beyond your dreams.

We need you to come alive. It will inspire us to do the same.


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Ben Foley

Author Ben Foley

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  • Ben Foley says:

    Testing if this works.

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