Have you ever experienced a moment that shook you to your core and made you question the meaning of life? I certainly have. In 2008, while driving my children home, I suddenly felt heart palpitations, chest pains, and struggled to breathe. For a few terrifying moments, I believed my life was coming to an end. The fear intensified because I didn’t want my children to witness such a traumatic event. As it turned out, it was a bout of hyperventilation caused by an imbalanced work-life situation.
In the years that followed, I experienced several similar episodes. Each one served as a reminder that something was amiss in my life. Gradually, I realized these episodes were urging me to establish a deeper connection with myself and reflect on what truly mattered in both my personal and professional life. They pushed me to make courageous choices and commit to what was truly important. As I dedicated attention to these essential questions, the tension in my body decreased, and the attacks ceased. Today, I am grateful to say that I have found a sense of calm, focus, and a harmonious integration (instead of balance) of work and life.
I invite you to pause for a moment and reflect on your own work-life balance. What does it look like? The answer to this question lies in a more profound inquiry: What is the meaning of your life? This short article aims to explore the journey of discovering meaning and achieving a healthy balance. Or maybe even better: a healthy integration.
The episodes of hyperventilation led me to ponder the meaning of life. However, I soon realized that I was asking the wrong question. Life, in its essence, is simply life – neither more nor less. It is like a table being just a table and fire being just fire. Their significance emerges only when we consider them in relation to something else.
Fire, for instance, acquires meaning when we use it to cook a meal or provide warmth. It serves a practical purpose. Alternatively, we can gaze into a fire, daydream, or reflect on life, giving it a relaxing or contemplative function. Yet, fire can also bring destruction, claiming lives and instilling fear. In other words, fire is just fire, but its personal significance arises from how we utilize it and how it affects our own and others well-being. The same principle applies to life.
Discovering Personal Meaning
Instead of asking, “What is the meaning of life?” I find it more fruitful to contemplate, “What is the meaning of my life?” For me, one possible answer is the pursuit of knowledge. While acquiring knowledge can be an intriguing journey, it can also leave us as individuals filled with facts, ready to depart from this world. Beyond the joy knowledge brings, I am driven to utilize that knowledge to make a positive impact on the lives of others. I strive to help them forge meaningful connections within themselves and with others. This very question has propelled me to write this article and the book The Connection Quotient. Therefore, acquiring knowledge serves a purpose that is bigger then me, and therefor it’s one of the attributes that adds meaning to my life.
Exploring “As It Is in Heaven”
What is the meaning of your life? To assist you in your own quest for meaning, I recommend watching the Swedish film, “As It Is in Heaven” (Kay Pollak, 2004). The story revolves around a renowned conductor who, following a heart attack, is forced to slow down. He returns to his birthplace and becomes involved with the local church choir. Through his unconventional approach, he confronts unresolved issues from his past and influences the thoughts and actions of the villagers. His impact enriches their lives, prompting them to live more consciously. As a result, relationships within the community transform, along with those within families, friends, and acquaintances. His life has now more meaning, rather than work, work, work.
This film also beautifully illustrates how groups can evolve from a collection of individuals into a tightly-knit and well-functioning team. It serves as a powerful reminder that living a meaningful life often involves encouraging and inspiring those around us to lead more intentional lives as well.
The journey towards a meaningful life and a healthy work-life integration is a personal one. It begins by questioning the meaning of your own life and committing to what truly matters to you. Reflect on how you can, amongst others, utilize your knowledge and experiences to positively impact the lives of others. Do you embrace the opportunity to foster connections within yourself and with those around you. Remember, life is what you make of it, and finding meaning is a lifelong pursuit. And as Carl Jung (psychiatrist and psychologist) used to say: ‘You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.’