From Survival to Endurance to Fulfillment: Finding Meaning in Life
Without delving too deep into my past, I can tell you that my late teens and early to mid 20’s were not the best of times. They were dark. Lonely. Depressing. I was living a life of chaos and hopelessness. At one point, I didn’t think I was going to survive; I gave up on having a future. And I was strangely okay with it.
My turning point was a spiritual awakening of sorts. A near-death experience led to a realization that I didn’t want to die; and it was either die or change my life. I picked change.
What helped me to live again (and ultimately find fulfillment and meaning in life)? You might guess family or a relationship or God. But at the time, I wasn’t close with my family, I didn’t have any significant relationships/friendships, and God wasn’t a part of my life.
It was the following that helped me with finding meaning and becoming the person I am today:
Having not a single shred of self-esteem, I went to see a counselor. She created a safe space and then uplifted me, making me feel worthwhile. She normalized what I was going through; I felt less alone. She affirmed me for positive choices I made. She initiated the mending of my fragile self. I gradually gained confidence, not only in myself, but in the idea that I could live a better life as I started finding meaning.
She loved me unconditionally… and she depended on me fully. I knew that if I died, she would never understand why I left her. I couldn’t bear that idea; I wouldn’t do that to her.
She played a huge role in my recovery. I sometimes think she saved me. She was instrumental in finding meaning in life.
Finding Meaning in My Potential
I’ve always known I have potential. I’m smart and creative and determined. But that potential died somewhere along the way in young adulthood. In moments of clarity, I mourned my lost potential. I wanted to be better and to do better with my life. I was meant, maybe not for great things, but for better things than living out of my car, broke and friendless. When I decided to live, my potential reawakened; it became a driving force – a bright, glowing beacon that revitalized and inspired me.
“You have to forgive yourself.”
I couldn’t bear to tell my therapist about some of the things I’d done. I was ashamed; late at night, lying in bed, I would think about the past. I’d feel sick to my stomach – then, an unpleasant head rush heart racing not able to get enough air… (That’s the feeling of shame seeping from your mind into your being.)
My therapist didn’t push me to share; instead, she said, “You have to forgive yourself.” It became my mantra, quietly uttered in the dark. I would repeat, “I forgive myself, I forgive myself, I forgive myself…” until I internalized it. (That being said, it didn’t happen overnight… it took weeks, months, years. But all was set in motion with that one simple statement.)
I went back to school and was able to fully immerse myself in my studies. As a naturally curious person, learning is a sort of fuel for me. The more I learn, the thirstier I become. My classes provided me with not only knowledge, but with a spark that generated purpose.
While in school, I discovered a new passion; I fell in love with research. (#nerd) I thrived in my research/statistics class; my undergraduate study was even published in a national journal. It felt good to be passionate about something again; it stirred up (from the dust) long-forgotten loves, like reading and writing – passions I thought I’d left behind in childhood.
A Meaningful Career
After finishing college and starting graduate school, I became a counselor… finding meaning in helping others. My first job in the field was tough, heart-breaking at times, and deeply fulfilling. It solidified what my education had started to shape – I no longer needed to survive or endure life; I found my purpose and a meaning in life.