It is hard to live an examined life

Life is never stable. If things went according to plan, in line with our desires, we would rarely feel the need to make New Year’s resolutions. Yet, here it is, the beginning of another year, and I find myself pondering the situation, sorting out my options and trying to determine the next path. I suspect I am not alone in such an endeavor.

The problem rests in the fact that entropy rules our world. French mathematician Lazare Carnot noted that in any natural process there exists an inherent tendency towards the dissipation of useful energy (There certainly is an overabundance of “un-useful” energy in the world).

This causes a steady decay towards disorder. Without positive action, the world devolves into chaos. Hence our constant need to “fix” things, in the world as well as ourselves.

Consequently, our lives are full of challenge. Each day we are confronted with circumstances that force us to make choices. Some are trivial: what time to wake up or what wear. Others are more important: what career should I choose or who should I marry?

All of these seem to pile up to the point where they require a significant reset. While it is really just another day, in fact, this is what January 1st is made for.

At my age, I figure I have “one good thing” left in me. This is not a melancholy musing, rather it is an acceptance of the fact that I don’t have the time or energy I once had as a young man. I have paid the tuition for this knowledge, marked by the cost of the many things at which I have tried and failed. I understand my limitations and have a clear sense of my own mortality.

As I try to sort things out, three questions come to mind.

First, how do I make a living? I want to earn enough to live in a manner I would like. I need to prepare for unforeseen events and prepare for the future (which is approaching fast). Perhaps most of all, I would like to do something fulfilling, to “feel good about myself.”

In addition, I am concerned with creating balance in my life. This is a many-sided question. How do I trade off between work and family…between work and play (leisure)…between today and the tomorrow? In some respects, this seems a zero-sum game. There is only so much of me to go around and if I apply myself to one aspect, it seems another will go wanting.

The third question is perhaps the most important and really encompasses the others: How do I make an impact? Inherent in this are many other questions. What gives meaning to my life? How do I instill passion for what I do? Moreover, what will put to best use the talents and gifts God gave me? How do I give back for all the blessings I have received?

I wish the answers were easy. The task almost seems overwhelming, unsolvable in a cosmic sense.

My initial approach has been analytical. The rational thing seems to be to break it down into more bite-sized, understandable pieces: What are the problems? What are the constraints? What are the opportunities?

Once armed with the answers, the next question is: Can you do anything about it?

If yes, you need figure out what exactly you can do and determine how to implement it.

Act strategically. Define success (What do you want to happen?). Determine resources available. Set a course of action and allocate those resources to accomplish the goals. Connect the subject and the verb.

Once implemented, you need to ask whether the solution you created is, in fact, acceptable. After all, plans are not self-fulfilling and the best laid ones often go awry.

If things are not as you would like, there are three options: Accept a sub-optimal solution (Life ain’t fair). Adjust your goals (perhaps you had too lofty a desire and you ought to lower your expectations). Reject the outcome and start again.(Fail. Fail again.  Fail better).

However, there are times when no plan seems viable, when we do not control the outcome in any meaningful sense. As hard as it is to do, sometimes we simply must accept fate and move on.

The Serenity Prayer seems to sum the whole process up pretty well. “God, grant me the Serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And Wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is; Not as I would have it.”

In the end, all we can do is the best we can. We can reason. We can calculate. We can act. But, we alone cannot force the outcome. There are simply too many factors beyond our control. Our desires do not decide the result. When we have done our best (as we understand it); the rest is up to God.

And so, as we all march ahead, do your best and have Faith that things will work out. Wishing a blessed and prosperous New Year to all!

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