What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. – Søren Kierkegaard
Most of what I think I need in life is rather inconsequential. Most of what I have – data plan, TV, clothing, furniture, computer, food in the cabinet, job, etc. – I don’t actually need. These are musts in life that I have convinced myself I must have to be happy.
Perhaps what we believe to make us the happiest is the greatest delusion in our society.
I need food, water, and shelter to supply my basic needs for living. But I also need love and a sense of belonging to a wider human community. These are hard-wired into my DNA as a human being. But even a dog requires these things to be happy.
So what makes me a human?
Purpose. What is it that gives me the greatest amount of contentment around the idea that I am doing what it is I ought to do with myself aside from meeting my basic needs?
I find this identity in the honor of being a father to my two sons. I find that in helping others to feel that in spite of the challenges of the world, I can find a way to be content. I find it in the ability to communicate what I know only to be helpful. That is to say, if I am not doing something each day to help someone in the ways that I am most fit, I am not content with my own life.
I cannot fix a car, offer much in the way of financial gifts, offer home repair services, and the like. So what is it that I can do?
I communicate, listen, and offer what I know.
This is what I do best. This is why I write. This is why I work. This is my idea. This, I believe, is why I am within the frame of human history.
In research and project management the first step is actually the last step: determine what you want the outcome to be. The rest is finding out how to get there.
Perhaps the great test in living a meaningful and content life is to imagine your funeral. What will people say about you? Who will be there? Who will weep at the thought of your absence? With your sound, touch, smell, ideas, and presence vanished, what will people say about you?
I recall the final story in the film Big Fish. The son carried on his father’s legacy by telling the greatest story of all – about his father the way his father would tell it. Not only the fact that his son told the story, but that the story was about how deeply his father is loved, revealed just how deeply his father affected others and changed lives for the better.
When our stories live on in our absence, perhaps how they are told and who continues to tell them is the greatest evidence that we have indeed found that truth that is for each of us the idea for which we are willing to live and die.
Our obligation, what we truly must do, is to do it well and commit our lives to improving it each day.