“It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” ~Tony Robbins
Like millions of others, I lost my job in the wave of the coronavirus pandemic. I was teaching on a small island in the Caribbean. I discovered a purpose through my work, loved the peaceful nature of the island, and, true to my introverted nature, loved living in my too-quiet community. It was a job and a life that I had dreamed of for years.
So, when we got the notification that we had to return home, I didn’t know how to react. Did it even make sense to be angry or sad or confused in the face of what felt like a cosmic slap? It wasn’t how this chapter of my life was supposed to turn out.
The world is currently locked in the grip of uncertainty. All the numbers and fears, the influx of information, it’s hard to grasp onto the railing when the floor keeps shifting.
Instinctively, many of us have created comfort in a cloud of normalcy. We’ve remade schedules, moved most of our interactions online, and explored new and old hobbies. I, of course, have done the same. After all, my life reset in the span of a week.
But how can I be okay when I’m staring down a hole where my purpose used to be? How can I stay standing when my life and work are hanging somewhere I can’t reach?
We Desire Meaning in our Lives
As humans, it’s important to have meaning in our lives, whether it’s through our relationships, our work, or our interests. Making a difference, making art, making a living—everyone has something that drives them. We need to discover our “why,” and that “why” is easier answered when we define our values.
It’s hard for me to live a life that isn’t true to who I am. I didn’t even know what a meaningful life looked like for a long time. The values I had weren’t fully realized, and I held them in shaky arms.
Finding the answer to my why was neither guided nor paved. After years and years of schooling and working that bore no fruit, I started doubting that my life could be more than me simply moving to the next thing. And when you’re just moving along, purpose is nothing more than an idea.
But when I found it, something in me thawed. The landscape changed. Moving along became moving with a purpose.
And then I lost it.
When I returned home, I struggled through an episode of disillusionment. Was there a point in trying? I reached out to my friend, and she provided me with a guidepost that I used to reframe my new life. Life is about connections with people. We all enrich the lives of others.
It’s wisdom I’ve heard before. It’s not esoteric. But I have always felt disconnected from people and from the world. So her words didn’t click until I looked back and realized what I had gained—an understanding of the world outside my bubble and a duty to put others above myself.
This meaning linked me to a world that I had always insulated myself from. It gave me a lens that I could better understand people through. It wasn’t just about me anymore. I have always valued helping others, but I learned that you have to step outside of yourself to really support and connect with others.
Losing that put me in that hole. My link had been severed by an outside force, and I had no idea if it would ever let me reconnect it. Insecurity crept in. Would I be forgotten? Did anything matter anymore?
I could let the pandemic answer those questions for me, or I could take my friend’s advice to heart.
Recreate Meaning When Meaning is Lost
Many of us have similar stories of losing important pieces of our lives. And those pieces are all tied to our personal stories. Meaning is an anchor that connects us to the world. Without it, we remain adrift. We’re just moving along.
The pandemic has robbed us of milestones, livelihoods, jobs, events, and so much more. We’re all searching for ways to fill the holes, and this is made much harder in this tense atmosphere. But we can recreate meaning to build and maintain our connections to ourselves and to others, especially in a world that reminds us that life is fragile.
1. Revisit your values.
Family, creativity, knowledge, fun, service. What do you find important in life? Our values cement our understanding of who we are and what we want. They lead us to the people and opportunities that fill our lives with meaning and joy.
Helping people—showing others love—is important to me. While I can’t currently help how I previously did, I am capable of showing love to friends, family, and those who need a hand. I believe love is how we can get through the pandemic.
Creating is something that I also value, namely writing. Journaling helps me connect to myself, and writing articles like this gives me the chance to help others.
Retell your story. Retrace the steps that led to your values.
2. Reconnect with loved ones old and new.
Like my friend stated, we all enrich the lives of others. Our people give us memories and share laughs with us. They pick us up when we’re down, point us forward when we’re looking backward, and remind us of what’s important when we’ve forgotten. They’ll help us through this crisis.
The urgency of the current climate can give us a nudge to reintroduce ourselves to our family and friends. We can discuss the things that matter to us. Connect with each other on a deeper level, since, for many, emotions are close to the surface. It’s okay if we needed the extra push to reconnect.
I am terrible at keeping in touch with others. Social isolation and concerns surrounding the virus, however, have pushed me to maintain and strengthen the connections I have. I don’t want to lose the link I established between myself and others.
And I’ve been grateful to have heard from people I haven’t spoken to in a long time. It’s reminded me that I mean something. Perhaps we can remind others that they mean something, too.
3. Engage in activities that are meaningful.
Our lives are more limited, and we can’t always control what we have access to. If we’re able, we can explore our hobbies more, start new ones, or engage in meaningful activities. Not for the sake of using our time productively or just to keep busy, but for the sense of calm and fulfillment it can bring to our spirits.
Even doing something as simple as playing a game, by ourselves or with loved ones, can be purposeful. Fun and relaxation mean something too.
I looked to reconnect to the world by creating. I started writing almost every day and began exploring graphic design, something I was always interested in. By keeping on a purposeful track, I kept myself from just moving along to the next thing. It keeps my spirits up.
4. Recreate milestones and events.
Many things may be canceled, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the important moments in our lives. They can still mean something even if they don’t happen normally. Many people have moved graduations, birthday celebrations, and other moments online.
If we desire to, we can recreate those moments in a way that is special to us. The internet is filled with examples of people who have celebrated or plan to celebrate in their own way. With a little creativity, we can bring that magic home.
Waiting for the world to return to normal is okay too. Sometimes we want the tried and true traditions. Meaningful is meaningful no matter how it is presented.
Getting out of bed is hard some days. I often question the point of doing anything. To help move through this lost meaning, I’ve funneled as much of the chaos as possible into rediscovering new meaning.
The anxiety and uncertainty are overwhelming. The pandemic is challenging everything we know. But it’s important that we feed ourselves purpose when we’re able to. Our spirits burn brighter when they’re lit with that spark.