Meaningful Purpose

I recently returned from my vacation in Phoenix. My family spent time with a few different families, friends and relatives, as well as observing other vacationers that we met or watched. In each case, it’s interesting to think about why they’ve made their choices and what is meaningful to each of them in their lives.

The first example is a family I overheard at a playground. Their kids were playing on the climbing structure, and they were all gathered at a couple benches on the side. I overheard them discussing the movies that they enjoy watching over and over. The first example was Grease, which seemed to be in the category of “Watched over 100 times.” One woman said that when her friend offered to bring a copy of Grease on the airplane, she suggested they watch something else because “I’ve watched it a lot recently.” This agreed that it’s normal to watch the same movie over and over and that recently it’s been Despicable Me. Contrast this with the father we met in Barnes & Noble. He’s a high school teacher from Denver, on vacation with his young kids. He was sitting on the floor with them, playing trains and reading books. Which of these families is going to reach the end of their lives and think to themselves: “I spent my time in the best way I could,” and which is less likely to achieved something meaningful?

We spent quite a bit of time with a good friend of mine. He has lived in Phoenix for the last five years, working the same job. He doesn’t enjoy his job, he doesn’t like the weather and the economy sucks. He’s grateful to have a job, but he’s underwater on his house. He has a lot of options open to him, it seems. He could move house, he could probably change companies, he could move to Denver, remaining with the same company, or he could change jobs entirely. With the view that life is short, I have trouble understanding why he doesn’t seem to be moving toward making a change, but he seems to be waiting for life to happen to him, hoping that things will work out. How likely is he to feel that the outcome is meaningful?

We also spent time with a couple other families. In each one, the father is self-employed and the mother stays home. They both seem to have good relationships between the parents and the kids. But in one case, they seem to be less focused on money and more focused on doing the things that make them happy, such as spending time with extended family and boating at the lake. In the other case, the father seems to work long hours, and have only a small amount of time to spend with his family. You can guess which one has more money. But isn’t there a point at which you have enough money, and other things become relatively more important?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m not lazy. I don’t really enjoy working long hours and I don’t really want to spend long years at work. But when I really think about the things that are important to me, that make my life meaningful, and that I’ll look back on and think that those are the things that no one else could do like spending time with my children, or that really benefited others, like advocating for public education, I think that’s where I want to put my time and focus. Having money is nice, and makes it all easier, but it won’t matter at the end of my life how much I had, as long as I had enough.