The Meaning of Life

by allisoncoyle


“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children perhaps—what can more the heart of man desire?”

“What do you want to be?” This question has plagued me my entire life; more recently, it has threatened to undermine what little sanity I possess. As a four year old, I knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to captivate tens of thousands of people with nothing more than my voice.

Seventeen years later, I feel saddened, confused, and lost when asked the same question that once drew a spirited, audacious response. “What do you want to be?”

I found myself confronted with this rootless question once again two weeks ago during a job interview for a reporter position with a news network. “What do you want to be?” asked the pretentious editor, waiting for me to faulter. “I want to be a reporter,” I responded, the weight of my lie sinking to the bottom of my stomach. I have no remorse in lying to a news editor; I am saddened by the lies I feed myself. In fairness, it was a half-lie. Some small part of me does want to track down story leads, harrass politicians, and become a household name a la Bob Woodward. But that part of me is very small…and dying every day.

I only realize in hindsight how deeply rooted my uncertainty has been these past few years. The breadcrumbs trail back to my first encounters with my political idols. In each instance, instead of asking for career advice, like my brazenly confident peers, I, in my desperation, asked, “Do you ever reach an age at which you’re truly happy? Do you ever stop panicking about where you’re going in life?” Some say yes, others say no. During a panic-induced, damn-near-teary-eyed phone call with Tucker Carlson, he assured me that what I’m feeling is good…that fear drives you to succeed. When the conversation began to steer toward him giving me career advice, I pried for personal advice. I want nothing more than for someone to tell me what to do…assure me that happiness is tangible…that it’s not merely an esoteric concept.

No, I don’t know what I want to be. I don’t think there is one single thing I want to be. But I know who I want to be. I know the things I want to do. I want to be a writer, a singer, a good friend, a mother. I want to climb mountains, learn about cars, become a vegan, talk to a nomad, own a used bookstore, live in a cabin, see every corner of America.

Why do we allow our worth to be measured by others? Why is it we never stop to wonder what it is that would make us truly happy?

More importantly, why do we never do that which would make us truly happy?