I lead a perfectly happy existence, have (what I believe to be) a vast world view, listen to an array of podcasts and like my job. Should one’s life have more depth than just happiness? What does it mean to lead a meaningful life?
Existential Crisis, Hawthorn, VIC
Existential Crisis, the thing with meaning is it means something different to everyone. My idea of a meaningful life is the sum of writing, learning and eventually maybe teaching for a cause greater than me (women). For my sister, a meaningful life includes an extremely fulfilling career but also five offspring. Her heaven is my hell. We come from the same parents, had virtually the same upbringing, yet different things are required for us to live out our Meaningful Lives. This isn’t some coincidence. Our ideas, like our lives, are varied and diverse for good reason – and that good reason is evolution. I am no Charles Darwin, so David Walsh and a colony of Penguins (yes, really) will help me explain why evolution and it’s good friend, natural selection, are relevant to your question and my answer. Stay with us here.
David Walsh is the gambler turned gallery owner who is responsible for Mona in Tasmania. Pre-Mona, in the late 1990s, David Walsh went to Antarctica with a group of tourists. As they embarked on the classic touristy things they stumbled across some penguin carcasses. The penguin carcasses weren’t odd but the fact they were so inland was. What penguin, in their right mind, would waddle so far inland? It turns out, while penguins largely remain in colonies, sometimes the odd penguin strays – hundreds of kilometres inland. Again, this is for good reason. Sea-level changes and unpredictable weather systems can sometimes wipe out entire penguin colonies. “If they just lived in one colony eventually all of them would perish. So a small percentage of penguins go off and do really random exploratory things,” wrote Walsh in his memoir/tome Bone of Fact. “They would become extinct if there weren’t a few maverick penguins that go exploring, and most certainly perish. But a few, a very few, get very lucky indeed. The parallels with hyper-successful sports stars and entrepreneurs are compelling. I’m sure if we were able to interview the penguin colony founders they would boast of their life strategy, and their management of risk. In the penguin example, penguin society benefits from and, in fact, is dependent on maverick penguins doing weird things.”
“Souls are funny things. They stay constant even when the outside changes, or when the heart makes mistakes. Souls don’t really care about good or bad, right or wrong – they’re just true.”
Humans are no different. We need the majority to run with the crowd, but we do need some humans to go off and do exploratory, weird things to move our species forward, in the right direction. Both are required, but the balance is also important. As Walsh writes, “A species will benefit when individuals within that species exhibit the most variation, without that variation destabilizing that species as a whole. Since mutations are mostly harmful, they need to remain infrequent, or too many of those individuals won’t survive. But with no mutations species aren’t benefiting from impactors, and they will soon be mismatched to their niche.”
The point of this long-winded Penguin explainer is to show you, Existential Crisis, that you may be a Colony Penguin or you could be a Maverick Penguin. You may be satisfied with a regular, stable life (there is absolutely nothing wrong with this) or you may desire more (also nothing wrong with this). Statistically, more of the population, is the former. But you could be the latter. And the fact you took the time to type up this question, send it in, and wait dotingly at your desk for a reply (cute!!) makes me think you are a Maverick Penguin. But only you will know whether that is true.
One of my all-time favourite articles is from Miranda July (Maverick Penguin) after she interviewed Rihanna (Chief Maverick Penguin) for T Magazine a few years back, and a couple of sentences were seared into my mind: “Souls are funny things. They stay constant even when the outside changes, or when the heart makes mistakes. Souls don’t really care about good or bad, right or wrong – they’re just true.” Your soul doesn’t lie. It doesn’t trick. It is your internal compass guiding you through this life as both you and life evolve. When the outside changes, it will always recalibrate and point you back in the right direction. It knows what your Meaningful Life equates to and whether you need to walk hundreds of kilometres inland, but it will never tell you this via megaphone. It will whisper. To listen, you must get quiet, you must be still. Take the time to do that and you will find the answer. It won’t be good or bad, right or wrong, it will just be true.
Some Related Reads To Get You Started
BOOK | BONE OF FACT BY DAVID WALSH
David Walsh, the creator of Mona in Hobart, is a multi-millionaire who made his wealth gambling. He is equal parts controversial and mysterious and his memoir is just as unique. A long read, full of gold.