The Meaning of Life 4

Reading Time: 23 minutes

Meaning of Life, Oak Consult, Mark Conway, Think Oak

Both Monty Python in their film with the same title and Douglas Adams’ incredible book (and subsequent TV series and Film) – The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, pondered with great humour, The Meaning of Life. I highly recommend both if you haven’t seen them! The latter piece of  genius, came up with an answer to the meaning of life – 42. Ironically, in my 42nd year and whilst being 42, I’ve had some major life-changing events and some personal epiphanies that I thought may give others some insight into the meaning for them and their lives.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to give you the answers for your life necessarily, but I’m hoping that this post may give you some areas to ponder and maybe help you leapfrog a couple of hurdles along the way. At the time of posting this blog, It’s the start of 2014 and a time when many people reflect on the year that’s gone and make plans and resolutions for the year ahead, but there’s never a bad time to do that in my book!

So, for me as well as Douglas Adams,  the MEANING OF LIFE EQUALS FORTY TWO

M – Money

It’s possibly unfortunate that money happens to be at the top of the list and this may switch some people off straight-away. I hope not, because whether we like it or not, very few of us can achieve our goals, fulfil our dreams, experience all the things we want in life and provide for ourselves and the people we love without it. Money has never been the top of the list in the meaning of life for me, but by achieving a level of wealth through hard work and some breaks, I’ve managed to do many amazing things, visit dozens of countries (I visited 16 countries in one weekend only a few months ago!), and be able to provide enjoyment to countless others along the way.

At it’s most basic, money provides for the hygiene factors of life – shelter, clothing and food. Beyond that, and if used wisely, can open the doors to great experiences and new opportunities, but it should not be the ‘be all and end all’ to life’s meaning.

E – Energy

I talk about and think about energy a great deal. Energy is life. Everything we touch, eat, smell, taste and hear involves energy. Every interaction we have with anyone, anything, at any time in any place involves energy. Becoming an efficient monitor of our personal energy as well as that of others can really make a difference to our lives and those of people we interact with.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” ― Albert Einstein

If you want to experience something different in your life, whether it is more money, more love, more freedom, more security, more fun, more adventure – then you need to master your personal energy. Feel good, and you will attract more of the things that make you feel good. Feel bad and think negative thoughts then you will attract more things and experiences of similar vibration. The lesson is simple – choose happiness and joy and you will be rewarded with more of the same. Please visit my previous post on energy – High Energy – High Performance

A – Attitude

Attitude links closely with Energy. I recently read a book by Victor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He was forced to work as a slave labourer and watch as many of his peers died slow, miserable deaths. He was separated from his own wife, mother, and father, and lost them all before the war ended. But what did Frankl learn from his time in the concentration camp? Here’s what he had to say:

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…

All of us have challenges in our lives, be it loss of someone we love, loss of our jobs, difficult relationships at home or at work. We can choose our attitude for how we deal with life’s challenges.

I, like many of you I’m sure, have lost people I love to cancer and seen how these people react and live (or not) with the disease. Some, upon hearing the news and the prognosis, give up on life and wait to die, others seize the challenge, fight hard with a positive attitude and often outlive the prognosis, embrace life and squeeze every ounce of enjoyment they can from their lives.  I am convinced that attitude is a huge part in their recovery and extended life.

Life is short. Live it.


N – Nature

Anyone that knows me or has visited my sister blog LIfe Spirit, will already be aware of my passion for nature. I’ve spent a huge part of my spare time throughout my life outdoors enjoying the natural world. Nature helps ground me and gives me energy, gives me time to think and helps me relax. It appears I’m not unique!

I recently read a great, if not scary, book by  Richard Louv called ‘Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder’.

There is a growing and significant body of empirical data suggesting that children and adults derive a great number of benefits from interaction with the natural world. Cognitive benefits from play in nature can include increased creativity, increased ability to solve complex problems, improved focus, greater self-discipline, and better academic performance. Socially, children who have had significant experience with nature tend to be more cooperative, flexible, and self-aware. On an emotional level exposure to nature can reduce stress and aggression, and increase self-confidence as well as overall happiness. Physically, health and fitness will be increased through contact with the natural world.

I – Intuition

Steve Jobs based his career on it, but Bill Gates used it too. Richard Branson is a big fan. It helps Alan Sugar pick his Apprentices; it helped Einstein devise the theory of relativity. It is intuition – and its importance in management, leadership and life is growing all the time.

Do you ever find yourself sizing someone up in an instant, noting their gestures and manners of speaking? These “thin slices” of someone’s behaviour can reveal much and form lasting impressions. Harvard psychology professors Nalini Ambady, and Robert Rosenthal discovered as much, after filming fellow instructors. Observers viewed three thin slices of each professor’s behaviour—10-second clips from the beginning, middle and end of a class—and then rated the professors’ confidence, energy and warmth. They found that these ratings predicted with amazing accuracy the average student rating taken at the end of the year. Thinner slices—three two-second clips—also yielded ratings similar to student evaluations.

Some people are naturally more analytical and some are more intuitive. But it’s best to combine both in decision-making: intuition followed by analysis, or vice versa. I recommend a ‘traffic light system’. If intuition and analysis both say No, that’s a red light. If they both say Yes, that’s a green. If one says Yes and one says No, that’s amber: proceed with caution. ‘We have to recognise that if we make an intuitive decision, there’s no guarantee of it being right. In the same way as with analysis; no one expects analysis to be right 100% of the time.’

N – Nurture

Any skill, relationship, career or hobby needs to be nurtured if you want to improve and develop it. Just as a plant or animal without the right conditions and support will not grow to its full potential, the same is true of our lives. Throughout our formative years, certainly for many of us, we are nurtured well by our parents and those around us. During adulthood, many of us don’t continue that investment in ourselves or don’t know how to. This restricts our personal growth and potentially the growth of the people around us.

Find ways to make time for your self-development and for your relationships! There a few tips throughout this post.

G – Goals

It had to be here didn’t it? It wouldn’t be a Think Oak blog post without some reference to Goals! Whether in your personal life or work life, goals will help you towards achieving your ambitions in life. Take some time today and write 10 goals down on a piece of paper or on your word processor; 10 goals that you would like to achieve in the next 12 months. They should ideally be a combination of work and personal goals. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to do. Try and make them as specific as possible. Regularly read these goals to yourself and try to do something towards one of them every day. You’ll be amazed at the progress you’ll make just by doing these simple things.

O – Opportunities

Life has a way of throwing challenges and opportunities our way when we least expect it. How we deal with these can define our path for the future. I’ve been fortunate to have had many opportunities in my life. Like most people, I’ve taken some and missed some. But being able to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible is important. Sometimes just one opportunity can mean the difference between an extraordinary life and an unfulfilled one. Some opportunities you choose to follow may take you down a path that’s bumpy and rocky, but I guarantee you that you’ll learn along the way.

Opportunities and risk-taking often go together. And the best ones are often the riskiest. Someone starting up a new business is not only taking a risk, but also taking advantage of an opportunity. Doing something you’ve never done before is often daunting, but work out what’s the worst that can happen, work out a plan as to how you might deal with the worst, and you’ll find that the opportunity may not seem as daunting. You’ll also find that the more opportunities you follow, the more confident and knowledgeable you become. You’ll also find that you become better at spotting even more!

F – Fun

I’ve known too many people in my life that have worked hard, provided for their families, scrimped and saved to pay their mortgage and pension only to die within months or a few short years of retiring. My father being one. Whether you believe in an after-life, in reincarnation or have other religious or spiritual beliefs, I do know one thing: We were not meant to be miserable in the life that we have today. Enjoy life and have fun. You are in control of how you feel – nobody else. You are responsible for your life – not your partner, your parents, your boss, your siblings, your friends, your teachers or the government. You DO have choices and YOU have to make them. As harsh as it might sound, nobody but you is responsible for any misery you may have in your life. I’m hearing screams of this happened to me and that happened to me. Well I’m sure they were or still are horrible experiences. Only you can do something about it though! You may need some help, and that’s ok. We all need help sometimes. But only you can stand up for yourself, decide that your life has to change, decide that you want to be happy, get the right support if you need it, but do something about it and have fun.

L – Love

I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do know that love is a huge part of who we are as humans. In putting together this post, I tried to think of the kinds of love that people feel, talk and read about. I think C.S.Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, probably gets it about right (although I think the Ancient Greeks got there before him!) – Affection, Friendship, Romance and Unconditional Love. All of these are important for a meaningful life in my view.

Affection – is fondness through familiarity (a brotherly love), especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves.

Friendship – a committed and chosen love.

Romance –  is a passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings amongst other things!

Unconditional – love that sees beyond the outer surface and accepts the recipient for whom he/she is, regardless of their flaws, shortcomings or faults. It’s the type of love many people strive to have for their fellow human beings. Although you may not like someone, you decide to love them just as a human being. This kind of love is all about sacrifice as well as giving and expecting nothing in return.

Well-respected author and medical doctor, Dean Ornish, makes a powerful claim for the value of love:

I am not aware of any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes. Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer, and what leads to healing.

I – Inspiration

We all get inspiration in different ways. If you’re a regular reader of Think Oak you’ll have seen my A to Z of well-known Inspirational People (parts 1, 2, 3, 4) and who have inspired me in my life. Inspiration is important for all of us that want to achieve something of ourselves. It could be our parents, a friend, a business leader, a painting, an idea or all of these things. Inspiration drives passion, energy, action and ultimately results if you’re tenacious enough!

F – Family

Some people say you can choose your friends and not your family, but families should be cherished and nurtured, even in the tough times. Things don’t always go smoothly and there are often difficulties on the way, but I’m a firm believer that blood is thicker than water and that we should try to maintain a strong family unit where at all possible. It’s often only when we lose family members through bereavement, divorce or distance that the meaning and importance of family hits our consciousness.

E – Effort vs Reward

Very few people in life get something for nothing. And those that do, often don’t feel fulfilled in their lives. High effort, whether at work, at play or in relationships will bring rewards. I’m not saying be a workaholic. By doing that, other areas of life will suffer. What I am saying is give 100 percent in all that you do and the rewards will come.

E – Experiences

Life is for living. Living isn’t spending 28 hours a week in front of the television – The 2013 Communications Report by Ofcom in the UK reported a staggering average of 4 hours per day as the amount of time spent in front of the television – That’s nearly 12 years of your life! Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a great film, a comedy and I’ll even admit to watching the ‘X Factor’, but I’m certainly not going to spend 15-20% of my life doing it!

Create a list each year of places, events and activities that you want to visit, see and do. Then act by doing at least one of them each month, or even better – each week. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to your life.

Q – Quality

What is your quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10? How often do you think about that question and what do I and more importantly you mean by quality? Everyone will have their own view of what quality stands for and where they stand on their personal score. But once you spend a little time thinking about it and give yourself a score, what are you going to do about increasing it? Quality of life could be financial or your standard of living, it could be your depth of relationships, it could be how happy you feel or it could be your career or achievements. For most people it’s a combination of these things. Only you can decide what you want it to be and a will to change things in your life.

U – Understanding

Any fool can criticise, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” – Dale Carnegie

Investing time in truly understanding others pays dividends. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can have a very powerful effect on how you think about others in any part of your life – Your spouse, your friends, your boss, your customers and your family. I will admit that it’s only in recent years that I’ve started to invest time and thought in this on a regular basis. It really can change your behaviours, how you market yourself and in business, how you market to your customers.

A – Action

How often have you put things off that you’ve always wanted to do, only to find that it’s too late? How many things have you put in your ‘When I retire’ bucket?

Action differentiates the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’, the entrepreneurs from the pipe dreamers and the educated from the non-educated. Taking the first step, having perseverance, being willing to fail and then keep going marks out the high achievers. I’m not talking just about people’s careers here. The same is true for relationships, hobbies and learning new skills.

Don’t wait for retirement to start living to the full. Start today.

L – Life-long Learning

Many of us when we leave School, College, University or other further education, think that we have completed our education and that we don’t need to study any more. BIG MISTAKE! Learning new things throughout our life is a must if we want to get the best from it. There has never been a better time to learn. There are literally thousands of sources of learning on any topic by using the internet, podcasts, ebooks, audio books, eLearning tools, social networking sites, not to mention the varied more traditional courses available.

Make time to learn – cut an hour from watching the TV, use your commute or when you’re exercising to listen to something that will help you develop or get up half an hour early and read. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in such a short period of time. Initially it may take a little self-discipline, but it soon becomes habit, believe me! 1 hour per working day for a year is the equivalent of 6 weeks in a class room!

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness means that you have a solid understanding about who you are and how you relate to the world and others around you. This means being mentally and emotionally present in situations, and understanding how your actions affect people. It also means that you’re clued into to what you really enjoy and dislike.

Not as easy at it sounds though is it? Many things in life can change us, for good or bad, and these changes cloud self-awareness. Some things that can wreak havoc on our awareness are:

Our upbringing. We are taught to behave a certain way, and that some things are bad or good. This means that we may get stuck in a rut or fail to try new things to see if we really like them.
Media. We’re bombarded with images and messages telling us how to be, and many of these can change our perception of what we think we should act like.
Our friends. We choose friends that we think we should be like, or we look for approval from them.
Society. We understand what’s acceptable in society, learn social grace, and live by the laws of the land. But unless we really have a grasp on our self-awareness, any changes will be on the surface and not at the emotional level where they need to be.

You may find a previous series of posts useful – The Brand New Brand You. You can download them all here.

F – Fear

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

We were all born with two fears – falling and loud noises. They are built into our DNA and have been passed down from generation to generation as a survival mechanism. Their sole purpose is to keep us alive, and create emotion that will motivate us to avoid danger. Every other fear we face, we have learned throughout our lives.

From a young age we’re taught to use fear as a gauge. If something scares us, we are to stay away from it. If something is safe, we gravitate towards it. We’re taught that fear as a mechanism to keep us safe, to fear strangers, crossing the highway, big animals, new situations, and risk. We’re taught to use fear to stay safe, unhurt, and alive, by our parents, who were taught to do so by their parents, who were taught to use fear by their parents, and so on, all the way back to the days when you always had to be on the lookout for predators, and your only defence was your mind, your spear, and your fear. So some fear is useful, and other fears can and will hold us back from achieving our potential.

Every day, we make a thousand little compromises, avoid opportunities, actions and people–all so that we can stay away from the emotion of fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of redundancy, fear of not being liked, fear of looking stupid, fear of public speaking, fear of {enter yours here!}

You have a choice – you can let your fears cripple you into inaction or with practice into focussed action. It is a choice.  I would recommend a great book – ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway‘ by Susan Jeffers if you haven’t read it already.

O – Openness to Change

Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realise that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.
― Eckhart Tolle

How we learn to approach change can have a significant impact on the enjoyment and fulfilment of our lives. Change has never been more prolific than it is today. A job is no longer for life as it once was, as businesses and the public sector have to constantly evolve to stay solvent. Our children face very different challenges today than in our generation. Technology is evolving at a pace never before seen and is changing how people communicate, learn, work and in some cases live their lives.

I believe that being open to change, indeed to embrace and drive change, in our lives, helps us to grow.

R – Relationships

Unless your vision for your life is being a hermit on an island with no other people around you, and I have considered that a few times in my life, then you will have relationships. How you develop these relationships throughout your life will in many respects will determine your level of happiness and meaning.

I’m talking about real relationships here – not how many friends you have on Facebook, followers on Twitter or LinkedIn connections. These may help you network and foster relationships and indeed I have met many great people and developed friendships with people I have connected with in this way.

Take time regularly to review your most important relationships. Could they be improved? What are you going to do to improve them? What new relationships and with whom would you like to develop?

T – Trust

I’d like in this section to talk about three types of trust that I believe are important in life.

Firstly, is trust in yourself – self-belief and instincts. If you can master trusting in yourself, your feelings and your abilities you’re well on the way to success in my view. I’ve written a few posts on these topics – Self-limiting Beliefs Part 1 & Part 2

Secondly is trust in others – knowing who you can trust.

The more we count someone as trustworthy, the higher they rate on our internal scale. Obviously, complete trust is something that must be earned. But, could we begin every relationship by giving the other person the benefit of the doubt? Who do you like to do business with, and who are your best friends? The answer to both of those questions is directly related to who has earned your trust. When we feel that we have good reasons for trusting a company and their products, we become repeat customers. When we feel that we have legitimate reasons for trusting other people, they become our friends. Now, let me ask you this: who is the most important person in your life? Isn’t it the person that you trust above all others? Trust is a factor in all positive relationships. The greater the level of trustworthiness, the stronger the relationship.

Thirdly is other people’s trust in you. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in some great businesses and managed hundreds of great people in my career. I don’t take management and leadership lightly. Your badge of rank does not entitle you to your people’s trust. You have to earn it. Every business change activity I’ve been involved in during my 20 years in business has taught me that if people don’t believe in senior management and their intent behind a change initiative, product launch, brand, policy or initiative it will fail. The less senior management engagement, belief and reinforcing behaviours, the bigger the failure in many cases.

A breakdown in trust between you and your team, child, spouse or friend is extremely difficult to repair, so we should think about the impact of our actions and words on others before we engage.

Y – Your Purpose

There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.” – Richard Branson

Do you know what your purpose in life is? Do you believe we all have a purpose?

Some people know from an early age, what they want to do with their lives. I was not one of them! Some people are pushed into careers by their parents or teachers without really having a passion for that career. Many people go through their whole lives without one.

There are a few short exercises that may help you understand your purpose better:

1. Imagine that you had all the money in the world; imagine money was absolutely not a consideration – you have an endless supply. What would you do with this money? How would you spend your days? And after you had indulged your every whim, what work would you do? Who would you help and what vocation or personal pursuits would fill your hours. And when you have an answer to this question; this answer will begin to give you a personal direction concerning who you really are.

The following two examples may seem a little morbid at first, but try them…you may find that they really help you.

2. You are on your deathbed a young family member asks you for your advice about life. What would you say to them? Don’t think too hard about it. Just say it out loud and talk for a minute or so. This will help you understand what’s important to you – your values and priorities.

3. Try writing your own obituary. You’ve had a long and fulfilling life and done all the things you want to do. What would you say about yourself to the people attending your funeral? Keep it to a few hundred words and then read it back.

I have found these exercises very useful and revisit them every year or so.

T – Time Management & Wasting Time

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

There are thousands of courses, books, podcasts and websites talking about time management so I won’t waste my time writing a huge paragraph on it! I would point you towards one of the best books and bits of advice I’ve found and that is ‘Eat that Frog‘ by Brian Tracy. In short, each day, take the biggest and ugliest task you need to do and do it first. It really is that simple. This great book, gives you much more advice, but take that one piece of advice and follow it!

In the world of instant messaging, email, newsfeeds, social media and 24×7 information, it is extremely easy to lose several hours a day just keeping up. You need to allot time for these activities and stick to those times. Turn off all the little beeps, pop-ups and flashing lights and set expectations with others as to when you will be returning their messages.

W – Work

The average person spends approximately 100,000 hours at work during their life. That’s a huge amount of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you spent your time at work enjoying it? Whilst all of us have commitments with dependants and / or bills to pay, we don’t have to earn our money doing something we dislike doing. I’ve told this to countless people during my career when they come to me saying that they’re unhappy at work for some reason or another. I’m not talking about a bad day – we all have those. I’m talking about sustained unhappiness in a role. In my view you have 3 choices when you find yourself in this situation:

1. You can make the best of a situation and put all of your positive energy into your job and work your way to a better and happier place

2. You can do nothing, put the minimum effort in and remain miserable and watch others around you progress and become more ‘successful’

3. You can find another role suited to your skills, experience and passions and do that!

O – Open Your Senses

Our five senses are some of our most powerful tools for enhancing our well-being. Even today, doctors are still trained to rely on their senses to help diagnose and treat illness. Yet the hectic pace of modern life can sometimes drown out our ability to tune in to our bodies.

When was the last time you swam in the sea or walked along its shore listening to the waves crash and breath in the fresh salty air, listening to the gulls squawk above you?

When was the last time you stood on top of a mountain and looked out to the horizon?

When was the last time you gave someone you love a touch or a hug?

For many of us, life becomes a treadmill, where we automate the majority of life and don’t take the time to touch, listen, smell, taste, see and savour the moment.

2013 saw the loss of loved family members, dear friends and one of my personal inspirations – Nelson Mandela. I think it appropriate to finish with a couple of quotes from the great man, that certainly add meaning to my life:

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

I hope you enjoyed this first post of 2014 and that it gave you some food for thought. I would love to hear your views.

Until next time…