In the late 1990s, Mitch Albom wrote a memoir called Tuesdays with Morrie. The 192-page book became the bestselling memoir of all time in 2006. In it, Albom writes about his visits with former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, as Morrie’s ALS progresses and his health slowly degrades. There are many life lessons the book is famous for imparting, but one in particular that I love, and that I think relates closely to the work I often do with coaching clients, is about building a meaningful life. (I’ve written about stuff like this before, so perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that this is a favorite topic of mine!)
In the book, Morrie says, “Everyone is in such a hurry….People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job. Then they find those things are empty, too, and they keep running.”
Are you running?
You work hard, and your work pays off. You’re able to buy that thing you’ve always wanted, visit the place you’ve always wanted to visit, or do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Sometimes, though, those things aren’t everything we thought they’d be. So we go back to work, thinking that next time we’ll make a better or more fulfilling choice. The reality is that things don’t always turn out to be what we think they’ll be. Yet this pattern can be a difficult one to break.
Related to this, Morrie also says, “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things.” So, how do you make your life meaningful?
What is truly meaningful to you?
We may want to live meaningful lives, but we’re not taught how to make that happen. Most of us don’t learn how to explore our values and then how to think about what type of life we would lead to live congruently with those values. We are not taught how to define goals with clear action steps. We’re not encouraged to stop and think about whether our current job, degree, or daily routine is helping us take steps toward what we define as “meaningful”? It’s not uncommon to set out down one path and stay on it simply because it becomes familiar, easy, or what you think is “right”.
What is the common element here? Living life on autopilot. Following some script that was already written for you without taking the time to read it to see if it fits your life. So how do you get out of autopilot mode, stop the running, and cultivate meaning in your life? In my experience, it often takes some sort of crisis. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can self-reflect, define what is meaningful to us, and make decisions about how we want to live.
Once we know something needs to change, where do we start? As Morrie was dying, he lived in a way that enacted what I think is the cornerstone for each and every one of us. Albom writes, “[Morrie] had created a cocoon of human activities—conversation, interaction, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl.” The task of “finding meaning” can feel overwhelming or, at times, even impossible. Morrie couldn’t change the fact that he was dying, but he continued to develop meaning in his life. We have a lot to learn from him.
Citation: Albom, M. (1997). Tuesdays with Morrie: An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. New York: Broadway Books.