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Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life, and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
-Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning
Have you answered the ultimate question in your own life? Or are you sleepwalking through each day in autopilot mode? One way to find meaning is by challenging yourself each day, and continuing to grow as an individual.
Move Your Village
An Indian tribe of British Columbia believed that without challenge, life had no meaning. The tribe lived in a very resource-plentiful area, with plenty of salmon and game, and below-ground food- tubers and roots. They had elaborate technologies for using their plentiful environment effectively, and perceived their lives as being good and rich. But at times, the tribe elders said that the world became too predictable and there was no challenge in their life. Canadian ethnographer Richard Kool describes the tribe’s solution:
So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 to 30 years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsamroot would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy. Incidentally, it also allowed exploited resources in one area to recover after years of harvesting.
Like the tribe, you may be ready for a new challenge. What can you change to “move your village” and bring meaning into your life?
Ways to Move Your Village
Most jobs and leisure activities are not meant to challenge us and help us grow- their intent is to make someone else money. If we are to be challenged and grow from these activities, we must take matters into our own hands.
Challenge Yourself In Your Free Time
Do: Fill your free time with activities that require concentration, increase skills, and lead to personal growth.
Examples: Play tennis, join a band, become a wine connoisseur, learn to swing dance
Don’t: Fill your free time with mindless activities that do not challenge you or lead to personal growth.
Examples: Watching a sitcom on television, watching a sporting event or concert, taking recreational drugs
Note: Some people may take offense that I put “watching a sporting event or concert” in the Don’t category. But living vicariously through musicians, actors, and sports athletes does not challenge you- actually performing the activity does challenge you.
Challenge Yourself At Work
Do: As much as possible, make your work into a game- add variety, appropriate challenges, clear goals, and constant feedback. This will make it more enjoyable and challenging.
Examples: Your manager gives you a challenging assignment, with a clear goal, and provides feedback on the results. For less difficult tasks such as organizing paperwork in file cabinets, you can challenge yourself by setting a time goal for finishing the task, and listen to some energetic music to help you along the way.
Don’t: Cope through your day at work, with no enjoyment or challenges from your job.
Examples: You are assigned work, and you complete the bare minimum of what is required, not challenging yourself or improving your own skills/technique.
How to Move Your Village in the Most Bleak/Boring/Monotonous Situations
Even the least enjoyable of situations can be turned into growth opportunities:
Richard Logan, who has studied the accounts of many people in difficult situations, concludes that they survived by finding ways to turn the bleak objective conditions into subjectively controllable experience . . . First, they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances. Then they set goals appropriate to their precarious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received. Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
To create growth out of a bleak, boring, or monotonous situation-
1) Find hidden opportunities for action
2) Set goals appropriate to the difficult situation
3) Whenever you reach your goal, up the ante, creating an increasingly more complex challenge
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