The presenters, speaking from a variety of experiences, shared a theme: embracing a meaningful life. They challenged the attendees to do just that.
The conference was well done. The audience of 1,500 was engaged, intrigued. They applauded with enthusiasm. They buzzed among themselves during breaks. They took notes, bought books, invested energy in the event.
And yet, as I looked across the shadowed crowd, I wondered: How many people who feel their lives aren’t meaningful will return to this conference in a year precisely where they are today?
The sad reality, away from the warmth of an excellent summit, is the thing that seems so simple, so necessary, even inevitable, suddenly isn’t.
It’s a strange conundrum, because we were created to embrace meaning. We were made to have meaningful lives. But society tells us meaning comes from things that aren’t meaningful. Career, money, possessions, power, stability—they’re part of a false narrative that traps countless people. We’re left lamenting our inability to take the big leap, to quit that job and move to Uganda, to sell our possessions and fund that nonprofit venture.
So how do we avoid insanity? How do we find meaning?
Of all the speakers at the conference, Hannah Brencher seemed closest to the solution. Writing on her blog a few years ago, she made an offer: Anyone in need of encouragement, just ask. Seemed like an easy thing to do.
Her inbox promptly flooded with heartbreaking pleas from people desperate to know someone cared.
Brencher turned her little idea into More Love Letters, which harnesses an army of volunteers to do what she started in her blog. In just three years, her organization has grown to 20,000 individuals in 53 countries, all writing love letters to people who need them.
Brencher’s advice is three-pronged: Stay hungry. Stay small. Stay here. In short, it’s not about changing the world; it’s about each of us making a difference in the lives of others where we’re at and how we can.
Doing something good for another person is one thing the world can’t stop me from doing. No workplace crisis, no financial challenge, no difficulty in life can crush it. I own that ability and can wield it anytime.
An example: In my wallet, I keep gift cards from a fast-food chain. On each card I paste some encouraging words, always including the phrase “You are loved!” I hand these out to people on the street, usually those in obvious distress. My favorite experience was the woman who took the card, turned it over in her hand, then looked at me with child-like wonder. “You mean, I can order whatever I want?” she asked in a small voice, as if afraid of bursting a bubble. Assured that she could, she gushed her thanks and walked off, a little lighter in step, a bit brighter in disposition.
It was small. It was simple. It didn’t change the world. But it changed her day. How can one measure the value of that?
Some people find the meaningful life with a leap from a cliff. But more often than not, the meaningful life can be found with baby steps—by doing what we can, where we can, how we can, and having faith that the impact has meaning.
After all, faith is the engine that drives dreams—even the dreams we don't know we have.