A Meaningful Life Trumps

“Life is not infinite, but its potential is. Embrace every second and you’ll triumph over compunction.” ~ Eric Tonningsen

It took years, but I finally figured it out. When you’re not happy, unfulfilled, or not living a meaningful life — you ought to (I really wanted to type must)ย make a change. If you remain a slave to cultural expectations, and the trappings of money, power, status and/or perceived success, you’ve left a void in your life. I told myself, “If you’re truly unhappy with your job, move on.” “Find a way to pursue your passion and your mission in life.”

So I left a world in which I prostituted myself to shareholders, made good money, traveled the world and had whatever I wanted. What was missing was meaning and significance. And I knew this for some time.

I’m not saying quit your job; you may love your job. ย But are you happy? Essentially we are when we get what we want. But when our happiness outweighs the meaning in our lives, something’s disproportionate. I believe happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult affairs are avoided.

When I decided to step out of my comfort zone and into the unknown it was terrifying and exhilarating; surreal and at times, indescribable. Suddenly, I was accountable to myself. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t that highly confident being. Yet I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Days after I left the traditional workforce, I came across this Joseph Campbell quote. It has guided and inspired me since. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” To which I have personally added, “…and what you can still be.”

If you are contemplating a major life shift; how you might contribute in more meaningful ways and; how living a life of greater significance might change you — here are three anchoring thoughts as you explore your potential and how realizing it could be beautifully fulfilling.

  1. Figure out what defines you. You’ve dreamed most of your life. You have a vision for ‘what could be.’ It/they can still be achieved. Personally, I have a lot of life left and plans to effect change. Sure, everything won’t work out just as I’ve planned. But I can focus on being ready for whatever opportunities (and challenges) come my way. Dreams and visions can define us, even if they don’t turn out exactly as we hoped.
  2. Question whose approval you are seeking. Like it or not, we’re all sometimes guilty of relying on others opinions to feed our feelings and self-worth. While approval and compliments from others can feel great, seeking them all the time can be unhealthy. They can turn into self-fulfilling cycles of negative feelings. When you start on a self-discovery journey and pursue what you want to do, you take ownership of your life and begin to realize that it matters what you think about you.
  3. You have a right to pursue your passions. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that pursuing your passion is impractical. Passion is what brings meaning and value to your life. The quality of your life experience is directly affected by the pursuit of your passion(s). Don’t allow your passions to drift into the “maybe someday” file. Life is too short to settle for anything less than passionate.

105 thoughts on “A Meaningful Life Trumps

  1. “Question whose approval you are seeking”

    Wise words. Distorting your self-image to conform to others’ expectations and demands will not make you happy, no matter what prize you think you are going to get from it.

  2. Really, really loved this Eric! Last year I walked away from my profession (special education teacher) of 20 years. I was also at the top of the salary scale, with excellent benefits, a pension, summer vacations and job security. But I felt dead inside. The education system in California is so dysfunctional and political, I couldn’t stand it anymore. It just drained the life energy right out of me. I fell into a mild depression and became more reclusive; I suffered from insomnia and caught every cold and flu virus out there. I found myself fantasizing about being homeless (you know things are bad when being homeless doesn’t sound so bad!). So I created an exit strategy- canceled my cable, paid off debts, saved my money like crazy. It took two years, but I finally felt I was in a good enough position to leave last year. In fact, the name of my blog reflects that decision! I have to add, being single helped since I have no one relying or depending on me. I still donโ€™t know what is next for me โ€“ and sometimes I panic. Iโ€™m still learning to trust God, the Universe. But I know I did the right thing and believe I added many years to my lifespan.
    Great post! And thanks so much for sharing!

    • Wow! What a thoughtful sharing, Patty. Thank you for taking the time. I am always warmed when a reader chooses to open up and highlight a related or relevant personal experience. Such foresight (and common sense) you possessed to create a realistic exit strategy. One must. For your consideration: try not to spend too much time being concerned about what’s next. Simply be open to all possibilities and allow opportunities to present. You speak from a place of confidence and courage and that is significant in terms of keeping you forward focused. Stay your chosen course and eventually, you’ll look back and say, Wow! ๐Ÿ™‚ Congratulations.

    • Thank you for writing this Patty. Your courage inspires me as I decrease my hours in the job I’ve had for over 26 years as a helping professional tired of the growing bureaucracy. I am not yet willing to let go of the health and vacation benefits I’ve earned, but that day is coming, and I’m taking my vacation days to follow my creative passions. It was helpful to read about how you prepared for your leap of faith. I wish you well on your journey!

  3. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” -This is a quote I ran across a few years ago which touched me deeply.
    I have been (and still am) on a long road of self-discovery. Not looking to others for approval was a big curve in the road. Following my passions regardless of other’s opinions has been interesting and rewarding. While I believe happiness is a choice, following my spirit has led me to a deep inner peace. I’ve never been one to compromise my integrity, but I’ve learned the importance of being true to my spirit as well.

    • There are some, Suzi, who believe our self-discovery journey is perpetual. Personally, I’m on board with that. We each get to choose how we align with and pursue our passion(s). And it seems you have clarity about and conviction with yours. Kudos!

  4. I want to stand up and say ‘Bravo” to this post. It is indeed scary seeking out our passion and leaving the comforts of familiarity. The reward of fulfillment is well worth the fright of taking the steps.

    • Well don’t let me hold you back from standing up. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sure it’s frightening, Sue, yet the rewards and experiencing a new world of fulfilling, is so often worth the the risks. You’ve captured the essence of transitioning and transforming one’s self well!

  5. I’m in Aristotle’s camp:
    โ€œHappiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existenceโ€ ~ Aristotle

    And in the Dalai’s Lama’s as well:
    We are here to be happy and to make others happy. ~ Dalai Lama

    When the Dalai Lama advocates happiness as the goal behind all goals, he is speaking of inner happiness, peace, contentment, and serenity. He is not advocating the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures.

    Happiness for external reasons (especially hedonistic pleasures) can always be taken away. It is happiness for โ€œno reasonโ€ that we want to cultivate.

    When we seek meaning and purpose in our life . . . it is because having purpose and meaning makes us happy. When we act compassionately towards others . . . it is because being compassionate makes us happy.

    We rarely find lasting happiness by being selfish narcissists.

    • All good and true, Nancy. A distinction I was attempting to create awareness around was/is that material success and happiness are beautiful and the goal of many. And here’s to their having achieved and living their dreams. Yet there are some who, once they’ve reached that state wonder: What’s next? What can I do with all I have achieved? And for some of these people, the quest ventures into the possibility of an even more meaningful life (which varies by individual), one in which significance becomes a more defining facet than all the success and happiness that precedes it. We’re all on journeys with different goals/end outcomes. As I often subscribe to: To each their own. I trust we’re pretty much on the same page. Ahhh… ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Another excellent post. And some fantastic comments as well. I’ve had a rough week. This post is exactly what I needed to read.

  7. I feel that one of the encouragements I’ve found in getting older is that it’s much easier for me to be myself and develop my interests and passions without concern about meeting others’ expectations. Not that I never lapse into unconscious old behaviors, because I do, but it’s just easier now. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for a very inspiring and insightful post. I enjoyed hearing a little more about your personal journey, too. Thank you, Eric.

    • I think with some matters becoming ‘easier’, it frees us to observe, consider and make choices through new, more mature lenses. I like to view it ‘right’ earned by we chronologically gifted. Thanks so much for your thoughtful insights, Debra.

  8. This is a really uplifting and motivational post, Eric! Thank you.
    I’m constantly trying to live a much more simplified and meaningful life – free of unnecessary burdens and stress. It can be difficult, but so far I’m succeeding. Having “things” has become far less important that having actual happiness.

    • Coming from a man who creates and freely shares uplifting and motivating photographs (and accompanying text), your comments are appreciated, Mike. Bravo on your personal efforts to create and live a more meaningful life. Onward, friend!

  9. It is quite difficult to step out of your comfort zone but only those with a brave and daring spirit can do so. Often we wear a mask of happiness, living in our illusionary, self created world, convincing ourselves of being happy and keep stifling our passion deep inside our heart. Bravo, Eric! You took the right step of ‘life shift’. I can relate to the sentiments expressed here because I have emerged out of such a situation, quitting my job when it started killing me silently.
    Thanks for sharing a very realistic view of life and happiness.

    • “We often wear a mask of happiness..” How true and sad, Balroop. One has to wonder why when we can effect change for the better (on varying scales) if we choose to. I am both encouraged and not surprised to read/learn that many others have chosen to extricate themselves from insignificant/uninspiring situations. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and how it has strengthened you! And thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  10. An article full of wisdom. Congratulations to him.
    ย ย  I wish I had the courage to make changes in my life. I feel like I’m spinning routine that makes me unhappy, with each passing moment.
    No I have courage. I’m afraid of the unknown. I’m afraid of new beginnings. I accept where I am, but I’m not fully happy man. Although are grateful for what can do as much as I can do.
    I wish I had your courage, Eric!
    Have a wonderful Sunday, Eric and many blessings! Sincerely ลžtefania. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It is good of you to stop by and share such kind words, Stefania. My wish fo you is that you will find that courage that does exist within you and that once embraced, it will allow you to test your newfound strength with new beginnings. We all possess what we need to grow and thrive. Dig deep and tap into the strengths that are already a part of you. And be patient as you nurture them and they bloom. Thank you for such sharing such thoughtful and personal feelings, Stefania. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. A deeply thoughtful post Eric. I’m not sure how to express this and I hope it doesn’t sound trite and obscure. I went through a time when I was constantly asking questions about meaning and significance in terms of my own life. For me, and again let me say from my context, I found that a lot of my search for “meaning” and “significance” was coming out of a place of egocentricity. I began not to like what I was seeing in terms of this. After many years in public life I now find myself in a place where I’m not so overly concerned about meaning and significance. I simply try and live out of a centre where those questions are not uppermost in my mind any more, and may I say I’ve never been as happy as I am now. I have found deep peace in “obscurity” and “insignificance.” Hope this has “meaning.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Again, thanks for a great post, Eric.

    • I love how you expressed this, Don.

      * “I found that a lot of my search for meaning and significance was coming out of a place of egocentricity.” ~ Yes!

      When I first stopped practicing law, I embarked on a mission to discover my life purpose and passion. I wanted to “be somebody.” Now I’m content to “just be.”

      * “I have found deep peace in obscurity and insignificance.” Me too!

      These days, I’m convinced that my life purpose and passion is to be happy!

      โ€œHappiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existenceโ€ ~ Aristotle

    • From a man who kindly and eloquently shares his experiences, I am honored that you created time to convey your sentiments here, Don. I did/do not find your comments and perspectives trite or obscure. Part of the beauty in this open, expressive forum is that such a valuable mix of views, definitions and opinions present.

      For some, the distinctions that we are entertaining can be an exercise is semantics. For others, perhaps, it leans a bit more rigid and absolute. Through my lenses, I see, understand and appreciate where you have been and how it has framed your position and comfort. Kudos for finding that space in which you know what is or is not meaningful for you. I find your choices admirable. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. And the best thing of all, I think, is that it often doesn’t take much to find one’s passion – just courage to recognise it and pursue it, settle into it … here we come to know the meaning of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

    • Exactly, Ina! As I shared in an earlier reply, “To each their own.” To your comment, it truly can be easy to gain clarity about passions, possibilities and purpose — if one chooses to do the requisite work. And then effect chosen change. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Great post Eric…very thought-provoking. I feel that we often get weighed down by expectations, both our own and others’. The key to my life now has been to find what I enjoy and to follow it, without any expectation from myself or even sometimes AGAINST the expectation of others. Just to do what I love. I realised that I don’t need to convince anybody else – once I have convinced myself everything else will fall into place. And it has. I’m happier. Everybody is happier. Thanks for such a wonderful post

    • Thank you. good sir. Often, when I hear or read the word “expectation” I usually and sometimes, automatically, replace it with “anticipation.” The latter is such a more positive and exciting word. Kudos for doing what you love. How beautiful and empowering that is when you live it with conviction. Your comments brought a smile to my heart.

  14. Eric, this is wonderful! I love your own personal quote. Remember I gave you an angel award and you seemed surprised. This material is Divine in my book ๐Ÿ™‚

    For myself happiness often includes fulfillment of some kind, so there is not a conflict between two opposing forces. I did quit my job a few years ago without a new one. I made decent ( not great) money and had awesome benefits and security. But I was miserable and bored and saw my life and time slipping away. There was little support, but there was some and that helped. The quest did not lead me to a great new beginning but subtly and slowly led me back to the type of work I missed doing at the start of my career and kept my focused on purpose and meaning. Today I am much closer to being my authentic self.

    Days after I left the traditional workforce, I came across this Joseph Campbell quote. It has guided and inspired me since. โ€œThe privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.โ€ To which I have personally added, โ€œโ€ฆand what you can still be.โ€

    And may I add ” It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot

    May I reblog this???


    • How kind of you to share your own experience and how challenging your quest was. More importantly, Linda, look how you’ve grown and are flourishing! You kept aligned with your purpose and meaning. And it seems in retrospect, that may have been a lifeline for you. I am warmed that you are now much closer to being who you are and want to be. And of course you can reblog the post. I’m all for our mutual sharing and learning. Thanks for your lovely comments!

  15. I loved this brief phrase “happiness without meaning”. That idea needs to be thought about. I think you helped me realize this is something I have tried to convey to my stepchildren over the years.

    • As an earlier commenter shared, Kim, happiness can be/is fleeting. However, when happiness is coupled with meaning (as individually and uniquely defined) it, in my mind and heart, takes on an entirely different meaning, one in which significance gains in prominence. Glad the message yields helping ‘potential.’

    • What a nice compliment to have a post provide “relief.” Thank you, Aleya. Sending you strength and well wishes as you travel life’s next, exciting path. Enjoy the transition, even with its unknowns. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I loved this post. I agree — you must make changes if you are dissatisfied with your life. Often times these changes bring angst and fear, but forge ahead anyway.

    • Thanks, Irene, for using the word “must” when I hesitated to. ๐Ÿ™‚ In many cases I believe some angst and fear is a small (though not seemingly small at the time) investment to make for some unbelievable returns/outcomes. Appreciate you poignant comment.

    • Thank you, Linda for reblogging this piece. And please pardon my not replying to your earlier request promptly. I am flattered and appreciative that you find the message worthy of sharing with your valued reader community.

  17. I can relate to this post and congratulate you on leaving your comfort zone and pursuing something that gives you meaning. I’ve been struggling with just this for the past year or two. Would really like to do something completely different, professionally, but not sure what and am probably a little fearful of taking a leap. I keep praying for guidance and direction and have faith that all will be revealed. Thanks again!

    • From what you have shared, Geralyn, it may be prudent to defer “taking a leap” until you have more clarity around your passions and purpose. In the meantime, think about exploring possibilities aligned with how you feel about different ways to spend your time and energy. Talk to family and friends and ask them what they see in and about you and your gifts. Be open to things you may have not previously considered and enjoy the discovery process. Then you may be more comfortable about the direction you chose to leap toward, even with the accompanying hesitancy about the unknown. ๐Ÿ™‚ The process requires some effort on your part so I wouldn’t necessarily lean on Divine Intervention alone. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Onward!

  18. What is very interesting is that you can feel so alone when making those life-changing decisions, as if you are the only one doing the soul-searching and crashing blindly into the unknown. But your post and its responses show that this is an eternal struggle for many of us, and that taking the great leap is often the best thing that happens to us. It certainly has been for me!

    • Looking back, Mary, I am glad that I was pretty much “alone” when going through the transition. Yes, some/many may be more comfortable having a support team alongside and I get that. But knowing I persevered, stuck to my values and faced the uncertainty head on — is an accomplishment I proudly look back upon. Fear is so unnecessarily powerful. What I encourage people to do is acknowledge its presence and the role that it is playing (which can often, in disguise, be helpful) and then get on with enabling your desires/dreams. Staying stuck gets one nowhere. I’m happy to learn that you found your own way and made ‘it’ happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. I love the dichotomy of words you have chosen to explain what it feels like to leave your comfort zone, terrifying and exhilarating. I couldn’t have chosen two more appropriate words. Unfortunately, they always seem to arrive in that order, like a test of our mental fortitude and courage, to continue on past the initial terrifying and into the realm of exhilaration. Thank you for a very insightful article, one that resonates with me and a desire for positive change in my life ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • If I choose to travel a similar path again, Dave, I’d want terrifying and exhilarating in the same order. Having been through the experience, actually more than once, I can comfortably encourage others to step into ‘it.’ The water’s fine. ๐Ÿ™‚ There are no gators or piranhas.

      Thanks for adding your thoughtful perspectives to this thread.

    • Twice here, too. In hindsight, I am very appreciative of the experience, both times, and all that it awakened me (and others) to and how it allows us to inspire and encourage others to reflect on what’s most important. Thanks, Tiny, for reinforcing the notion that when we leap, we land on terra firma. And what a grounding place from which to move forward.

  20. Wonderful post Eric, I think that is one of the most difficult things anyone has to consider, understand and then have the courage to move forward boldly. The desire to make others happy ~ to live a life meeting expectations ~ is defeating to the soul, but somehow we put so much pressure on ourselves to do just this. I admire the way you break this down and help to find & seek that life that lies beneath. Cheers!

    • Thank you. So a challenge then, Randall. How do we intentionally shift from the “we” who place so much pressure on ourselves to a “we” who simply appreciate our gifts and couples them with conscious action to encourage and awaken others… to be in the now; to appreciate all with which they are blessed and; to illuminate what they can still be? You do this well, via your blog, yet I’m curious how you do this within and for yourself.

      You possess a genuine depth beyond many (yes, confidently presumptuous here) and a talent for inspiring with your words and photographs. How do you intend to continue moving forward boldly?

      And equally important, when are you going to publish a table top, photo essay book? Or is there one already out there? My blog, my wishes. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Eric, very kind words and a great question and challenge. During my travels the past couple of weeks I have thought about this, and have no answer how to intentionally make this shift. As bad as we can feel with all the pressure we place on ourselves, such pressure also provides the impetus to make change.

        It seems that once we understand the experience of pulling ourselves out from under all this “irrelevant pressure” we place on ourselves, it gets easier. For me, I think education in a different sense of the word is important, and we continue to learn every day. Growing up, I was a happy child well versed in Dr. Suess and fairy tales and from there curiosity continued to grow until like most happy people I developed my own philosophy of life. I think that is how an individual can find their genuine philosophy and appreciate the inspiration life provides, and become a participant. This can begin at any age and for me, maintenance is key. Experience and marvel what is out there. I’ll have my ups & downs, which I need to revel in as that is what life expects of us. Cheers!

      • I appreciate your taking the time to think about this, Randall. Your thoughtful replies rarely surprise. With tendencies to simplify much of what I process (without diluting a matter’s significance), I keyed on four words you chose – which I believe capture the challenge’s essence: impetus, curiosity, education, and maintenance. Sure there’s considerably greater depth to each word yet your perspectives, crispy expressed, not only scratch the surface and illuminate vast potential and promise. Here’s to your reveling!

  21. I am going to pursue my passions .. I am boldly going forward into the unknown of retirement and relaxation where by no doubt I will be ever busier than before.. I am looking forward to my next adventure .. And all the possibilities are waiting for my own creative energy to flow as I cast my own pebble to make the ripple effect… ๐Ÿ™‚ Brilliant read Eric.. Sue

    • I believe I am hearing affirmations and strong convictions here. Yes/no? You see what happens when you take a little time away from your blog? ๐Ÿ™‚ I can sense the commitment you have to your passions, Sue. And I applaud you. Everything you share above is rife with optimism. I can visualize the ripples you intend to create. Thanks for you positive comments!

      • Yes you are hearing affirmations Eric.. And Yes strong convictions.. Which may mean more absence for a time on WP.. We have to get the balance in our lives and all is well in my world.. ๐Ÿ™‚
        Thank you Eric.. you are always an inspiration.

  22. This is such an inspiring and encouraging piece.

    Thank you so much for sharing such valuable and actionable insights Eric.

    “Donโ€™t ever let anyone convince you that pursuing your passion is impractical.”

    That was the key for me personally. When I realized that my passion wasn’t impractical, I made a decision to pursue it…no matter what other people thought or said.

    It has been truly liberated and exhilarating!

    • Rarely are genuine passions impractical, Jay. And only we, as individuals, can wholeheartedly pursue them. Good to learn you are, irrespective of naysayers.

      Thanks for creating time to read and comment on the post, and for your kind words.

      • You’re right Eric. Thank you for the kind words too and the encouragement.

        I appreciate you responding to my comment too.

        God bless you Eric!

    • You’ve got to! Plain and simple, Rommel. You’re on target. And as you progress along your personal path, consider keeping what is meaningful in what you do and how you interact with others. Good to have you stop ny and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  23. Thanks for stopping by my site. Your visit led me back to your blog–and I am impressed. Great words of wisdom, reminding all of us to take the risk to be our true selves.

  24. Yes, and there’s always more to discover about who we really are, if we’re open to the adventure! Thanks for sharing your insightful words. I just found your blog today, and will certainly be back to read more! I’ve added it to a list of positive blogs I keep on my own site.

  25. It’s surprises me how the years have added up, how we can tolerate unreasonable conditions for the sake of security. Thank you for this post and especially for adding “โ€ฆand what you can still be,โ€ to the Joseph Campbell quote.

    • “..and what can still be,” has actually been a business tagline for 8+ years, JoAnne. Thank you for acknowledging it and the potential it represents.

      We age chronologically and we acquire wisdom. I hear and agree with your perspective on how “…we can tolerate unreasonable conditions for the sake of security” to which I would add, …for the sake of so many foolish beliefs. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thank you for creating time to read the post and kindly comment.

  26. This was an excellent and encouraging post, Eric! I enjoyed this very much and you have touched many lives by being a person who accepts people as they are, also how you shared with them, that meant a lot to me as a reader of this post. Smiles, Robin

    • So pleased that the post’s message has meaning for you, Robin. It was a deeply personal one for me to write and share, as lives filled with meaning and significance are invaluable — for all of us. Thank you for adding your thoughtful comments to our wonderful online conversations. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Fantastic! I couldn’t agree more! I have come across a lot of this! ๐Ÿ™‚ (Also I want to thank you. I may not be on here a lot, but you almost always acknowledge my posts. It may just be a like, but it means a lot when they’re my own thoughts.) May you never loose that positive/upbeat vibe you have!

  28. You may not be ‘on here a lot’ but when you post, I read and appreciate your candid, eclectic thoughts, DT. Thanks for your kind comment about this blog’s vibe. I am warmed by your encouragement. Stay well!

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