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February 27, 2018

5 Questions to Rediscover your Life’s Meaning after Everything Falls Apart.

My year in review: a loved one lost, a failed relationship, a family tragedy, a rejection, a relocation.

My dad passed. My mom became disabled. I moved back home from New York City to take care of her, leaving my dream job of working in art therapy with children. Back at home, I got rejected by the certification board because it turns out my education doesn’t meet my home state’s standards.

It’s been challenge after challenge.

In the midst of this turmoil, I started to question everything. But by asking “what”—using the following five questions—I was able to save my own life, as they allowed me to slow down, reflect, and give myself compassion and understanding.

What matters to me about this?

What is the emotion/reaction teaching me?

What am I placing value upon?

What metrics am I using to determine what is valuable?

What can I do to move myself toward my own values?

I could have let all these setbacks take me down into a deep depression, as I have before. But instead of letting them get the best of me, I found resources and read, and read, and read. Learning from the best—from Tibetan Buddhism to TED talks—I was able to change my perspective and derive these questions that helped me determine my purpose.

Here’s what asking these questions revealed to me:

What matters to me about this?

This question is key for revealing the meaning behind the situation. When we consider the meaning, we are looking at what we value, what we invest our time in, and what our expectations are. This is where to start—it makes us pause, reflect, and take stock. Focusing on the bigger picture stopped my anxiety in its tracks, as I realized that most of the little things that bugged me didn’t really matter. And when I still couldn’t let go of these things, I moved on to the next question.

What is the emotion or reaction teaching me?

This question makes us go inward and look to ourselves instead of blaming others for things we don’t have control over. Is your reaction teaching you patience? How to deal with disappointment, loss, or hurt? How to be open to trust and love?

In asking this question, we can label our emotions—not to judge them, but to be able to face them and deal with them. Just because an emotion is hard to face doesn’t make it negative; all of our emotions serve a teaching purpose for us. Asking this question helps us develop the skills we need to cope with them. We are also able to look at how we can move our life more in line with the values we carry.

What am I placing value upon?

This question looks at our reactions and asks us which values of ours are contributing to our emotional responses. Do we value love and connection, which makes the break-up feel like such a loss? Do we value our friendships, which is why we find the betrayal so painful? Do we value our sanity, our hard work, and our passion, which is why it stings when we lose a job? Looking at our core values can help us make sense of events beyond our control.

What metrics am I am using to determine what matters?

After we’ve determined which values are most important to us, we can evaluate whether we are using our own personal values as metrics for what matters, or whether we are falling prey to what society tells us we should care about. It’s important for us to reconnect with what our own metrics are so we can align our actions with our values. Society values things like beauty, consumerism, perfection, and wealth; on Instagram, every day, I find I am bombarded with perfectly-staged imagery. It is important to check back in and remind ourselves what we value. For me, it’s honesty, truth, and authenticity—things I never see in those posed photos.

What can I do to move myself toward my own values?

This isn’t just focusing on solutions—it’s going even deeper. It’s about taking actions that are informed by this process of questioning, so the actions themselves are imbued with meaning. When our intentions and actions have meaning, we are more motivated, passionate, and grounded, and we no longer have to feel fearful and chaotic as things around us shift. In choosing to respond based on our values instead of reacting on a whim, the outcome tends to be more sustainable, instead of flimsy.

These are the “what” questions that have given me new perspective and really taught me about listening, about giving myself space for reflection and introspection. I recognize that living a meaningful life is hard, particularly in this convenience-based world. Not everything has to be forced or done quickly. Not everything is quick and convenient. The most important things reveal themselves when we simply take the time to ask ourselves: What matters?

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Author: Emily Ameara Mclennan
Image: @walkthetalkshow/Instagram
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Emily Ameara Mclennan