“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.” - Donald Miller
A long time ago, a wise teacher penned these opening words of his magnum opus:
“Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
And 3,000 years later, these words still echo in the hearts of millions around the world.
Some call it the void, others the dark night of the soul or what Victor Frankl called the “existential vacuum”; I tend to call it the meaning crisis.
That moment when you lay awake and wonder:
Does my life even matter?
Do I even matter?
What’s the point of all this?
What’s my purpose?
And why am I even here at all?
Perhaps you’ve felt this way before.
If you have, you’re not alone.
A recent study in the UK reported that 80% of people (across all generations) consider their lives to be meaningless. If what Victor Frankl said is true, that “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”, then perhaps we are all searching for that “why” that will sustain us through the difficulties and challenges of life.
My meaning crisis flared up in the year 2020 (as I’m sure it did for many).
Disillusioned by COVID, politics, and the Evangelical Church, I found myself becoming jaded and cynical at the ripe old age of 28. As I sat at home for weeks on end, I wondered if I was really living a life of greatest fulfillment.
One morning, as I reread those wise words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, I began to wonder if they were trying to tell me something more. In Hebrew (the book’s original language), the word for "meaningless” is hevel (or hebel) and it means “fleeting” or “vapor”.
In other words, like a mist in the air, our life is short.
My life is short. Your life is short.
So I started asking myself: What am I doing with this short life I’ve been given?
Am I doing the most good that I’m capable of doing for others?
Am I taking time to enjoy life with my wife and kids?
Am I finding satisfaction and joy in the work that I’m doing?
And am I slowing down in the busyness of life to make sense of it all?
Perhaps we will never know for certain what the so-called ‘meaning of life’ is, but I believe that we as humans are capable of making meaning in life.
And that’s why I became interested in Narrative Therapy, a field of study that helps people ask themselves: What story does my life tell? And what story do I want it to tell?
At the heart of Narrative Therapy (also called Narrative Practices) is the idea that people make sense of their lives through stories. These stories include the use of what social psychologists Kenneth and Mary Gergen call “self-narratives” that include both the narratives people tell about themselves to others, and the ones they tell to themselves about their experiences. We tell such stories in order to establish coherent connections about life so that these connections can, as Frank Rogers says, give us “a narrative that has coherence and meaning”.
When we can’t make meaning in life, then we are plunged into a meaning crisis, into a narrative that we feel lost in; and I believe that no one should feel lost in their own life story.
So when I began studying Narrative Therapy at the University of Melbourne in 2021, I pondered what life would be like if I saw it as an unfolding story. I reflected on my favorite stories, how an author took time to intentionally craft a meaningful narrative.
And what if, like a writer, we set out to communicate something meaningful to ourselves and others through the ways that we lived?
Perhaps the elements of a meaningful story are the same components of a meaningful life. Perhaps stories, which are by design comprised of meaning, can guide us towards the life we long for.
I became interested in taking people on a journey that helped us, “make sense of the adventure of our own lives...by figuring out what sort of quest we’re on” (Jonathan Stanford). In other words, how to live a meaningful story.
But what I quickly realized was that in order to live such a story, we first have to learn how to tell our story.
This involves taking those narratives we tell ourselves about our experiences and identity, and evaluating whether they are true, and how they are affecting us.
By consciously rehearsing the stories our lives tell, we can better know how our experiences have shaped who we are, and where we ultimately want to go. And doing this with a group of people in a safe space can provide us with an audience to our stories as we ‘perform’ them out in the world.
I’m not saying I’ve come up with the end-all-be-all to solve the meaning crisis.
But I do realize what I can do:
I can take my knowledge of storytelling and education in Narrative Practices to help people make sense of their lives through story. And this brings me great joy, purpose, and ultimately meaning. And this is why I created All Things Narrative, a company dedicated to helping people tell their stories in ways that make them stronger, ways that inspire themselves and others to live a meaningful story.
My thesis project became the foundation for All Things Narrative’s flagship workshop ‘Live A Meaningful Story. In these workshops, my goal is to empower participants to:
• Use the language of story to reflect on their experiences, identity, relationships, and purpose.
• Practice telling their life stories in authentic and artistic ways that can inspire others.
• Create commitments that can help them move intentionally towards their goals.
• Connect with people through open and transparent conversations while having fun discussing the stories in fiction and real life that inspire them.
I am thankful that organizations like Common Ground Community Development are providing a safe space for people to tell their stories, and I am truly honored to be facilitating my workshops with them.
If you are wondering what story your life tells, if you want to make sense of your life and live more intentionally, if you want to reclaim your life as a meaningful story, then consider signing up for our next 6-week ‘Live A Meaningful Story’ workshop.
Dates/Time: Tuesday nights at 6pm, from September 6th - October 11th.
Cost: $120 (early bird special)
Location: Venue at 1201, 1201 Federal Highway, Lake Worth, FL
Participants of this workshop will be invited to share their stories at the next Storyteller’s Session held at on Friday, October 21st at 7pm at the Venue at 1201.
You can learn more about this workshop and sign up at: allthingsnarrative.com/workshops
and follow us on social media, @allthingsnarrative