The hunger for significance…REALLY???



By Kenneth Justice

~ My life has been hectic lately. Between finishing up my graduate degree, my daily vocational job, family commitments, and all the other ins-and-outs of day-to-day life, I’ve also signed onto a massive project that REALLY excites me.

Last year I received a LOT of comments and emails from readers. During especially busy months I would receive as many as 250 comments & emails a day. What struck me the most was the common thread that wove so many of you wrote about (no, I’m not talking about all the people that wrote me saying “YOU SUCK KENNETH!!!”); an amazingly high percentage of people would write to me talking about wanting more purpose to their life.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that people would write about “purpose”, “fulfillment”, and “meaning” since those themes are front and central in much of my writing. I guess more than anything I was surprised that so many people identified with those themes in their own lives and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only person out there with a hunger within my soul for significance.

At coffee yesterday I sat with a gentleman who was lamenting to me the sorry state of his life, “Kenneth, my life has fallen apart so much, it takes all my energy just to get out of bed anymore. I want to do something more with my life, but I simply don’t know how or what to do” he said

Of course, not every one of us needs to be the next Albert Einstein or Marylyn Monroe, but the hunger for significance is definitely an element of life that each of us grapples with at some time or another.

How do you deal with finding significance for your life?

One of the things I think about a lot is whether or not each of us should do something great for humanity?

—-) Should we care about feeding the poor?

—-) Should we care about orphans around the world?

—-) Should we care about shut-ins and the elderly who are all alone?

—-) Should we care about single mothers who are struggling to pay their rent?

—-) Should we care about children who have no positive role models in their life?

The list of questions that I ponder is endless, and I don’t always have an answer to whether or not each of us should care about these things and whether or not we should DO something about these things.

A fellow blogger sent me a movie that she and her husband made about the problem of prostitution in Brazil, I’m still in the midst of watching it (I’m terrible at finishing movies all the way through because I’m so damn busy all the time) but what I’ve watched of it so far strikes me as significant; I’m impressed with people who are doing something with their life to make the world a better place.

Is it crazy that I think about these things all the time? Sometimes I wonder if I’m an oddball. Perhaps I should just turn on the football game and give up my constant meandering into thoughts of significance.

Then again, perhaps it is good that I think about these things.

Either way, at the moment I’m going to finish my cup of coffee,


Categories: Culture & Society

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31 replies

  1. Family, friends, work, blogging, travel, and many other things give significance to my life, Kenneth. Thanks for this significant post, today.

  2. I think you hit on something we Americans struggle with a lot today. We are tied to a culture of self, and yet want desperately to try to transcend it. But doing something that makes a difference can feel overwhelming. I had the idea to start a web site to tie local charities to churches to help needs be met, but it quickly became overwhelming and I could not find an audience for it. It folded pretty quickly. As I saw what others were doing (organizing building projects in hurricane-struck NJ, raising funds to build a school in WV) I felt like a failure.

    But when I sit back and think about what I already do – I’m a hospice chaplain for pete’s sake – why don’t I see that as significant? I do, but I also see it as my job.

    I think the problem we have with significance is in comparison. Someone is always doing something we perceive as more important than what we are doing. So whatever we do sucks. Which isn’t the case at all. Comparison breeds contempt of either the other or ourselves.

    • Great comment, you’re so right. “comparison” or “perspective” definitely affects the way we see this subject.

    • I completely agree. We, especially Americans, place a lot of importance on the question, “What do you DO?” It’s often tied to what your work is, but I found that even as a stay-at-home mom, I received many inquiries as to what I did all day long, as if the “work” of raising decent, kind, responsible individuals isn’t enough. Why do we care so much what others think? And more… why do we care so much what WE think about our own significance?

  3. It’s not a good idea to be too significant; too much depends upon you. A little insignificance is refreshing, and can’t be bought.

  4. Giving a significance to live is not something you can do unless it is a life of someone else.
    More meaning to life is just do the best you can and be someone else’s meaning.

    You mean the world to me, I mean nothing to the world.
    Meaning of life is given by others by being you.

    A selfless person will create more meaning than one who seeks to mean something significant.

  5. Like @Sam already said, our major problem lies in comparison. A person who helps an old lady with her bag isn’t any different from one who cares for the elderly in homes. One just seems to be a bit more visible than the other, do we measure our significance by greater yardsticks.

    My advice: Purpose is all about meeting needs and solving problems. We will not all be Einsteins or active voluntary aids to the middle east, but those who help others in need (stranger or otherwise) and the man who sends a monthly donation to charitable organisations irrespective of the amount is significant.

    Nothing odd about thinking this. It’s just one of those human needs (probably somewhere below our need to be loved).

  6. Why not, instead of searching for meaning, we can just create meaning? Some might say that that is the problem, we dont know what is meaningful, what creates meaning. But maybe then we should just go out and try different things, and why not try to do something that is in itself meaningful, something that is meaningful to someone else. Like comforting someone who is sad, or talking to someone who is lonely, or making a sick child smile, or spending one day buying a cup of coffe for every homeless person we see, or starting a conversation with every senior citizen we see travelling on the bus alone, it is a place to start at least 🙂 Maybe if we try, each day of our lives to do something meaningful for another person, to give away one meaningful gift every day to someone who we think needs it, then I am very sure that very soon life will not feel meaningless any more, it will be filled with purpose and love. But this is of course just how I feel about life. And we must all find our own way. 🙂

  7. We are made to help others, nothing provides more purpose in our lives than to help someone that can never pay you back. From working in the food pantry, to feeding the homeless or being a Big Brother or Big Sister, or any one of hundreds of little things that we can do in our every day life.

  8. Currently, I am dreaming to provide job opportunity for the mothers and elderly. Because they need an income and to give them a sense of purpose. Don’t know whether this can be a reality.


  9. Kenneth, I don’t know if I’m right about this or not but I’ve been thinking that personal Significance, Identity and Purpose are actually traps. They are traps into looking at ourselves with a heavy scrutiny. They are traps into ego. Some have told me that they found a way out of this trap by looking to help others.

    Rather than looking for our own individual purpose, significance or identity we can instead choose to seek out specific principles – justice, equity, love, kindness – we can choose to follow these principles regardless of personal success or status. Rather than saying “justice is my purpose” we can say “I will try to do what Justice asks me to do” – this difference might be subtle, but it helps us to continue to move forward when we fail. If justice is MY purpose and what makes ME significant, I could start to feel really down about myself when I fail or when I feel I didn’t cause much change in my world – my whole Identity could come into question – “Is justice really my purpose if I fail at it?”. I think we need to stop trying to craft idealistic images of ourselves, stop worshiping those images, and start to live simply on the hope given by these principles. We should love others because love is beautiful not because it makes us look beautiful, or look good, or look important.

    In the Christian tradition there is a habit of beginning by recognizing one’s own brokenness, like Alcoholics Anonymous. By recognizing this we recognize that there is always work to be done, for the sake of Justice and love. It is considered a “trick of the devil” to start to think of one’s self as perfected, “self righteous”. But we just try to recognize our brokenness, not dwell in it, that brokenness isn’t really our Identity – identities should be shattered by the principles we now seek. We should seek to do what is right, for its own sake, not for our egos.

    Please forgive me if I’m out of place here.

  10. If I take a worlds view of myself I see how insignificant I really am. . . If I take a personal view of myself I am significant beyond measure. . . . significance is relative to the eyes of the beholder. . . . but one thing I know for sure, chasing after significance is a rat wheel I refuse to run on . . .

  11. I think this is something many people ponder but amidst the pressures of daily life (trying to make an income, wanting the best things in life, etc.) we push those thoughts away and just focus on going on day by day. Sometimes it can be fear, having to think that our lives have no purpose can be scary so we keep ourselves busy with other things. Either way, awareness comes from realizing something like this and courage is needed to take those necessary steps, maybe if more of this would happen, the world just might be a better place.

  12. I think the key is opening yourself up to what God wants you to do on a daily basis. If you allow his direction, you typically start seeing that you are more open to helping people and listening to them. Often times it is in the little everyday things, but the impact of some of those simple gestures of kindness or listening have a far greater overall impact than we realize. Letting his light shine through in however way he wants it to, makes me feel significant. Just my thoughts…thanks!

  13. I never get hundreds of anything on my blog – comments, views, nothing. But today I got this comment: “Good Morning, You write so well, so timely. I am 63 y. o. and I am in dispare [sic]. Please keep writing that which I have thought before but could not put into words. THANK YOU. May the GOD of ALL creation BLESS You.” I guess that’s all the significance I need.

  14. You’re definitley not an oddball Kenneth! I think we all have yearning for significance… some of us seek significance within others, in relationships etc, whilst others look in the mirror and try to be significant for ourselves. As a mother I love:

    “One hundred years from now
    It won’t matter
    What kind of car I drove
    What kind of house I lived in
    How much money I had in the bank
    Nor what my cloths looked like
    The world may be a little better
    Because, I was important
    In the life of a child. xx

  15. I think it’s great that you continue to ponder and discuss these topics with fellow bloggers. Too many people have their heads in the sand. Pretending that problems don’t exist doesn’t mean that they don’t. How does one find significance? That’s on a individual basis, I believe. There is no one size fits all, but as for me, my significance is found in helping others, making others smile and somehow someway bringing comfort and/or joy to their lives.

    • Ditto completely! I’m in the process of finding out just how I will bring that level of fulfillment to my life by helping others but I will get there. 🙂

  16. I see this blog as a way of getting those conversations started. So many of us feel alone and this is a way of tying so many together – therefore (I like to believe) that means eventually enough people will not ONLY talk about these things but do something about them. It starts with conversation and then it becomes action. I know I think I’ve somewhat wrapped my brain around what will finally start to make me happy but I just need to find out HOW to make it happen. I’ll get there.

  17. I recently received a big promotion at work and finally feel that my career is taking off. However, the more I work, the more I realise that I never want to work more than 40 hrs a week. 30, in fact, would be preferable. And with kid #2 on the way, I’m thinking more and more about increasing my availability at home. I love what I do, but my purpose extends far beyond that.

  18. Wahahaha. Heyyy, great post. You know, I was walking the other day, after watching one of those videos that Isis did, showing the world how they’re killing tons of men and all. Anyhow, it bothered me. I prayed about it. And felt horrible about it. And you know what, I can’t do much about it, except pray. And I was thinking once again about how tiny my life is, how tiny anybody’s life is. And it dawned on me that I can only do what I can do. I’m just one tiny little person. A speck on this Earth. So then, it’s up to me to do my little part, with what I’ve got. With my gifts, talents, abilities. And, of course because I’m a Christ follower, be obedient to His calling on my life. And have a heart of compassion (which doesn’t come all that naturally, believe me) hopefully.

    No worries on the film. I know you are very busy person. Whenever you get the chance, that’s great for moi. But no pressure ok.
    p.s. Oh, and thanks so much for believing in what we’re doing. You wouldn’t believe how many people think it’s not relevant. People who even think Daniel just wants to be some big filmmaker and make a ton of money. HAHAHAHAHAHA. If they only knew…..

  19. The hunger for significance is usually found in those who take some time for simple reflection and don’t fill their work & social lives to bursting (as in those who have frenetic lives and have no time to really think about where their life is heading).

    I think a little introspection is a good thing for everyone.

    I think Karl Duffy in his Mindfulbalance blog says it all in this post I can highly recommend his regular quotes and insightful extracts he shares each day. They remind us to take the time to slow down and think about life quality (instead of quantity).

  20. Good writing, Ken. But, I would say, that You have not been reading much of my Blog.

  21. “Is it crazy that I think about these things all the time? Sometimes I wonder if I’m an oddball. Perhaps I should just turn on the football game and give up my constant meandering into thoughts of significance.”

    You aren’t the only oddball. I too think constantly about all the suffering in the world and what I can do to prevent or reduce it.

  22. I think your writing is so authentic that people feel safe letting you know how they feel. Thanks for sharing!

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