how to uncover more meaning in your ordinary, everyday life

This is the first part of a weekly series, where I'll be posting an excerpt from one chapter in my latest book, Living Forward, Looking Backward, right here on the blog. Check back each week for a new release, or, after reading this first post as an intro, download a free preview.

Are you living a meaningful life?

If we’re honest, most of us will answer “not sure,” or “not really.” It’s not an easy question to emphatically answer, “yes!”

The reality is that our days are often filled with more routines than grand adventures, and we’re not fulfilled by the common things in life. Eating cereal, sitting in traffic, and staying home on a Saturday when plans fall through won’t make the headlines and highlights displayed on our social media feeds. Instead, we’re captivated by the extraordinary things which will never happen within a normal week – getting a big promotion, finishing a marathon, buying a new car.

I believe, however, that your regular life is far more significant than you realize. There is deep meaning hiding in your everyday conversations and ordinary interactions – you just can’t see it in the moment. You and I both need a framework to help us uncover more of the meaning in our ordinary, everyday lives.

We need more stories. We love stories, you see. It’s how we’re wired. Well-crafted stories stick with us. They allow us to recall life lessons in a memorable way. They also help us see the big picture during frustrating and disappointing circumstances. We even build our identities around stories. Where we came from, where we’re going, the highs and lows – it’s all part of the narratives we tell to the world.

When you begin to look at your life as one big story and recount your past, you’ll discover that meaning often looks different from what we would have expected. Life’s universal truths repeatedly show up in ways that feel strange to us.

For example, it’s easiest to hurt those we love most. The smallest steps achieve the biggest goals. Disappointing beginnings create happy endings.

That all feels a little backward, right?

I noticed this after cycling through a rapid series of major life changes within a single year. After moving cities, merging companies, and getting married, all around the same time, I needed to process the change in a healthy way. Writing is therapeutic to me, so I began to create short stories from a series of notes I had jotted down during the preceding years. Whenever something special or notable stuck out to me, I opened the Notes app on my phone and I wrote down a quote I read, something a friend said over dinner, or a thought I had while jogging.

As I wrote and then connected these stories in a timeline, I noticed one consistent theme in every season of my life – paradox. A paradox is a feeling or experience that appears strange or backward in the moment, but it actually makes complete sense in the larger context.

I’ve come to believe our lives are shaped by these two principles: paradox and storytelling. You’ll see it’s true when you look back on your own life’s events in one, overarching story. You’ll discover there is a greater, unseen purpose behind it all, even when your circumstances don’t feel significant. When life doesn’t make sense, it’s because the plotline is still unfolding in ways you don’t expect. I wrote this book to help you see how these two principles are at work in your life.

Now, the great thing about stories is they’re universal – you have a life story, as does everyone else. And because every story ever written contains conflict, we know that we’ll all encounter conflict at some point in our lives. Sooner or later, we find ourselves facing a crossroads, difficult decisions, or relational strain. In these moments of tension, we don’t often understand the long-term significance of what’s developing. We rarely value the experience as we live it. It’s only after making it to the other side of conflict that we can look back, find meaning, and apply a new lesson to our lives as we keep on living forward.

While I’ve watched friends navigate conflicts that happen to them – illness, death, unexpected tragedies – my greatest struggles seem to rise up from within me – anxiety, fear, loneliness. Conflict in my story has felt like friendly-fire. Something that’s unexpected, bewildering, and it leaves you uncertain about how to fight back.

As you continue to read this blog and my latest book, Living Forward, Looking Backward, you’ll see that my story’s conflicts continually leave me saying, “This again?” I face the battles I thought I had already fought (and won) time and time again. It’s demoralizing to feel like I’m always re-fighting the same battles. Nonetheless, I’ve never kept a daily journal nor committed much time to reflect on my life, so I often repeat the errors from which I should have already learned. As you read on, my hope is that you learn from these mistakes.

More importantly, my hope is that you discover how these two concepts, the framework of storytelling and the principle of paradox, will help you uncover more meaning in the ordinary, everyday moments of your own life.

If you come from a faith-based worldview, you’ll notice that these two elements consistently and coherently align with the Christian worldview. If you don’t come from any faith-based worldview, keep reading. Understanding these elements will help you discover greater meaning in your everyday life too, regardless of your religious beliefs. 

Want to read more?

Make sure to check back each week for a new post, or, go ahead and download the complete first three chapters of Living Forward, Looking Backward below.