How to have a meaningful life without kids – Part 5/5 – Keep Your Focus on the Endgame.
Or, Don’t get too sidetracked by the mini-quests.
Do you ever play a video game, and get so wrapped up in a side quest that you lose sight of your main goal? You hunt around for a magical object that will open the gate to the new location, then gather information from the NPCs to track down the weapon, which you can then take back to the new location and finally defeat the latest boss, completing your side quest.
Obviously in a game, as soon as you finally finish all that, you can get back to the main goal. But in real life, some people either completely forget about the main quest, or they never knew about it in the first place. So when they finally finish the mini-quest, they’re left with… nothing. Just some useless sword that doesn’t seem to be good for anything.
The Problem with Mini-Quests
This is the disillusionment that falls over people who were focused on real life’s mini-quests. The mothers who had children because they thought it would make them happy; the success-driven business men and women who believed that once there was enough money they could relax; and the single, childfree people who pursued pure, momentary gratification believing that self-indulgence was the goal in life.
Dissatisfaction and disappointment don’t come from choosing a certain career or lifestyle. They come from putting one’s faith and hope for happiness in something outside of oneself. For example…
The problem with making financial security your life’s goal isn’t that money is bad. It’s that money is just a means to an end. When you focus on the means and lose sight of the end, your goals will shift. Because of that, when you finally do attain those new goals, you won’t be where you planned. Even Jen Sincero, money-loving author of You Are A Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth stresses that the manifestation of money in your life is a direct result of your badassery. She states that creating the truest, most successful version of yourself is the goal, and money is the means to that end.
The problem with making children your goal is that children are actual people. They are their own individual selves, not tools for your comfort. Being a parent and watching your children grow can be an immense source of comfort, but if your goal in life is to ‘be a mom,’ you’ll either be disillusioned by the reality of parenthood, or you’ll be disappointed when your kids grow up.
Being the Ideal Partner
If you’re in a relationship, of course you should try to be the best partner that you can be. But not at the exclusion of all else. How many times have you seen a woman who devoted herself to her man, raising his children, managing his life, etc., but at the end of 20+ years she was dumped and on her own? No employable skills, no knowledge of how to make her own way.
The lesson from this isn’t “never trust a man,” it’s “never cheat yourself.” As with the previous two examples, the problem arises when the focus of your life is something outside of yourself.
Gaining money, raising kids, and being the ideal partner are noble secondary goals (cool side quests). But none of them should be your all-time goal (they’re not what’s going to win the game).
So What Should My Main Quest Be?
To lead a meaningful life, your underlying focus and goal in all things must be to improve yourself. And when I say “improve,” that’s not to imply that you’re in a bad place. It just means you’re in your starting place at the beginning of the game. Think of every new thing you learn or accomplish as leveling up. The classes you take, volunteer work you do, and so forth are all power ups you pick up along the way.
Do you want to have children? Good. Enjoy those experience points. Do you want to travel the world? Go ahead. You’ll find plenty of ways to increase your awareness and add to your supply of knowledge. Want to amass wealth? Awesome, fill your inventory with items that will make your journey more comfortable. Whatever you do, remember that you are the main character in the story of your life.
But Isn’t That… Wrong?
We’re taught to believe that focusing on ourselves is bad, selfish, or downright hedonistic, but it’s not. When you’ve got the controller, your avatar is the only one you can control, so your well-being must be your focus. What’s selfish is dragging other people into your life and then sacrificing their well-being for yours (and that includes having kids you don’t really want).
So go out, travel, make money, indulge, and have fun. But don’t let these things become your goals or sources of happiness, or you’ll likely find yourself alone at the end of it all.
When one mini-quest is complete, move on to the next one. Don’t look back and tell yourself, “If I’d only made a different choice back at the last castle, I’d be happy!” The game isn’t over – you’ve just decided to stop in the middle and mourn a decision that, ultimately, wouldn’t affect the outcome in any significant way. If you get to 45 or 50 and think that you’d be happier if you’d had children, you’re wrong. Pinning your hope on someone else is never the answer. If you’d had kids, you’d just be unhappy in a different way.
Simply enjoy that fact that you are your goal; you are your quest. Because in the end, the only person you’ll really have, right up until your last breath, is your own amazing self.
Read the rest of the Meaningful Life series here:
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