The world is messy.
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There’s 7 billion people in the world. Each person makes 100s of decisions every day. That’s 700 billion+ decisions bumping up against one another, shaping and reshaping buildings, cities, businesses, governments, families, relationships. In this single moment that you’re reading this post, anything and everything could be happening in the world all at once.
The moment you step into the world, you will feel that messiness. Step out into a crowded street: so many lives, so many stories, all meeting in this moment, affecting one another.
Where do you fit into this mess? When you push up against the world, what effect will you have? That’s the ultimate question of meaning and purpose that most of us face.
Just shove your hands into the mud and get started.
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In the messy world that we live in, we can never control everything. In fact, we can barely control anything. It’s simple numbers: 1 person vs. 7 billion people. A single person simply cannot control most of anything. The only thing we really control is our own decisions. We don’t get even to control how people respond to and are affected by our decisions. Their response is their own; we don’t control them. All we get is our decisions.
When we try to act in the world, we like to imagine it going exactly as planned. We hope our actions and words are like beacons, shining a light that guides everyone to the correct path. In truth, it’s more like we’re yelling out into the darkness, hoping that someone will yell back in response.
The question of meaning becomes difficult when we control so little. Meaning, for most people, is about contributing to the world, improving the lives of others. A parent gets his sense of meaning from raising his kids. An entrepreneur gets her meaning from creating an important business. But how does someone begin to contribute to the world when their impact feels so out of their control?
I say: just start. Get your hands dirty, and just start. You can’t control everything; you can’t control most things. But you can control yourself. You can try to help others. Yell out into the darkness. Wait for people to respond. You won’t know when or if they’ll respond. But wait. Some will come. Help them. Continue on this journey for as long as you can.
One day, if you continue on this journey for long enough, and you truly help others, your contribution will become apparent. One person helped can add up to two, then three, then five, then 10, then 100, then 1000. Suddenly, people will come to you without even having to yell out to them first.