This is the question that used to haunt me – like Private Ryan wondering if his life was good enough. I’m clearly not alone in this, having just been invited to speak at a central London event on ‘The Quarter Life Crisis’ – as loads of Millennials look to the future with the kind of searching questions that used to only plague people in their forties and fifties. Science sadly can’t help us with the answers. It can tell me how I came to be here, but it can’t tell me why, just as it can’t tell me why my children love me, why I prefer orange to purple, or why I make certain moral judgments.
So what’s my life all about?
Author & speaker John Stott’s last reported words of advice to his assistant before his death in 2011 were simply, ‘Do the hard thing.’ Don’t settle for the easy road – the path of least resistance will only end in dissatisfying mediocrity.
I wholeheartedly agree – the greatest stories always involve adversity. Frodo must go to Mordor; The Empire has to strike back; true love is so often nearly thwarted by pride, prejudice, or an asteroid hitting the earth that can only be stopped by a deep-sea oil driller. It just wouldn’t be the same if the Ring of Power could be destroyed in a second-hand Hobbit waste disposal, or Darth Vader had succumbed to a nasty flu-bug. Something within us loves the thrill of adventure, the possibility of defeat, triumphing against overwhelming odds.
So it is with life. Somehow paying off that mortgage after 35 years of hard work, then retiring to a cottage in the south of France isn’t enough. We all want a better story than that. Yet it’s funny how I spend so much of my life doing the opposite: avoiding risk, letting fear win, reaching for the blessed remote control and letting other people’s thoughts wash over me rather than thinking for myself. So many great stories don’t get written because we choose the easiest path.
What story are we writing with our lives?
These kinds of questions go deep; there are no easy answers; we don’t talk about them much. Most Friday night drinks-chats centre around the weekend’s sport, office politics, post-referendum fallout. Many people, however, have found Alpha hugely helpful in wrestling this stuff through (about 4 million in the UK, 28 million worldwide). It usually involves food, is a great chance to meet people, and provides an opportunity to talk about some of the deeper questions that don’t crop up down the pub, but can gnaw at us on the bus: ‘Does God exist?’ ‘Where is God when life hurts?’ “Is there more to life than this?”
If nothing else, it’s a place where you can make some amazing friends, and have significantly more than superficial conversations about the big stuff – whatever conclusions you come to.
For me, the answers to life’s biggest questions weren’t found through working out my own story, but instead through becoming part of another one – the same story that Bear Grylls, Bono, Martin Luther-King, Justin Welby and my Nan all discovered. I’ve not answered all the questions; I probably never will. But I’m not obsessed with my story any more. I’ve found an altogether better one.
You can find out more and sign up to Alpha here.