Here's the Reason It's Not What We Do, but Why That Counts
Thought, Word, or Action. Which do you believe to be the most important?
We might be missing an important ingredient in our own equations on how to build a life of meaning. It's this meaning that needs to precede our blueprints and plans on how to improve our quality of choices, and methods we take when moving towards our goals.
Analogy of the Test
Let's say that two students taking the same course are both participating in a test presented to their class. Both of these classmates studied and answered all of the questions on test day. Ultimately, while the first student goes onto scoring an "A", the second walks away with a "C+".
What happened here? Given that both students studied, took the same test, and answered all of the questions, shouldn't they both receive an A? What is the difference between the two, if all actions objectively appeared to be the same?
Well, the first student has a genuine interest in the subject they are taking—using a good portion of his or her time studying and relating to the course's materials. When they graduate, they dream of being in their ideal field, doing work from their passions. The second student is required to take this class for their degree, and their parents enforce a certain amount of study time that their child needs to abide by or get their luxuries (phone, computer, internet) taken away.
The thing that sets these two students apart is why they were studying, and why they took the test. Passion and proactive thinking in one hand, and reactive fear-driven need in the other.
Doing the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons
This absurd theoretical tale takes place every day, in many places outside of the classroom. Someone may get a pay raise where others do not. Some may graduate with only a degree—yet get disenchanted when they are missing the necessary certifications for their career choice. Our actions often become obscured by our belief that; "If I do it this way, then this must happen." When it doesn't, we become overly pessimistic and resentful towards others.
When examining a relationship's decline in health, a common theme is that one party had put in what they felt was "too much" in comparison to their partner's efforts. When they fail to live up to expectations and react in kind, an argument ensues that can and in some cases leads up to a separation. Is the affection we show others a reflection of our own higher virtues, or is it to reap some eventual reward for doing so? By shining some light to the motives behind our actions, we can see what emotions and visions guide us towards our doings and eventual outcomes.
Ancient Greek Philosopher Plato had what is known as a Theory of Forms. In it, he details that all physical reality is the result of a form—rather an idea of what a finished creation would look like. In order to cook something, we don't simply throw ingredients together and hope for the best (sometimes we might!), but instead, follow a recipe—a diagram of what this dish is to ideally turn out as. Before the first brick is laid for a building, Architects design with great mathematical detail the structure of a skyscraper, taking into account the differing weight of materials to ensure that the finished building doesn't collapse. These are forms.
When taking Plato's theory of forms and pitting them up against ideologies of today; there is no right, wrong, nor absolute way to do anything. There is no hallmark of what beauty is supposed to be, as there is no such thing as being an ideal parent. If perfection as we know it only exists in illusion, how do we make use of forms to transform our own day to day lives?
Our actions often become obscured by our belief that; "If I do it this way, then this must happen." When it doesn't, we become overly pessimistic and resentful towards others.
You Can't Spell Ideal Without Idea
As we can't turn to society to answer the same questions created within ourselves. There have been an insurmountable amount of pressure and expectations that causes a person to avert looking for their own answer, when there are already so many others available and provided to us from external sources. What one person's idea of the perfect student may vastly differ from anothers—the same going for success, and love in relationships.
In order to have a meaningful existence, we should first give our actions meaning. What are your ideas surrounding a success? What habits, traits and routines do you believe will make you a successful individual? When we can find the ideas to make up our own foundation, it becomes essential to ask ourselves why these actions are necessary to complete the form. It's only when we are able to identify our own reasons to take steps toward reaching our own ideals and goals, our actions become more congruent with the initial thoughts and visions that initially fueled our gameplan.
It is naive to believe that one can accidentally paint a masterpiece, make a song, or write a book that vastly differs from the golden ideas that first formulated in their minds. What many perceive to be luck, actually consist of the unseen thoughts and "whys" a person has long before the actions they execute.
The next time that you see an artwork, game, or any type of media that makes you stand or sit awestruck in it's magnificance—stop and think. What types of ideas, what types reasons would a person need to have in order to produce a work of that magnitude? The products produced, and the results we see are always a reflection of our core thoughts and beliefs.