I haven’t blogged for a long while – life has been busy, but truth be told, I miss it. As I was going through all my unfinished articles in the Draft folder, I realized in order to write and publish more, I needed to remember what Winston Churchill once said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” I need not to worry about perfecting all my articles – just sit down to reflect & write. With this realization, I’m publishing my unpublished articles with minimum updates.
In Part 1 of this article, I reflected on my personal experience dealing with the recent passing of family members and friends. In this article, I will share a millennial’s view on life.
What is the meaning of life? I constantly ask myself this question. To study life, one inevitably needs to study death. Steve Jobs put it well, “Death is one single greatest invention by life…” The recent losses I experienced have given me a deeper understanding of life. Three of my favorite books that explore this ultimate question of life suddenly make more sense to me.
1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
“It’s a thrill to fulfill your own childhood dreams, but as you get older, you may find that enabling the dreams of others is even more fun.”
My grandparents were the ultimate dream enablers. At my grandmother’s funeral, my dad delivered the obituary. He sobbed out an account of grandma’s life and how she enabled her children’s dreams. Both of my grandparents grew up in rural China. Grandma was illiterate, and Grandpa never had much formal education; however, they firmly believed in the power of education. They were poor but bent backwards to send their children to school. When my dad was in high school, there was one especially difficult year. He saw the family was struggling to keep food on the table so was determined to drop out of school and help the family with farming. My grandparents firmly refused my dad’s offer, “You need to finish schooling. We would sell our blood to help you finish.”
Grandma and grandpa’s sacrifice and dedication to their children laid a solid foundation for the next generation. They enabled their children to dream. This dream allowed them to break through from poverty and leave the village for the better.
2. Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande
In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens.
Dr. Gawande is a proclaimed physician who frequently deals with deaths. He made an important point in Being Mortal that medicine is much more than prolonging life. It’s about creating true wellness—making each of our life stories meaningful according to things we value.
What kind of life story am I creating at this moment? As I reflect on my person journey thus far, I would summarize it with two words: achieving & loving.
1. Achieving: thanks to “effectance motive” we all have this deep desire to better ourselves—it gives us joy to develop proficiency in something. When I was younger, that was schooling. English was my worst subject in elementary school. I hated it. My parents signed me up for weekend English classes to help me catch up, but I fell behind even more. I dreaded going to these classes—so much so that I always found creative ways to skip or show up late. Fortunately, my 7th grade English teacher, Ms. Zhang, magically turned things around. First, she believed in me and told me I’m a smart kid who worked hard. Second, she always told the students her stories of working as an interpreter in Hong Kong. I always wanted to get out of my hometown and explore the world, so her stories gave me a strong WHY behind learning English. Middle school in many ways paved the way for lots of my future endeavors. In college, I served on the boards of five student organizations (being the president of two, co-founder of one) and completed internships at three global corporations…
“Achieving one’s full potential” is the main theme of WeZBest; it sounds positive and inspiring, but it can also be a dangerous trap at the same time. It can trick you to believe that your worth is built upon your worldly achievement (“My life is meaningful only if I achieve success”). It can elude you to chase after success without having feet on the ground (“I’m too good to do the basic work”). It can also rob your happiness from the presence (“I’ll be happy when I hit that milestone.”)
In college senior year, I started to go to church and became a believer. This is a testimony I gave at Grace Covenant Church, the college ministry I attended—I spoke about the danger of the achieving mentality and why the Christian faith helped me find the greatest peace and love:
2. Loving: As described in the speech above, going to church in senior year helped me to realize life as a human is not about achieving, but more about loving. From studying the Bible, attending church fellowship, and serving the homeless, I started to truly understand why Jesus called “Love your neighbor as yourself” the second greatest commandment. I also started to view my professional life through the lens of spirituality. My motivation for work changed as I soaked up the love I felt from the Christian community. “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14, 16) I realized that success is not about achieving more but about using my talents to radiate warmth and love for others.
Even outside religions, love is still a fundamental part of life. In Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathon Hidt pointed out that “love and work are, for people, obvious analogues to water and sunshine for plants.” He also quoted Leo Tolstoy, “One can live magnificently in this world, if one knows how to work and how to love, to work for the person one loves and to love one’s work.”
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
3. 向死而生：我修的死亡学分 (Living Towards Death: My Experience on Dying) by Kaifu Lee
Kaifu Lee is the founder of Sinovation Ventures and former President of Google Greater China. As a survivor of stage 4 lymphoma cancer, he summarized the seven lessons he learned in Live for Death: My Experience on Dying. My biggest takeaway from this book is learning how to live now.
He asked himself, “If I truly only have 100 days left on this earth, what would I do?” He wrote:
I will let my family know how much I love them. True living is the combination of the memorable moments we had together: the honeymoon with my wife, the fun time with my children, eating food we love, and doing things we love. I wish while I’m alive, live fully in every second—not to think about my company 24-7… Only when I slowed down, lived in the present moment, I started to enjoy the beauty of this world. Don’t wait for that “special day” to enjoy life. Why not make every single day special? Why wait until the last 100 days of your life? This is to live a fulfilled and enriched life.
To learn more about his book, check out this article by him.
My life purpose had been largely defined by the impact I could make in this world, but I now know love is what truly matters in life. I’d like to conclude