What the Hell is the Meaning of Life?
By Marty Nemko
When I was a teenager, I thought money was the answer. So, I took after-school jobs, and tried to buy my way into contentment: clothes, nice car. That didn’t do it.
Then I tried noble work—teaching in the inner-city. But the problems those kids faced were so big, so multi-dimensional, that despite my trying hard, very hard, I felt I wasn’t making much difference.
Next, I tried prestige: got a PhD from Berkeley, became a professor. But in my social science field, I often felt like an emperor with no clothes. So much social “science” is poorly substantiated, politically motivated theory. My students ate it up but I felt I was often feeding them ersatz food.
I’ve been trying the values route: focusing on what did I most value: work. To that end, I decided to be a career counselor. I believed that helping people find right livelihood would make my life feel meaningful. But now, 26 years and 4,000 clients later, despite a 96 percent client satisfaction rate and the San Francisco Bay Guardian naming me “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach,” that feels a bit empty too. Some of my work, for example, helping people to make the most of their current job—feels good. That helps them live up to their potential, and, in turn, their employer to provide good products and services. But too often, my clients come away with a plan they’re excited about but fail to execute. Even when a client lands a good job, I too often wonder if my efforts to package my client yielded a net negative to society: some more deserving person, who couldn’t afford a career coach, didn’t get the job.
I particularly value meritocracy. I believe that more good accrues from ensuring a meritocracy than nearly anything else. 30 years ago that would have meant dismantling the ol’ white boy’s network. But alas, today, the ol’ boy network has largely been replaced by the Diversity Industry, all-powerful and hell-bent on ensuring that women and minorities get slots in colleges and employment even when less qualified. The schools, colleges, and media, are very biased against men, especially white men. A result is that many fewer men than women are getting college degrees--In an era in which a degree is the basic prerequisite for most decent jobs, this is a disaster for men. While at the very top, men are still overrepresented--largely because they're willing to forgo recreation and other pursuits in favor of becoming the very best, for the other 99%, men are certainly not treated, on average, fairly, related to their merit. But The Diversity Industry is so powerful, it has shut off dissent. I have tried prodigiously to protest the rampant reverse discrimination and male-unfriendly schools and colleges, to no avail. When I write politically correct letters to the editor, they’re routinely published yet when I write to protest reverse discrimination, my letters are always censored. I've had over 1,000 columns and articles published, yet when I write about reverse discrimination, the pieces are deemed unworthy of publication. Ive written a screenplay on the topic, Affirmative Actions, which the London Daily News said was “Sure to trigger a bidding war” yet no film studio would touch it. My first five books, politically correct, have been published and critically and commercially successful, having sold over 200,000 copies. Yet, when I wrote what I believe is my best book, the politically incorrect “The Silenced Majority,” it was rejected by 28 of 28 publishers. So, Ive been totally censored, shut out. So much for living my values. Today, it seems that’s permissible only when your values are politically correct.
Many people find the meaning of life through relationships. While I have a pretty good marriage, I’m not sure the meaning of life, at least for me, fully resides there. And my only child, who is an ardent feminist, refuses to talk to me, in large measure because of my views on reverse discrimination. I am unlikely, as so many parents do, to find enough of life’s meaning through my family.
Many other people find the meaning of life in religious faith. But I can’t find meaning in a God that would, for example, allow deadly earthquakes or millions of babies to be born every year with horrifically painful diseases and then die months later leaving bereft parents.
Is that all there is? I'll soon turn 63, with signs of aging creeping in that remind me that the coming five years, or if I'm lucky, ten, will probably be my last highly productive years. I want to live as meaningful life as possible in the time I have. How the hell do I do it?
Here’s my current thinking, subject to revision. It comes down to spending as much time as possible using my best skills (writing and speaking) to make a difference.
My current choice is to stay focused on being the best career and life coach I can be, writing my weekly AOL and US News posts, doing my radio show, and advocating for two major education reforms:government requiring colleges to post, on its home page, substantive consumer information for prospective students, and a replacement for homework: dream-team-taught interactive online lessons for each of the standards in the Common Core curriculum now being adopted nationwide.
I guess I should be grateful--that's a pretty full life. Yet somehow, I still feel empty. Maybe I'm just constitutionally a kvetch.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2013. Usage Rights