Why My Life Felt Pointless Even When I Was Succeeding at It

After I published my first novel, I thought finally I had reached my goal, my defining moment of success, that legitimate status, and from then on I could soak up the glory of a life with purpose and meaning. . . . but that’s not what happened.
In fact, the hole I had felt my entire life felt bigger. Why? WHY! I told myself it was because I didn’t have enough success, didn’t make enough money, or hadn’t accomplished enough yet. So I drove myself like a mule in an effort to get more, but then I would get burnt out really fast and whenever I felt crisp and black, I’d find myself looking up from the bottom of that pit wondering, is anything I’m doing really important and if it isn’t then why am I doing it? I’d find myself without an answer, and suddenly everything felt meaningless. I didn’t know what to do with that, so I just pushed the thought away, forced myself back up, and kept pushing.

I’ve always struggled with the need for meaning. Growing up, I thought that need would be satiated by discovering what it was I was talented at. When I got into high school, I thought the same thing about what I’d be when I grew up, in college it was about choosing a major, and after graduation it was about building a career. When I discovered my passion for writing fiction, I thought, "Finally, this is it!" And I pursued publishing with gusto certain that when I held my first book in my hands, everything would change . . . but it didn’t.

It wasn’t until two years after achieving all my goals and after a psychologist diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder that I finally got the slap in the face I needed. I stumbled onto an article that said generalized anxiety is essentially a lack of trust and especially a lack of trust in the Almighty – in God. When I read that, I was appalled because it’s not that simple for people who have a disorder, but then I honestly considered whether or not it was true for me. Did I trust in prayer anymore? Or the Bible? Or even in God? It was like I had the wind knocked out of me! Somewhere along the way, I had lost my faith.

More Good Foundation via Flickr cc.
With that realization, I fell to my knees and wept, begging God for forgiveness and for guidance. When I finally got back up, he did guide me. He guided me to take it slow and make a list of things I needed to do to regain my spirituality. That was the summer of 2015. Today, things look very different than they did one year ago. I’m not cured of my anxiety nor am I without problems, but I’m not struggling with perpetual meaninglessness anymore either.

My experience has been quite transformative, and I’d like to share some of the realizations I had along the way:

Realizations of Purpose & Meaning From My Year Climbing Out of the Pit 

No Longer Living For Myself

I’m not a god: I was not created to achieve my goals or pursue my dreams or gain the glory of my accomplishments. Before, I believed in God, but I didn’t rely on God, and I didn’t concern myself with his will, only my own. I was trying to live for myself and rely only on myself. I was trying to be my own god, which  is, you know, the reason satan fell from grace!

By Jacopo Romei via Flickr cc.
We were designed to live for God: I've come to realize that we were designed to love and focus on God, to serve and let him lead our lives, and when we don’t, we are miserable. Living for God is actually one of our purposes as human beings. It’s how we were made. I learned a lot about what we were designed for from a fantastic book and video collection called What on Earth Am I Hear For?

Living for God does not mean being super religious: Being a servant of God means that no matter what I’m doing, work or otherwise, I’m doing it for God. This doesn’t mean that everything I do is “religious.” I’m not going to start writing Christian fiction just because I'm living for God. If God called me to do that, that would be different, but it's not a given.

Living for God is about dedication: What is dedication? Even people who go to church and who are good people aren’t always fully dedicated. I know because I was once one of them. For me, living for God has been about dedicating myself and everything I do to God and Jesus, giving him authority over my life, and letting him fuel my efforts. When I finally submitted everything I was to God and gave myself to him in the literal sense of a servant, I realized how much purpose and meaning my life actually has.   

What dedication looked like for me: If you were wondering about that list of spiritual to-dos I mentioned earlier, the ones I wrote after my slap in the face, here they are in a nutshell: Start talking to God again. Stat reading the Bible daily. Attend church regularly. Join a Bible study group. Volunteer within the church. Volunteer in the community. Start being open about your faith and talk to people about God.

Each step was small at the time and taken over the course of a year, each time waiting until God actually called me to the next thing. 

What does dedication look like to you?

We were designed to love each other: We were made to live for others and not for ourselves. When we focus on ourselves and no one else, we cannot find things like meaning or purpose. When showing others love is a priority, the simplest of acts can have great significance.

It’s not about giving up who you are: When I first asked myself if I was willing to sacrifice my hopes and dreams for whatever it was that God wanted of me, I was scared. I was afraid He would take me away from writing, but the truth is God gave us our talents and our passions for a reason. He wanted us to pursue them.

Excelling for God: Doing a good job at something God gave me the ability to do brings Him joy because He made me. Just like parents are joyed to see their children excel, even if it’s just at toiletry.

God may use me in unexpected ways: It’s impossible to know how, but anything I do might directly or indirectly be used by God for a purpose. By living with a dedicated mindset my daily choices are going to be made keeping God in mind, giving me purpose from the smallest of moments.

Fulfilling God’s will on God’s time: When I realized I was on God’s time, I could feel confident that when I didn’t reach a specific goal or achievement by a certain time, that was okay. It will happen when God knows it should happen.

I can rely on God’s strength: I don’t have to figure everything out. If I don’t achieve all of my goals or become the best of the best, that doesn’t matter. It’s not that I failed or couldn’t do it. It means that what I did accomplish was exactly what God needed me to accomplish.

The pressure is off: When I stopped living for myself, all of that pressure to gain more success, more money, more accomplishment in an effort to find meaning was no longer there.

The Meaning of Life
By Martinak15 via Flickr cc.
Everything is more meaningful with God: As soon as I realized that I was willing to sacrifice my wants for God’s, my day-to-day work and life became that much more meaningful because I was a useful person for the Almighty. I am confident I'm part of his plan and that he will use me for his work, which is kind of a big deal.

God uses me in meaningful ways: The things that God has directed me toward in the past year have been things of great meaning. I volunteered to help with the children on Easter Sunday and that day a little girl asked me to help her accept Jesus into her heart. I will never forget that and from that it was clear God wanted me to work with the children's ministry. Then as I tried to live a life of love, I felt myself constantly conflicted about the homeless, so I called up the local shelter, thinking there was no way they could utilize me, but it turned out they needed someone to write their newsletter! 

Lasting meaning: When I’m gone from this earth someday, whatever worldly achievements I made will fade away, but the achievements I made for God will continue to ripple through the generations.

My life finally makes sense: When I stopped trying to achieve glory for myself and started winning it for God, I finally understood the answer to that classic question, why am I here? I am here to bring Glory to God in everything I do and for the first time, things finally make sense.

About Stephanie Carroll
Stephanie Carroll is the author of A White Room and "Forget Me Not" featured in Legacy: An Anthology. She blogs about magical realism, her research into the Victorian Era and Gilded Age, writing, and life in general at www.stephaniecarroll.net and at The Unhinged Historian. She also founded Unhinged and Empowered, a blog for Navy wives and girlfriends.

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