Finding Meaning and Purpose, and How We are All Slaves to Money

Weeeeeeeeeee I’m here! And it feels so goooooood. I will be honest, I was not feeling good my first few days here. I was physically exhausted from my trip and emotionally exhausted from going through all sorts of stuff. Apparently it’s my Saturn return. I’ve never had the time to get too into astrology but it always seems to describe whatever situation I’m in perfectly so it’s definitely something I can’t ignore. Luckily, I’ve had the luxury of being able to take my time and not do anything at all for a few days.

I was super excited to get everything all lined up here right away and do this and that and all that jazz and snazz, but quickly realized I needed to rest. Understanding my pasty body has been a focus of mine ever since I was diagnosed with severe Ulcerative Colitis at age 17. It has been a difficult process, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve seen the lowest lows and the highest highs in regards to my health.

The timing of my diagnosis wasn’t great. Not that there’s a good time to be diagnosed with a chronic illness, but my parents had just gotten divorced and I was going straight off to college. It’s one thing to transition from adolescence to independent adulthood in its own right, but doing so with a newly fractured family and a fresh case of chronic disease will put anyone in a state of chaos. And that’s exactly what I was in. I was lost. And I mean lost. Like really lost.

Everything I thought I knew was shattered and I had to adjust to an entirely new life. “You can still live a full life, but it’s going to be different,” is what the doctor told me. What the fuck does that mean? Then he handed me a pamphlet explaining my disease. It doesn’t tell you the best way to live with the disease. It doesn’t even tell you how to take care of the disease. It only tells you that it’s kind of different for everyone and you’re just going to have to figure it out.

So, that’s what I’ve spent years doing. Just figuring it out. Almost ten years later, I’ve got a good handle on it, but it wasn’t easy and it well never be easy. It’s a constant battle between how much I can push myself and how much I need to step back and allow my body to recover. There are the things I want to do and the things I can do, and they don’t always match up. Sacrifices have to made. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away from having a chronic illness. Sometimes in life, you just have to make sacrifices. You have to let things go. You have to accept that things aren’t always going to be what you thought they were. And that’s just fine. Sometimes there’s something more beautiful than you ever thought possible on the other side.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my illness. I wouldn’t say I’m happy that I have it, but if I could go back in time and never get the disease, I wouldn’t do it. If it never happened, I don’t think I would have taken a train around the country by myself at 18. I don’t think I would have spent 37 days on the road. I don’t think I would have pursued my high-risk dreams. I was on track for the typical American life before my diagnosis. A smart, upper-middle class kid who got good grades, was going to a good business college, destined to work in a stuffy office for some corporation so he could make enough money to support a family where the kids could do the same thing when they grow up, regurgitating the cycle of the supposed American dream for generations to come.

Maybe, even if I never touched the finger tips of death, I would have come to the realization that most of us are slaves to money and live a life of unsatisfied confusion, constantly grasping at something we think we want. But I’m not sure.

Everything in our culture is centered around money. How we define “success” is almost entirely based on money. We don’t describe the person making $20 an hour living in an apartment, who is in control of their health, has meaningful and stable relationships, finds purpose every day they wake up, and treats people with grace and respect as “successful.” Yet, we describe the multi-millionaire CEO with a 5,000 square foot house, no time to see their fractured family, addicted to their work and their vices, constantly chasing more money and status so they can fill the empty void in their soul as “successful.”

We encourage the ladder. We say “Look how successful he is!” “Look what you can become if you work hard.” “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more women CEO’s?” “Wouldn’t it be great if you were like them?” We paint this type of life as the pinnacle of success, when in reality it’s closer to the pinnacle of addiction. We prioritize money over purpose. But money has no end game. When you find purpose in your life, you don’t feel the need to gather up more and more purpose. You already have it, and it’s all you need.

The rat race mentality seeps into everything we do and say. The pursuit of happiness. That’s the goal, right? Happiness. But just like money, happiness is fleeting. You can always chase more money, and you can always chase a more elevated feeling of happiness. You know when I’ve felt the happiest in my life? When I’m on drugs. Happiness isn’t a prolonged state of being, it’s a feeling, just as fleeting as any other.

What we really want is satisfaction and meaning. We want to feel like our life is worth living, that what we are doing is meaningful, and we want to be satisfied with simply being alive. I’d much rather be able to sit comfortably on top of a mountain with nothing but my own thoughts than be able to buy a city. But that’s not the culture we live in.

We hear statements like, “never stop, never settle” and think of them as prophetic guiding points of motivation. I’d love to be settled. I’d love it everyone was more settled, happy with what they have and content with life in its simplest form. But that’s not a catchy message. Nobody wants to hear, “chill the fuck out and be happy with the biological miracle that is your human body.” We’re desperate for someone to tell us what to do, because we’re desperate to constantly be doing something; because it has to lead to something better, right? Right?

Jason Brendel
Jason Brendel

Jason Brendel is an author, poet, and comedian living in Austin, Texas. Navigate the buttons below to follow him on social media, make a donation, or purchase his collection of laugh-out-loud poetry on Amazon.

8 thoughts on “Finding Meaning and Purpose, and How We are All Slaves to Money

  1. You have very tellingly captured the dilemma of our present day civilisation which can not see beyond money and the crazily cherished material success it brings in its wake! And in the process, we gloss over the real purpose and meaning of life, thus compounding our civilisational misery! A sure way to ruin and perdition!

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