In 1967, a generation of young Americans emerged from the Summer of Love with a radically different view of how they wanted to live their lives. Now, 54 years later, we’ve arrived in the Autumn of Meaning.
Lurching toward a post-pandemic life, we find ourselves in a form of collective mid-life crisis. People of all ages are confronting questions that in normal times haunt mainly the older set whose kids have left the nest and whose lives feel half empty.
The winds carrying Covid-19 spread more than just the virus. They dispersed seeds of discontent that have taken root in our shared consciousness.
We thought life would improve once we got vaccinated. Instead we feel agitated by the ghost of Socrates who is whispering in our ears: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”It’s okay if you feel rattled. The ground beneath us shifted when we contemplated the real possibility of death from an invisible threat. Fundamentals changed even more if you lost loved ones to the virus or you experienced trauma incessantly as health care workers did. We each must find our new place to stand and redefine the source of our well-being.
Many of us are unaccustomed to scrutinizing ourselves and the choices we’ve made. We use external markers, such as raises and promotions, as milestones to tell us whether our lives are on track. Now we look around and wonder if those socially-sanctioned measures of success mean much to us at all.
What is the meaning of life?
Before the pandemic, few of us lost sleep grappling with the meaning of life. Big Questions stayed in the background, popping up before big birthdays or on New Year’s Eve. COVID-19 brought existential questions to the foreground. Now questions about our purpose and full promise command our attention.
For some, this newfound focus uplifts. For others, it frightens. Either way, there is no escaping the salient call for self-inquiry. We’re seekers now, looking for direction, wisdom and abiding truths.
Notwithstanding The Great Resignation trend, we need not quit our jobs to contemplate what gives us fulfillment. On the contrary, we should make self-reflection an on-going practice, much as we do with exercise.
Introspection is a skill, and we can learn it. As with any skill, mastering the art of introspection takes time, discipline and practice. This is the time. This is the Autumn of Meaning.
The zeitgeist of this moment is a longing to examine our lives. When a new generation looks back on us decades from now, they will recognize our passionate, collective pursuit to grasp the meaning of life, and to experience each unto ourselves a life imbued with meaning.