It had been a long night.
In a twist of events that he still couldn’t manage to wrap his mind around, the man who had found himself on top of the world for years on end suddenly found himself broken and confused, mocked by those around him, the laughing stock of the entire country. With his jaw clenched and his brows furrowed, he flew down the staircase and nervously pushed through the crowd that now scorned him, fighting the tears that begged to break through the surface of his eyelids. How could this day possibly get any worse?
As he passed a few more curious passersby—knocking a few out of his way as he hurried from the scene—he suddenly came to a halt, stopping dead in his tracks as he caught his reflection in the curbside puddle that greeted him at the edge of the curb and the street before him. He knelt down and looked into his reflection curiously, passing his fingers through the water as he pensively thought to himself. The chiseled jawline, the perfectly-styled, cropped lion’s mane that was his hair, those striking blue eyes…they all looked back at him, asking him how he had managed to bring himself to such a lowly and deprived state. How could he, of all people, have succumbed to such embarrassment and humiliation?
As Derek Zoolander looked into the puddle before him, with his own reflection staring right back at him, a profound, three-worded question came to his mind. It would haunt him for all time.
“Who am I?”
If we want to be real with ourselves, this is a question we’ve all asked at some point in our lives. We’ve all had those moments where we just look in the mirror and, as we ponder the meaning of life, ask ourselves, “Who am I?” “What makes me tick?” “What makes me, me?” “What is my purpose on earth?” “Why do I do the things I do?” We’ve all had those moments where we suddenly recognize our natural need for self-discovery, when we spot the truth that lies in the fact that, as much as we delude ourselves into believing the contrary, we don’t know who we truly are. And, in all honesty, it scares us. It terrifies us. It makes us realize that we have no true grasp on the reality that is our life.
Who would have thought that Zoolander could have been so philosophical?
Often, the moments that follow this revelatory pondering invoke two different responses, splitting the human race right down the middle as they try to determine how to answer this question. The first response involves a group that asks themselves this question and then immediately proceeds to busy themselves with outward, totally-unrelated things, keeping their minds at work and attempting to keep their brain too busy to waste its time being preoccupied with such scary, philosophical ideas of not knowing one’s true meaning. This works as a temporary catharsis to the question at hand, yes, but ultimately it bears no fruit. The question always returns, no matter how much they push it off.
The second response, on the other hand, involves a group that recognizes the importance of this question and immediately sets out to discover the definitive answer, embarking on a daring quest of self-discovery that will finally allow them to take comfort in truly knowing who they really are, why they are here on earth, and what that means in the grander scheme of things. It’s a perilous journey that has many mountains to climb and seas to cross, but in the end, they have answered the lifelong question to who they are.
If you couldn’t tell already, I’d like to believe that I would find myself in the latter group of the two. I believe that this simple question—who am I? —requires an answer, and I also believe it’s something you shouldn’t keep brushing off until it’s too late. We only have one chance at life, so why would we waste the good majority of it not knowing who we are? It doesn’t make sense to simply ignore the question, so the logical next step to take would be to go out and find the answer.
Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you:
The bad news is that sadly, there is no definitive answer to this question. If you want me to expressly tell you who you are, I hate to disappoint you, but I’m stuck in a corner. I can’t give you that answer, nor can I find that answer for anyone but myself.
The good news is that I can provide you with another question that can kick off your journey to self-discovery. The good news is that there is an answer out there, but the answer can’t be found in simply asking yourself who you are. No, there’s a different question you need to ask, and by answering that question, you will, in turn, be able to answer your initial question. By answering that question, you will have a sudden understanding of who you are and why you make the decisions you make, why you think the way you do, why you feel the way you feel.
The question is this: where do you find your meaning?
Cliché, I know, but I’ve found that all clichés have become cliché for a reason: within them, there is always a layer of truth. If you really want to know who you are—if you really want to know what makes you, you—you have to figure out where you find meaning in life. Where you find your meaning will undoubtedly control how you think, why you act, and where your mind aims its focus. Sure, this can be influenced by culture, religion, family, friends, anything you’ve been surrounded by as you’ve grown up and expanded your mind, but ultimately it is determined by you and you alone. Your parents can rear you and provide you with ideals to strive for and influence how you see life, yes—and thousands of psychological studies will prove that this definitely has a hefty influence on the decisions we make and how we view the world—but we are beings of free will, beings who can think on our own, beings who make our own decisions, beings who see things from our own eyes. Every person is unique, every person can think on their own behalf, and every person has meaning. They just need to find what that meaning truly is.
But once again, this question isn’t very simple to answer either. I’m a runner, but do I find my meaning at the finish line? No. I’m a college student, but do I find my meaning in the grade I make on a test? No. I’m a writer, but do I find my meaning in the words before me? No. I find my meaning in none of these things, and thus none of these things define who I am. Sure, my body is wired to enjoy these various pursuits, but I do not find my meaning within any one of them.
I will not go into a depression because I lost a race.
I will not have a heart attack because I got a low score on a test.
I will not cry like a baby because I haven’t finished an entire book yet.
I won’t have any of those responses because I don’t find meaning in any of those things. Why would I respond so dramatically to something that doesn’t define my life? In doing so, I would be wasting my life away, getting my mind sidetracked on the things that have no long-term influence whatsoever. Once again, I must emphasize that we only have one chance at life: we need to make of it what we can! If I lose a race, I will train harder. If I get a low score on a test, I will study more. If I haven’t finished writing a book, I will look for some spare time to set to writing. There’s a difference in something making you happy and you finding happiness in that thing. These things can make me happy, but I don’t find my happiness within them, simple as that.
This is where we begin to find what it truly means to find your meaning in something: it has to be something that alters you. If this particular thing were taken away from you, your world would metaphorically come crashing down on all sides, and you’d find yourself in the midst of a severe anxiety attack, struggling for breath as you fought to make sense of the world. It’s the thing you depend upon for happiness. It’s the thing that you are the proudest of, the thing that you compare pretty much everything else to. Think about this: if somebody were to ask your closest friend to state the one thing you found the greatest happiness in, their answer would probably say a lot about you. That answer—that one thing—is where you most likely find your meaning. That one thing probably shows you who you are.
For some, they find their meaning in sports. Their entire lives they’ve been told they’d be the “next big thing,” and all of a sudden that moment comes, and they jump forward to stardom. But then, after some freak accident, they have that one thing taken away from them, and their world comes crashing down on all sides.
For others, they find their meaning in money. They’ve worked their whole life to have that one job—and now that they have it, they’re living well and they find their happiness in the thing they’ve set themselves up for their entire lives. Yet all of a sudden, some financial crisis results in them being fired from their job and with no income. Their world spirals, and they find themselves at the bottom of a dark, dark pit, one they are unsure they will ever be able to crawl out of.
For still others, they find their meaning in family. They live and breathe to sustain their family, but all of a sudden, disease strikes. Their son gets cancer. Their wife miscarries. Something happens, they experience major loss, and there’s a major crisis. They succumb to depression, and their entire personality changes. Their walls build up, they express less emotion.
For Zoolander, he found his meaning in fashion. Then Hansel shows up, usurps him from his throne, and he suddenly realizes he isn’t the top dog anymore. He leaves the fashion industry – or attempts to, at least – and tries to find his true inner self.
Still others may find their meaning in possessions, in relationships, in social status.
For me, I find my meaning in God.
Now, this article isn’t me trying to convert anyone – those articles will come later. This article is me showing how I found my meaning and, subsequently, determined who I am. I believe that I am justified in doing so and I believe that I have found the right thing to put my meaning into, but I will make no such claims in this article, and I will not spend this time trying to convince you to make the same decision as myself. Instead, I will explain my point of view of finding meaning in life and the influence that this meaning I’ve found has had on my life and how I view the world. My greatest hope is that, in reading my narration, you will discover your own meaning as well.
The truth is this: I have been saved since I was five years old, so I don’t have any crazy testimony. I was raised in a Christian school, I had plenty of the verses memorized, I was a wiz in Bible trivia, and I even led Bible studies. I was a born-and-raised Protestant, so I can’t provide you with some thought-provoking testimony that will make you also find your meaning in God.
No, that’s not where this story starts. Instead, I’d like to fast-forward to just a year ago, when I found myself at the lowest point in my life. Here I was—the optimistic, seemingly always happy kid who had the energy of the Energizer bunny—but I wasn’t happy. I was low. I was broken. I had everything I could have ever asked for and more on top of that, but I wasn’t happy. Recent events had sent me crashing down, and I felt everything collapsing in on me at what seemed like one time. To others, it probably seemed like nothing, but to me, it seemed like everything.
So I ran to God.
Now, this is where it gets interesting, because while I had been a devoted follower of Christ since the age of five, I hadn’t found my meaning in Him. I let the things of this world—the things “under the sun”—define who I was, and while I walked around parading my Biblical knowledge and trying to let the instructions of the Bible establish my actions, I didn’t find my meaning in those words. The Bible told me to treat my body like a temple, so I worked out a lot, I tried to eat healthy. It told me to make disciples of the nations, so I’d try to preach to people through my attitude and actions, walking around with the smile on my face and speaking encouraging words to people. I didn’t cuss, I didn’t drink, I didn’t do things that I’d consider stupid. I thought I was living the life that God wanted me to live.
But I wasn’t happy.
And that’s when all of it came into perspective for me! As I reached the lowest point in my life, wondering how I would ever find happiness again, everything all of a sudden made sense. My faith was in God, yes, but I was like the disciples as they sat in their boat in the midst of a great, great storm, calling out in fear for their lives. The difference was that instead of being out on a boat, I was sitting out on a pier. Instead of calling out in fear, I scribbled into a journal. Instead of facing a literal storm, I faced a mental one.
But in both cases, we—the disciples and I—heard the same message: “You of little faith!” (Matt. 8:26)
As I sat on that pier, scribbling my pain away onto some meaningless paper, it all of a sudden clicked. I looked up to the sky, placed my journal and pen on the rotted wood at my side, and laughed. The answer had been before me all along: none of it mattered.
I had been a Christian, yet my meaning hadn’t been found in God. I had tried to live according to His Word, but more out of obligation than desire. I had studied His Word day and night. I had tried to spread it to others. I had felt that passion, longed for that eternal promise found within the book’s final pages. But still, my meaning hadn’t been found in Him.
Instead, my meaning had been found in the world, and once those things started crumbling, I panicked. The optimistic, happy David Tate suddenly showed up to school with a neutral expression. The Energizer bunny had become a turtle. The encourager became the discouraged. The talkative, crazy guy became the quiet, contemplative one. I was disappointed with how things had turned out, and I ran to the only thing I had left.
And all of this mounted up to make me realize: why hadn’t I just gone to God in the first place? I ran to God only when I had nothing left, when in reality He should have been my go-to from the very start. Here I claimed to be best friends with Him on the outside, yet I only went to Him whenever there was nothing else to turn to. I suddenly realized that the things of this world will pass away, but there is one thing that will never pass away, and the answer had been part of my life since I was five years old; I had just hardened my heart and put my meaning in something else. In something that was as fragile as life itself. And the moment that that thing broke, so did I.
But God won’t break. Nor is He fragile. Nor will He leave you.
All of a sudden, I found my new meaning. That’s how I could set my journal down and laugh. My life took a drastic turn out on that pier, and the moment I set that journal down, I knew my life had changed. No longer would I be a Christian who lived the life God wanted out of obligation—instead, I would do it out of desire. I wouldn’t be optimistic anymore simply to help lift others up—I would be optimistic because when God is on your side, what can bring you down? I wouldn’t be energetic to try to introduce vitality into the lazy, dormant society that we live in today—I would be energetic because God, the Creator of EVERYTHING, is my personal friend, and that fact by itself should make me dance for joy! I wouldn’t work out just to treat my body as a temple—I would do it to improve myself, to encourage others, and to help glorify the Lord through the work of His hands. All of a sudden, the pain of the world didn’t matter so much, because I had no reason to be sad. I still had God and that was all that mattered. I placed my meaning in God, and I decided at that moment that the only way I would ever be reduced to the catatonic state I had been in would be if God Himself was taken from me.
And that will never happen.
So yeah, that’s my story. That’s how I find my meaning, and that’s how I know who I am. The thing we place our meaning in is the thing that keeps us happy, and the thing that keeps us happy is the thing that tells us who we truly are. For some of you reading this, maybe you put your meaning into your job. Maybe you put your meaning into your relationships. Maybe you put your meaning into fashion. Maybe you put your meaning into multiple things, I don’t know. This article isn’t about me telling you what to put your meaning in (if you want something along those lines, you should click here), so don’t mistake the intent of this article. No, it’s not me trying to convert you; instead, it’s about how each one of you reading this has seen that reflection in the puddle, looked into it, and realized, “Wow, I have no idea who I am.” This is for the person who finds themselves as one person amongst billions, not knowing if you are unique and special—a needle in the haystack—or like all the others around you—just another piece of straw.
Well, I can guarantee this: you are that needle. You are unique. You are special. If you want to know what makes you, you—if you want to know why you make the decisions you make—I encourage you to ask yourself where you find your meaning. If you can’t figure out where you find your meaning, then ask yourself what matters most to you in the world. Ask your closest friend—the one who knows the most about you—to provide some insight, and maybe they can help. I’m not here to provide you with an answer, but instead with a means to go about finding that answer.
So go out and find it.
Who are you?
What do you put your meaning in?
What will you do about it?
You don’t have to be defined by society’s intentions; I would argue that, in fact, that you aren’t. Likewise you are not defined by a broken leg, a low test grade, or bad news from the doctor. You are responsible for your own actions and you are responsible for the meaning you give your life, whether that be good, bad, or ugly. You are the one who decides who you are, so instead of asking who am I, ask why. Think about it. Go out and find your meaning. Don’t push the question away, because it will come back to haunt you. I’m not going to force you to find meaning in the same thing as me, but I will encourage you to go find what meaning you have found for yourself and then see if that truly is where you want to place your trust, your hope, your dreams.
Thank you for your time.