For the past couple of months, I have been working on a project – my first book. But really, it has been a long time coming. I have toyed with the idea since 2012, of creating a personal ‘Tao’, a distillation of ideas and conclusions I came to in my quest to figure out ‘the meaning of life’ and how to live well.
Finally, it is here.
I wrote this book to kill two birds. First, I did it to do it, to write the book, to finally complete a personal project of mine. It has been an exercise in getting things done, and a sort of throwaway first attempt as a prelude to other books I will write. Secondly, I did it to mark and honor a time of my life that was filled with much existential dread, questioning, searching and wrestling. A time when it felt like I was swimming in my subconscious, trying to rewrite my code.
The Meaning of Life (and other such nonsense) is a select collection of posts from between 2010 – 2014, updated and refined. This is version 1.0, it is far from perfect. But I promised myself, I’d put a version of this book once I had it done. I would start by doing it badly. I like to think of this as more of a mixtape than a polished album. I hope you like it.
My father is an avid reader, so I grew up in a house full of books. On long boring hot holiday afternoons in my childhood, between exhausting bouts of playtime and afternoon cartoons at 4pm, I liked picking up random books to get lost into. For birthdays as a teen in boarding school, I usually got 3 or 4 new books, not the videogames I really wanted. But those formative experiences sparked a love affair with books. They gifted me with something more important than button mashing pleasure. They opened my mind to possibilities.
Fiction pulled me into exotic new worlds, and colorful characters. The hallowed halls of Hogwarts, and artifacts like the Alethiometer fascinated me, filling my imagination with the magical and the cosmic. It was however books on leadership, vision, and inspiration by the likes of Ben Carson, John Maxwell, Jim Rohn and many more that really set my mind ablaze. They taught me the need to be intentional, and the importance of believing in yourself and in your potential. These books guided a young me, helping me build a philosophy of life.
The promise of religion, which is also the promise of personal development, is that you can gain insight or knowledge into the reality of life, and how to live it. What should you do, what path should you follow for best results. I was fortunate to grow up around these ideas. Between the books and church, I was pretty set. But life is weird, and the transitions between life phases are nothing short of seismic shifts that change us indelibly over time.
In my journey to young adulthood, I became obsessed with the question of ‘how to live’. It would seem pretty easy right, like…just live. But I like to overthink things, and I like to do things well, so I’d ask myself, how should I do this life thing? How do I navigate the nature of reality, society and the customs of the time, my own nature, God, the afterlife? What was the purpose of it all?
There is the idea of the dark night of the soul, a breakdown of the fundamental self. I imagine it happens in some form or way for everyone. There is a point in your life where you are shaken from the safe cocoon and illusion of your perception of the world up to that point. The innocent naivete, the mental construct you have built up over time. Something happens to shatter your worldview and you are left to deal with the broken foundations of your psyche. There are two options at this point, you can hold tight, and try to rebuild what you once had, or you can accept the end of that part of your life and choose to evolve to something new. I went through that in my early 20s. A violent awakening that ripped me off one path and brought me to another.
There are books, and there are quake books. A quake book is one that irreversibly alters some aspect of your being. Once you have read one, you cannot un-see what you have seen, you can’t erase what you have learnt from your memory. Sometimes they shake you all the way down to your core, other times they are subtler. But they move you in a new direction every time. Rich Dad, Poor Dad was the first quake book for me. I read it when I was 15, and it altered the way I tackled life from that point on.
There is the ‘African Dream’ – getting qualifications at prestigious institutions, and high paying corporate jobs. And there is the default expectation life we are all subjected to growing up. Go to school, do well, get a good job, get married, start a family, raise your kids to go to school, and do the same thing all over again. Which is all good and well, those are all valid and key milestones. But half the time, all the attention and pressure we feel is on ticking all those boxes, that the bigger question never get answered – Why?
And what better use of youthful exuberance is there than to ‘rebel’, philosophize and tackle the all-important question of living?
Rich Dad, Poor Dad made me ask a lot of questions. Is ‘The Dream’ the kind of life I wanted to live? Do I really need to sacrifice immense amounts of time and energy just to end up trapped in some gilded hamster wheel? Were there other ways to do life, to earn income, to spend one’s time as one saw fit, and direct one’s energies to things that mattered. Was there a way not to be trapped? What did success mean to me? What does a life well lived look like?
The path to me, seemed to be entrepreneurship, or some blend of artistry and entrepreneurship. I was self-aware enough to know that I did not necessarily have the natural traits of an entrepreneur or have the personal fortitude to blaze a trail where few dared to tread. But I was young enough to learn. So, my focus by the time I got to university, was not just on my school work, but was in searching for and connecting with the sort of people who were entrepreneurial, people instigating and making things happen. I found them, and I had a blast, working with them and observing the sheer force of will, and courage it took to make new things happen.
On the school front, life wasn’t as great. I did okay, but throughout the time I studied architecture, I never felt like I connected with the subject. I really wanted to, and I tried, but it just didn’t click. I went through 4 years of studying architecture feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. For someone who was used to excelling in academics, this was not great. I wanted to excel, and I understood that for me to excel at anything I had to connect with the material, I had to be hooked by it, to be deeply interested that I would spend all my time trying to understand it. I had had this experience back in secondary school, poring over college level calculus books in a bid to understand further mathematics.
I had no such luck in architecture. Maybe it was the culture of the school, maybe it was all the time I spent in all my extracurricular activities. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. But it was becoming quite clear to me that a life as an architect as cool as it sounds did not sound appealing to me. I enjoyed what I was doing at the time, running around, making events happen, creating, dancing, being an artist.
I found the love I was looking for though. In a friend’s dorm room. He studied visual communication at the same university and showed me some of the work they did, and it was love at first sight. knew I wanted to do what he did. It made sense, the things I loved doing as a child and that came relatively easy to me was always the art stuff. I loved drawing, and painting and writing. I liked playing with ideas, I liked trying to express myself.
So, I started learning graphic design. While I was in school studying architecture. While I was busy with the dance events, and all my different activities. I started designing for a dance competition, eventually being in charge of all the creative direction and work. I designed for my church, I even had a few clients here and there. I loved it. I would buy magazines or go sit in the computer room downloading tutorials and then I would fiddle with Photoshop, and eventually illustrator. Glorious times.
I knew my fate was sealed when I spent 24 hours working on a poster. I didn’t shower, I think I ate just once in that whole time, I only got 4 hours of sleep in-between. But it was exhilarating, and I created something I loved at the end. I couldn’t even spend 2 hours working on my school assignments before I felt like shooting myself.
Then I fell into deep depression. I mean, I had started having depressive episodes from my second year at university, but now nearing the end of my degree I was in a deep funk. This was the time the work was ramping up fast, and I needed to get my shit together. But I hated architecture with a passion at this point. I wanted to finish and get it over with, but I could not muster the motivation or discipline to actually do it. Caught between the rock and a hard place, I was stuck. It was this depression and triggering events in my personal relationships that caused a perfect storm, plunging me deep into my dark night of the soul. A place where all my preconceptions and views of life were shattered and suddenly called into question.
I knew I was deeply unhappy. I knew I was torn between finishing something out of duty and embracing something else that I loved. I was torn between needing to ‘remain perfect’ and needing to give in to passion. At that point, there was no more question, I simply had no energy to carry on like that, I had to fall into the abyss. I had to destroy everything and rebuild again.
And so, I walked away from everything, school, community, my friends, and over the next few years, I re-examined my beliefs around religion, society, education, life, purpose, creativity. I raged, explored and sought to find the meaning to life, if there was one. I read more than I ever had. I devoured self-help books, the new wave of personal development works, books on spirituality and energy, books on philosophy, books on life, I explored ideas across religions and thinkers and makers, trying to see the world as it really is and then decide how to live in it. I also began to blog, as a way to share what I was thinking, to explain myself, and as a release valve, a means of catharsis
This book, this trilogy is a collection of some of those blog posts, an attempt to codify and present the ideas that plagued my mind during that time in my life.
To search for the meaning of life, like anything in this physical universe is fraught with paradox. On one hand, it is noble, it is a higher calling, a need to understand and align with a great purpose. On the other hand, it is also nonsense, vanity, a desperate desire to neatly package and box up the raging chaos that is the universe. Hence the title of the book, this is my attempt at the nonsense of defining the meaning of life, not as a guru, just as another soul trying to make sense of it all.
I hope it makes you think.