Is Life Meaningless?

I just got back from the World Domination Summit (WDS). You can read the WDS recaps and find more about WDS here if you’re not familiar with it.

Donald Miller was the final keynote speaker at WDS. I got the chance to hang out and chat with Don in the atrium for 30 minutes or so before his keynote and it was great to get some personal insight from him. There were a bunch of highlights in his talk, but the one that stood out to me was this little story:

Don was talking to one of his friends who had decided that life didn’t have meaning. Life was meaningless. End of story.

After thinking about that for a bit, Don asked his friend a question:

What if life isn’t meaningless? What if just your life is meaningless?

“Maybe life isn’t meaningless…Maybe just YOUR life is meaningless” – @donaldmiller

At first it sounds like an insult, but, as he went on, Don explained:

If life is a canvas and you’re in charge of what goes on it, and you continue to feel like life is meaningless or boring or whatever, – if, for whatever reason, your canvas seems startlingly blank – maybe it’s time to add some color, meaning and adventure to it…

As he wrapped up his talk, he mentioned that, just as great paintings happen when painters paint, great stories happen when characters take action.

Great Stories Happen When Characters Take Action.

take action1


Creating one of these is a good place to start.

What type of story are you telling with your life?

What action are you going to take to make it happen?

If you feel like life is meaningless, maybe you need to add some meaning.


Donald Miller’s Blog

World Domination Summit

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years

Apathetic Living & The Edges of Reality

Mike Rohde’s Sketchnotes

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  1. Dean says

    I heard a similar quote: If you’re bored, you’re probably being boring. Bob Ross used to say that when you’re painting, you’re like god…you get to decide what goes where. Same thing when you’re “painting” your life, you get to decide.

    Thanks for the post and the website!

    • Michael says

      Except for one thing, the only thing that you get to decide is your perspective, reality doesn’t change because you want it to. That doesn’t make you like a god. A god could actually change things, a person can only change themselves.

  2. says

    Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is one of my absolute favorites.

    Hell, now I’m going to go read through it again.

    Thanks for reminding me.

  3. says

    I had this realization months ago when I was feeling like life was meaningless. In that moment I had felt like I deserved excitement, adventure, and meaning. Then it hit me. I have to make it myself because it doesn’t just come on a silver platter.

    So I started something that has led to three internships, interesting freelance work, and experiences that I never would have predicted in 2012. Life definitely gets more interesting when you put in the work instead of waiting around.

  4. Prince Dennis Owusu says

    Life is meaningless only if God is absent from it. Man seek to find wisdom and knowledge and devise all these scientific theories about happiness and how to seek adventure and that all is a cover up for a missing person in our life. Tell this person who thinks his life is meaningless to pick the bible up and read and he would find out he was wonderfully and fearfully made with a purpose. God loves him. There is no sense of purpose in life than seeking God and living a sport filled life pushing your flesh to the limit and your Spirit to the Almighty God. Peace be unto you

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing! I started reading ‘A Million Miles’ last night when your tweet reminded me. I’m working through the Storyline process too, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing you live it out in practice. Onward to adventure!

  6. says

    Don was my most favorite speaker of the weekend, and everything he had to say, I needed to hear in the moments he said them. So thanks for writing this. Today. So great. I’m all for you taking a break, given your crazy meaning filled life, and you came back with a bang. I salute you.

    PS…signed on 2 more cold shower therapy enthusiasts (ha!) since WDS! I love the updates every day. And if it helps, i have people cursing me in the shower probably as much as they are cursing you. I feel good about that.

  7. says

    What I find most common with people is that they refuse to take responsibility for what ever they complain about.
    I’m lonely…learn to enjoy your own company. Go out where there are people.
    I’m bored…find something to do or just get out of the house.
    Too many people think they are helpless….it only takes a small shift to start realizing we are not. We are powerful.

  8. says

    One of my favorite quotes Joel, is yours. “Are you telling a good story with your life? Would anyone want to read it?” My second favorite from you starting today (my birthday), is the icing on the cake. “Great stories happen when we take action. Take action.”

  9. davidd says

    When you started this blog, you had read Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” and you were recommending it highly. Now, a couple of years later, you’re hanging out with the guy in person! #BOOM! NOT IMPOSSIBLE!

  10. Gregg says

    I think you are right Joel our culture has lulled us into this meaningless mediocrity that is slowly killing us. Psalm 139 tells us that we have an amazing purpose….being knit together and with wonderful plans for our lives. We just have to take action….a leap of faith and do what others want us to think is impossible.

  11. says

    Totally true. Your life IS meaningless, until you pour meaning into it.

    That is the Great Work that most people in the conventional world don’t get – and the WDS tribe does.

  12. Joel Bales says

    The other Joel said, “Solomon’s frustration in Ecclesiastes—“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity” (Eccl. 2:1).” Solomon concluded in Eccl. 12:13 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
    We often make our own adventure, and we define life events as adventures, difficulties, or tragedies based on our response. Live in the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God (credit to Rich Mullins).
    I highly recommend “Every Good Endeavor” by Timothy Keller re: purpose in our work (paid or unpaid).

  13. says

    Hey Joel, I’m new but I have been a big fan of Donald Miller for years! It’s so true. Life is meaningless. And it is only WE who can make that meaning what it needs to be. It doesn’t come from other people’s thoughts and opinions unless we give them that power. Love it and love the blog. I’m in. :)

  14. says

    I totally agree, this was definitely one of the best quotes at WDS… it really got to me.

    Like most people, I’ve gone through times where life seemed completely pointless and I felt absolutely nothing I did would create meaning in my life or in others’ lives. But Donald Miler showed that this is the wrong way to look at having a meaningful life. You have to create meaning. To take action. To take risks. To have adventures, to be inspired, to fail. That’s when life gets full of meaning.

    Thanks for the reminder, Joel. Good stuff.

  15. Jojo says

    So true. Life is what you make of it. It’s a gift. So why not add lots of color to it and enjoy it to the fullest!

  16. says

    The meaning of life lies within the person. Each one of us is a unique representation of what we are and what we can be. Much more, of what we can do to make it as meaningful as it ought to be.

  17. says

    Great food for thought.

    When it comes right down to it, an individual saying life is meaningless is pretty selfish and self-centered. Maybe they haven’t had an effect on peoples’ lives to give themselves meaning, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be that way for the rest of us.

    Thanks for sharing this Joel!

  18. says

    Wise words indeed – Maybe just your life is meaningless. Time to add more color to my life. I am choosing to do a few things that will add color to my life this year. Thanks for sharing Joel.

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