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Existential Meaning – Find It and be a Better Investor

We live in a consumer society.

The reality we face is a continuous barrage of ads, all trying to strike some Pavlovian trigger ingrained in our psyche. These messages are carefully tailored based on the marketing machines of massive, global, multi-billion dollar corporations.

Chief among these messages rings the sound of, “You aren’t good enough, but you could be if you simply buy what we’re selling.”

If only I had a newer, bigger truck, I’d be the envy of friends and strangers alike. They’d all want to ride along in my passenger seat.

With a new pair of shoes I’d run faster and look fitter.

Pretty simple, right?

These are the trappings of Modern Day Slavery.

Further, we are discouraged from stopping to question whether such values are even desirable. We rarely stop to address the hamster wheel we face. Why should we care about the product—the life—we’re being sold? Just because someone else has bought into it?

The truth is that all we really can control is our own personal life satisfaction. With the system seemingly rigged to turn us into consumer drones, what is the best path to finding existential meaning?

Basics of Existentialism

One of the primary precepts of existentialism is that existence precedes essence.

In other words, first you’re born, and then you choose who you want to become and what your life means.

Existential Meaning, Existence Precedes Essence
Existence Precedes Essence

Only after that first condition—existence—has been satisfied is it even possible to be stamped with the oft-limiting notions of class, race, gender, and whatever else.

This suggests that you do not have to live your life in a predetermined manner. You are not governed by errant stereotypes which might restrict your possibilities. Existential meaning is found when you’re able to move beyond labels.

The Absurd Life

Another key element of the existentialist framework is that we live in an absurd world. Specifically, this means that there is no inherent meaning to life—on its own, at least.

In the face of such absurdity, we are confronted with two choices; we can either conform to already-established belief systems, or we can create our own meaning.

The Tale of Sisyphus

The French philosopher, Albert Camus, chose Sisyphus of Greek mythology as his prototypical representation of the absurd hero.

As the story goes, Sisyphus had fallen out of favour with the gods for his deceptive nature. He had even done his best to cheat Death. The punishment for his crimes was to be forced to eternally roll a boulder from the base of a hill to the top, only to watch it roll back down. It was intended to be an endless loop of misery.

There is beauty in this, Camus argues. He notes that even when performing an endlessly mundane task for eternity, Sisyphus remains free to choose the way he feels about it. Despite the hopeless nature his existence, he can still grit his teeth and continue rolling the rock. He need not be broken by his fate.

Camus states:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He, too, concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Page 119

Indeed, who among us hasn’t faced the night-filled mountain of our own trials?

Existential Meaning and Personal Finance

How can realizing your existential meaning improve your investing?

Quite simply, we each have to walk our own paths. All of the compounded choices over the course of a life are what lead to who we are in any given moment.

As an investor, we’re each faced with a multitude of options. The flavour of the day in 2021 is cryptocurrency and stories abound of speculators getting rich, virtually overnight, from small stakes in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and many others.

No matter the specifics, it is important to figure out—to decide—what your investing style is going to be. What is the strategy that you can use to secure wealth for yourself and your family in the decades to come?

The only sure thing in investing is that jumping between hot topics is more likely a path to ruin than riches. Figure out who you are and what you want out of life first, then let that drive your investment plan.

Philosophy of Accountability

The existentialist ideal leaves no middle ground. There are no token comforts in a life devoid of absolute meaning.

The solace many find in concepts such as everything happening for a reason are stripped away. The security blanket is cast to the flame.

With existentialism, we are each entirely accountable for the totality of who we are.

Finding Existential Meaning in Today’s World

The lessons I’ve presented here provide a roadmap for living a fruitful, purpose-driven life. Still, that doesn’t make it easy.

The machine of society has been shaped over the course of hundreds, even thousands of years. We are a simple race with a primitive brain that is not so far removed from our hunter-gatherer origins.

Marketers are aware of this. They take advantage of it.

By creating your own existential meaning, you insulate yourself from their snares. It is difficult to sell delusions of grandeur to someone who isn’t buying. If you know who you are and what your purpose is, you won’t fall for their game.

Concluding Thoughts on Existential Meaning

How many of you were able to read the story of Sisyphus and not see yourself? Were there shades of your daily toil, personal or professional, represented by the rolling of the rock up and down the hill?

If not, then kudos, my friend. If you’re like most of us, you have your own boulder to face.

Existentialism might as well be termed intentionalism, as it involves deliberately deciding on what is important in life. This philosophy demands the adherent accept responsibility for who they are.

Satisfaction comes when you realize that you already have everything you need within you. The only critical ingredient to living the life you’re after is the decision that only you can make, within yourself, to create meaning.

I’ll leave you with the prescient words of Earl Nightingale:

We’re all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.

Choose your life, intentionally, and you will find peace with your outcomes.

2 thoughts on “Existential Meaning – Find It and be a Better Investor

  1. steveark says:

    Earl Nightingale was a fascinating person. He was one of only 15 marines to survive the sinking of the battleship Arizona in the Pearl Harbor attack. I’m old enough to remember listening to him on the radio. Oddly he never mentioned his war experience to my knowledge. He had such an amazing resonating voice he was a voice actor on cartoon shows.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Interesting. I actually didn’t know Earl was in the military or a voice actor, and he’s certainly one of my favourites. Very inspirational person.

      Take care,
      Ryan

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