As a fresh, ripe young adult (adult might be a strong word), like many others, I'm plagued with the mission to "make my life matter". From kindergarten, we're told that we can be whoever we want to be, that whatever we do can make a difference in this world. As a young child, that seems extremely promising and exciting: in fact, I distinctly remember proclaiming to my parents "Mom, Dad, I'm going to be a butterfly when I grow up!". In response, my Asian parents just chuckled and urged me to finish my math homework. As we grow older, we hardly grow wiser in this aspect.
We're pushed towards higher education, a higher sense of self, and a greater breadth of passions and activities: all so we can achieve our dreams, produce meaningful work, and make the world a better place (a handy side effect). So, where does all of this leave us? With millions of us force-fed the same dream and the same mission, it's perhaps cynical (but true) to say that if our dream is to change the world and make our work matter beyond the tiny circle that we live and function in, many of us have failed. To search for meaning in their work is the reason so many people fall to a mid-life crisis, quarter-life crisis, quit their jobs and travel around the world: this idea is omnipresent throughout everyone's life. The urge to create something greater than ourselves has led to many amazing masterpieces, throughout all forms of life: including art, business, technology, music, and much more.
However, what do we do when we feel like our work isn't changing the world? What do we do when we feel like our work has no meaning, no real contribution to the vast expanse of knowledge and life that the world exists in? This is a question that Esther Honig encountered as she started her own social experiment. In her project, she took an unfiltered, unedited and undoctored picture of herself and sent it to different photo editors around the world, curious to see what it would spark. As pictures began flooding in, and different editors began sending in their pictures, Esther began to analyze the results. There were obvious differences in the photos, yes, but as she examined photo after photo she still found that she lacked a real direction and meaning in her social experiment, going so far create a Ted talk on the subject.
However, not having a clear meaning in no way invalidates the experiment, nor does working a passionless 9-5 job or majoring in architectural history: which many would describe as "directionless". Esther Honigs' social experiment served much more meaning than what lay beneath the surface: it started a conversation about societal considerations of beauty, it provided insight on how cultures are different all the way down to our thoughts, and most importantly helped her grow and reflect on herself. Lacking a meaning and direction in your actions does not necessarily equivalent stagnancy: perhaps it is rather opening up a world that you can give meaning to, let your creativity flow, and create a space for you to learn more about yourself in the process.