The Stereogram Approach to Finding the Meaning of Life

Gary W. Priester (Click image to enlarge.)
Often, the first challenge in life is simply to see the target.

I really used to hate stereograms.

When they became popular in the early 1990s, they often reduced me to serious frustration and headaches. I would stare at them — glare at them, really — trying to will their embedded 3D images to leap out. Everyone else seemed to enjoy these hidden illusions with ease. But my eyes and brain stubbornly refused to do the trick.

Then one day, I realized that I was looking at a dolphin. I just glanced at the cover of a book of stereogram art, and there it was. I was delighted to discover that the image wasn’t “leaping out” at me — rather, I was “seeing into” it. I wasn’t even sure how I’d started to see the hidden picture. All of the sudden, and quietly, it just worked.

Years later, I’ve come to realize that whenever I’ve identified a key mission or purpose I should pursue, it’s emerged (very much like that dolphin) from the background of the world around me. I get a sense that some vision is waiting to be seen, and I prepare my mind to be open to it. Then eventually I see it, and it feels like I always should have seen it.

In contrast, whenever I’ve tried the top-down, primarily rational (rather than intuitive) approach to choosing a course in life, I usually end up not really wanting what I’ve been working for, or liking what I’ve done — which is frustrating and demoralizing on many levels.

I’ve been quiet on this blog lately, mostly because I’ve been spending more time conversing, research, reading, and journaling. To be honest, I’ve been searching for purpose. For a couple of years now — although I’ve been doing a lot of interesting work, meeting a lot of interesting people, and learning a lot of interesting things — privately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been flailing around, seeking direction and purpose.

Finally, I feel like the picture is starting to emerge. Here is the outline so far…

  • Relevance: I think I can help foster a greater practical understanding of relevance — connecting the dots between information and people. This could, in turn, help people create automated tools that can spot and convey relevance. Imagine a “relevance engine” that could scan a seemingly random group of news stories or datasets and indicate not just which ones are probably most relevant to you, but explain how each is relevant.
  • Helping people discover and share useful information. On this front, I think I could be most immediately useful by helping to free professional and amateur journalists from the constraints of traditional news organizations (most of which probably won’t be around much longer, and which have also succumbed to a toxic culture that directly undermines journalism and communities). Journalists have developed very useful skills, and I don’t want that value to be lost as this particular corporate house of cards collapses.
  • Energy. My work and interests keep bringing me back to energy (electricity and fuel). It truly makes almost every other good in the world possible. Plus, the fragility, unevenness, and difficulties of how energy is produced, transported, and used around the world lie at the root of many thorny problems (war, poverty, drinking water, medical care, climate change, etc.). I want to directly support the development of more diverse, less destructive, and less centralized energy sources around the world — as well as more efficient ways to use that energy.

…That’s what I’ve gleaned so far from the patterns in the world around me and how they’re resonating in me. I have a sense that there’s a deeper purpose that unifies these three missions — but I can’t quite articulate that yet. Still, I do believe it’s important to keep my personal focus on practicality, not theory — on helping people in the real world. And I am passionate about all these missions.

I’m curious what Contentious.com readers think of this emerging outline for the next big phase of my life and career — as well as my intuitive process for choosing direction.

How do you figure out what you should be doing in life? Are you rational about it, intuitive, or both? I’d love to hear how other people wrestle with this kind of quest — or if it’s even a conscious effort you make.

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