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Can I fail to achieve my goals, and make the wrong moral decisions, but still live a meaningful and worthwhile life, and if so then in what way? Moreover, what does it say about me and how I have lived?

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    Who set these goals? Perhaps "failing to achieve my goals" was a necessary step in order to find better goals.
    – Stef
    Jan 12 at 10:29

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It says you are a human being. Welcome to the sinners club!

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We are not machines: We err. Predictions are hard, especially about the future: Plans fail.

Nothing of that makes you a bad person, or a failure, or makes your life devoid of meaning.

I don't dare venture to define that meaning; but whatever that is, and how it changes over the course of your life: Go after it passionately. If that means to consume as much alcohol and have as much sexual intercourse as humanely possible, go ahead but don't be a half-ass about it. If that means to sit alone on a pillar, don't talk to anybody and achieve enlightenment by introspection and connection to the universal spirit, fair enough.

My personal two cents is that what stands out in a life are connections to other people. That becomes obvious if you look at old photographs in your family photo albums: All the sunsets and landscapes, beautiful as they may be, are barely noticed decades later. What you remember are the good times you had with the people in the other images.

Therefore, build relationships and care for your friends. You will err there, too; but if you honestly try it will be good, in the end.

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  • Sorry to hear. It isn't meant to discourage you. Small gestures, small encounters are meaningful and noticed, too! And remember: The future is unknown. A life may fall apart without warning; another life -- or the same one, later! -- may come together. Jan 12 at 5:07
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    Another thing to consider is that a mental illness is that, an illness. You are not responsible any more than you are for a fever when you have the flu. Jan 12 at 5:20
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    You are responsible for how you deal with it, though. If you have the flu, and you spend all your time partying and running marathons, and you get sicker, that's kinda your own fault. Look after yourself, if you can.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jan 12 at 15:58
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If your goals were to make someone a better person (and I know you, as you are me, so I know that is usually the case, more or less) and failed, and in the process became a worse person, then this looks like a pretty standard failure, not due to temptation but a kind of hubris about your virtue. If prudence is the chariot for all the virtues, then you have none. If not, enjoy the victories you have.

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To clarify up front: I mention religion a few times to make my point, but I assume the question is NOT asked with a religion in the back of OP's mind; if it was indeed asked for religious reasons, then the answer lies within the religion, not philosophy.

Your question implies a "heavy" world-view, where life (at least for humans) has or does not have value, where there are discrete values, and those depend on morals, and that there will be a tallying-up at the end, where you get a score for how you performed.

By challenging that frame of thinking, you escape the issue quite successfully. There are many ways to talk about what's "worthwhile" or "meaningful".

People have argued about this for known history, and there is no consensus Every religion will give different answers; and many philosophers will have some opinion too. All in all, this observation tells us that there is no common, fixed, guaranteed "good" way to how you lead your life.

There are no objective, known goals. These depend 100% on your own belief system. If you believe in Christianity, then the ten commandments are your goals. If you believe in Buddhism, then staying on the Five-Fold Path may be your goal. If you do not follow a religion, your goal may be to follow the Categorical Imperative. Or you may follow modern philosophers who try to mathematically sum the amount of "happiness" in the world over all living beings, and measure your individual influence on the happiness in the universe in total. And so on and forth.

Observing known life on earth, the only commonality we see is that all life forms consist of some kind of information storage (i.e., genes) and discrete expressions (i.e., plants, animals, single-celled organisms and so on). Genes have the goal of being transmitted via their expressions; the expressions themselves have the goal of existing until they have transferred their genes to the next generation. Calling these two aspects "goal" is even wrong in some way; it would imply that there could be something else, but there could not. A gene that is not able to be transmitted will immediately disappear. An "expression" (animal etc.) that does create offspring immediately disappears. This is not an issue of value, but the simple mechanics of life.

There is nothing more, in visible life, on Earth. This concurs with the base human experience: most humans have a very strong urge not to die; and many have a very strong biological urge to procreate. Everything else (including power structures, love and hate, morals, ethics etc.) seem to follow from that. We have no objective reason to assume that anything beyond that is more than a human construct designed (usually from experience) to reach those goals.

So in the end, "meaning" and "worth" are defined and tallied by yourself. If you really wish to have these kinds of mechanisms in your life (maybe they motivate you...), then the worst that will happen is that on your death-bed you have a minute of regret. After your death, what happens next will depend on facts about the Universe that are completely unknowable to you and utterly unswayable; Pascal's Wager is not in any way helpful here because even if a god exists, who knows if it was the right one? It makes no sense to worry about things you have no information whatsoever about (not even about their existence). Being "good" by whatever measure is useful as a general goal because it removes friction from life (at least if you are occasionally in contact with other humans), but it is not a goal itself that gets summed up in the end by some external entity, and praise or punishment doled out.

Finally: it is a bit hard to parse your question, it seems quite unclear what you are actually asking. Do you have the feeling that you did wrong in the past and it's unclear whether it makes sense to go on? In that case, the answer is easy: the past is in the past; the future is in the future. The only time that matters is right now. There is no "tallying up" at the end. You are free to decide to do the right thing in every fleeting moment. What the "right thing" is, is up to you to figure out. Some decisions are impossible to get right for reasons out of your control, and then learning acceptance is very helpful.

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