They are not necessarily opposites: a practical life and a life spent doing what matters.
But they can be.
A practical life is one during which regular feedback is available. Something is done and it makes sense to you and others. Usually, it means that the benefit is easily visible as well as understandable to others. Sometimes it’s as easy as wanting something and making it happen, or seeing a problem and solving it so that it disappears.
Such visibility will not always be available when the ambition is to focus on what matters. To be able to focus on what matters one has to have decided what that is, not only in the moment but also on a broader scale. However, once the choice is made the question becomes “To whom does it matter?” It never is everyone, if often is someone else, it rarely is oneself, that is until it is. What this also says is that once something that matters has been found, there will be a lot of people around for whom this doesn’t matter at all. That makes it challenging and it adds doubt.
Seen in this light, it would seem that what matters and what is practical are the same.
They are when things are ideal. But, there easily will be elements adding distortion to one’s perception.
Looking at the practical, one could say that the challenge to get what one wants establishes a desire for soothing or for releasing the pressure. Thus it becomes practical to do things that soothe. The focus has shifted and now it is whatever is causing discomfort that becomes the problem. Instead of focusing on whatever the problem has become an obstacle to and figuring out ways around the obstacle, people now search for ways to make the problem go away.
As for things that matter, people sometimes confuse what matters with whatever it is they feel hurt by. If they experience an injustice, for example, it becomes an injustice people should be protected from. If they have seen something that doesn’t feel right they might have decided that others should never experience such a thing. By making their personal experience the center of what matters to them it has become a crusade.
There is no doubt, that experiencing discomfort or hurt transforms an individual’s experience and makes it something one would prefer not to experience.
But the practical isn’t about discomfort and what matters is not about feeling hurt.
What matters are circumstances allowing for healing to happen.
Something practical on the other hand happens to make things fluid.