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If you take a look at history and psychology in an effort to figure out what makes life worth living, you’ll find two common, reoccurring themes: meaning and connection. These lay the foundation for creating a thriving and fulfilling life. But here’s the thing: you have to actively prioritize them. You have to go after them with intention.

Let’s focus on meaning for now. We’ll explore what it means, how we can discover it, and how it can completely change the way we see the world. The key is to actively search for, pay attention to, and embrace the deeper purpose behind our work. Finding passion in our life’s work is not just about completing tasks; it’s also about our mindset and how we connect our actions to something bigger than ourselves.

This mindset empowers us to be fully present and find a greater sense of fulfillment. When we recognize and embrace meaning, even our everyday routines can become opportunities for personal growth, forming deeper relationships, and living a more abundant life. People who can find meaning in their work are more passionate about what they do, invest more of themselves in it, and, as a cool side effect, often achieve greater financial success.

Recognizing the Power of Meaning

In the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink, he dives into the fascinating topic of motivation and explores what truly inspires us in our work. Pink challenges the common notion that external rewards and punishments are the best ways to motivate people. Instead, he suggests that internal motivation, which comes from having autonomy, mastery, and purpose in our work, is the key to unlocking our engagement and productivity.

You see, the usual things like money and status can only provide short-lived satisfaction. To find real meaning in our work, we need to look within ourselves and focus on what intrinsically motivates us. This means having the freedom to make our own choices and take charge of our work, which empowers us to find purpose and take ownership of what we do. It also involves continuously improving our skills and growing personally, which allows us to experience meaningful progress. Lastly, understanding how our work contributes to something bigger than ourselves gives us a sense of fulfillment and drives us forward.

Merely going through the motions of a job or picking a career solely based on financial stability won’t bring us true fulfillment. We must uncover our genuine purpose, our calling. This involves finding work that aligns with our passions, values, and personal aspirations. When we engage in work that genuinely reflects who we are, it brings us profound satisfaction and joy. Our job becomes more than just a means to pay the bills; it becomes a pathway for personal growth and an opportunity to make a positive impact in the world.

The Role of Perception in Finding Meaning

To illustrate the importance of purpose, Pink shares an intriguing story. During a discussion with a group of janitorial staff at a hospital, he poses the question: Do you have a job, a career, or a calling? Surprisingly, the responses vary significantly among people who perform the exact same job. Some view their work as nothing more than a means to earn a paycheck, while others connect their role to the broader mission of the hospital. They see themselves as integral members of the hospital staff, responsible for creating safe and clean environments that enable the medical staff to heal others.

What makes these individuals different is their ability to recognize and embrace the meaning that comes with their work. It’s not about whether their work inherently has some grand purpose or not; it’s about their ability to see and embrace that meaning.

When individuals fill their lives with meaning and connection, they are better equipped to live fulfilling and flourishing lives. Sometimes, this might mean making changes, like finding a new job that offers a stronger sense of purpose. Other times, it’s simply about opening our eyes and acknowledging the meaning that already exists in our current circumstances.

Meaning Ignites Passion; Passion Drives Success

Currently, I’m taking a history class that doesn’t directly align with my major or what truly excites me. It’s tempting to just go through the motions and endure the class until I can delve into subjects that really spark my interest, like Psychology and Leadership. But inspired by the janitors’ perspective, I’ve decided to approach this class with a different mindset.

In my mind, it’s not just a history class; it’s an opportunity to study human behavior and explore historical models of leadership. As we dive into the era of King Louis XVI, the French Revolution, Robespierre, and Napoleon, I can’t help but see the connections to different styles of leadership and how leaders’ actions shape the attitudes and behaviors of their followers.

This shift in mindset has made the class fascinating to me. I genuinely enjoy every aspect of it now. I eagerly seek out extra resources, diving into books and documentaries that relate to the subject. And because I’ve discovered this newfound passion, I’ve been acing every assignment so far. Why? Because when we realize how our work connects to our true calling, it ignites a fire within us that paves the way for success.

I apply this same approach at work. I focus on how the tasks I’m doing help me serve others. When I interact with people, I try to make those moments opportunities to be kind, uplifting, and show care and empathy. Whenever I can, I support the career growth of those around me. These are things that hold meaning for me. And because of this purpose-driven mindset, I care deeply about the work I do, which means I always give it my all.

Sparking a Ripple Effect

When people find meaning in their work, it doesn’t just affect them personally; it also has a bigger impact on those around them. It creates a ripple effect. They have the power to share the meaning of their work with their teams, helping others find purpose too.

Let’s use the Army as an example. There’s a task of inspecting vehicles that needs to be done. Some leaders approach this task by stripping away the meaning from it. They might say things like, “Okay team. I know these inspections are pointless, but let’s just finish them quickly so we can move on to something important.”

On the other hand, there are leaders who take a different approach. They recognize the importance and say, “Okay team. I understand that inspecting vehicles isn’t the most exciting work, but if we ever go into combat, we’ll be grateful that we’ve taken good care of our equipment. So let’s get these inspections done to keep our vehicles running smoothly, and then we can move on to something more exciting.” One leader brings meaning to the task, while the other takes it away.

When we live with purpose and pursue work that aligns with our true calling, we inspire others to do the same. Our passion and commitment become contagious, creating an environment where everyone seeks meaning and fulfillment. In this way, we contribute to a world where individuals are empowered to find purpose in their own lives and work.

Conclusion: Embrace the Power of Meaning

In Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he shares a powerful quote: “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Later on, he emphasizes, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

Ultimately, finding meaning in our work is what leads to a fulfilling life. It goes beyond just the tasks we perform; it’s about understanding the significance of our actions and linking them to something bigger. By actively searching for and embracing meaning, even in the simplest tasks, we can transform everyday activities into opportunities for personal growth, connection, and deep satisfaction.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.
Frankl, V. E. (2014). Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press.
Nicholas Cardot

The transformation begins with you. Develop the leader inside you and become the driving influence your community is looking for.

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