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This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Reframe Your Worldview

The measure of any leader is how much they value people. The person whose heart’s desire is to truly help, serve and care for others is the greatest leader in any organization regardless of their formal rank.

As you explore leadership, teamwork and relationships, you’ll find that they all require altruistic qualities to reach the deepest levels of connection with others. These qualities require that you focus less on yourself and more on the people around you. You need to care about others, to place their needs ahead of your own.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about listening skills or compassion or empathy. Or you might think of something more extreme like throwing yourself on a grenade to save others, literally or metaphorically.

The greatest leaders and the greatest teammates put their organization, their mission, and their team ahead of themselves. And the greatest friends and partners put the other before themselves.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to do.

It’s also not natural.

Our nature compels us to seek food, shelter, and the other necessities for ourselves first. It’s called survival instinct. This instinct applies not only to food and water, but it also drives us to compete against those with whom we should be working together. What began as a survival mechanism has evolved into pride, ego, desire for dominance, and selfishness.

Because of our instinct to lean into selfishness, a foundational question rises to the surface: What is it that makes a selfless leader?

What we need to discover is the root cause, the recipe, the reason why. Does a person’s environment, upbringing, or genetics cause this mindset? Is it something that we can cultivate in ourselves? For that matter, is it something that we can cultivate in others such as in our children, followers or teammates?

What is it that makes, causes, or compels a person to be selfish or selfless? That is the question.

Once we answer that question, you’ll discover a powerful truth. The same principle that leads to selflessness will also bring you inner joy, more meaningful relationships, increased motivation, and a mindset that is geared towards greater success both personally and professionally.

This principle transformed my life. It’s the realization that helped me escape alcoholism and achieve abundance. It’s what fueled my journey to quit smoking and take up running marathons. It birthed in me a desire to escape my self-imposed isolation and to crave and pursue deeper, more profound relationships. It led me to dive headlong into a new career and to embrace new educational goals.

This principle was the driving force behind what I’ve come to call my midlife spiritual awakening, and it ignited in me a renewed vigor for life.

A Job? A Career? Or a Calling?

So what is this miracle concept that revolutionizes our approach to life?

Meaning.

I’ve come to believe that we’re all on a quest to find meaning in life. And when you find it, everything changes. Sadly, many don’t realize that this is what our journey on earth is all about. They spend their time seeking little more than day-to-day survival, a way to pay the bills. Others recognize that they desire to find meaning in life, but they have no idea where to start or where to look.

In the history of Psychology, Alfred Adler believed that man’s chief desire in life is power. Freud believed that our drive continuously pushes us toward pleasure. That is our highest aim. These are known as the Will to Power and The Will to Pleasure.

It was Viktor Frankl, in his heart-wrenching book, Man’s Search for Meaning, who popularized a new idea. After living through and surviving Nazi Concentration camps, and observing the last moments of so many souls who didn’t survive, he came to believe that man’s greatest reward in life is to find meaning.

We all crave meaning. We want our time on earth to matter, to make a positive difference. We want to leave a mark, to make an impact in the lives of those around us. And when we find a vocation that provides that for us, it becomes easy to make it a priority.

This understanding is what separates a job from a career, and a career from a calling.

Think back for a moment to the selfless service that James Stockdale exhibited in that prison camp. It wasn’t Stockdale’s job to lead them. And he didn’t do it to advance his career. No, it was his calling to care for those men. It was that which gave his life profound meaning. That calling is what fueled his selflessness, his service, and his leadership.

The Quest for Meaning

When we speak of meaningful work, we often think of things like police and fire fighters, nurses and medical staff, military personnel or astronauts. Society frequently broadcasts the virtues of these kinds of careers. Perhaps you’ve seen people in your neighborhood put out signs that read, “A Hero Lives Here” in an effort to recognize someone in one of these occupations.

In this context, it makes sense how a fire fighter can pour their heart into their work, but a person who works for a soulless megacorporation can’t. It’s easy for the one individual to recognize the meaning of their work while the other fails to do so.

Here’s an exciting truth: You can find beauty and meaning in just about any line of work. What truly matters is how much you are able to recognize and connect with the meaning in it.

A behind-the-scenes, seemingly thankless job like a janitor actually makes a huge impact on the world in a place like a hospital. The fundamental hygiene of our entire society has been transformed by plumbers and garbage collectors. Thankfully we no longer have to dump our waste out into the street. It isn’t just the job. It’s your mindset, your outlook, your ability to see the bigger picture and how you play a part in it.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist who studies grit, says that “just about any occupation can be a job, a career, or a calling… What matters is whether the person doing the work believes that laying down the next brick is just something that has to be done, or instead something that will lead to further personal success, or, finally, work that connects the individual to something far greater than the self.” She goes on to say that “whatever you do – whether you’re a janitor or the CEO – you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.

In the quest to pursue meaning in your life, I have found three guiding principles: purpose, passion, and people. If you connect everything that you do to one or more of these three things, your life will take on meaning unlike anything you’ve ever known.

Purpose

Your work should allow you to connect with something larger than yourself. That could be God, your community, your people, or something else entirely. You organization’s mission and impact on the world should align with your moral, ethical, and religious beliefs.

Connecting with your purpose generally boils down to one of two things:

  • Is your work contributing to something larger than yourself?
  • Is what you’re doing contributing to a better future for yourself and others?

People

Back when I was swallowed up in alcoholism, I generally avoided people. I much preferred to sit at home, alone, watching TV and forgetting about life. Escapism. Self Medication. Call it whatever you prefer.

But as I emerged from that lifestyle and began to find myself, I found a new interest in people. I found myself craving deep, meaningful connections with others.

Most people make friends solely based on proximity. You work with someone for a while so you become their friend. There is another approach. I target people. I look for people who share my values, who exemplify motivation and passion for life, and I reach out to them. I want them as my friends. I want to help them grow, and I want them to help me grow.

  • Are you connecting with people who our motivated, passionate and who share your values?
  • Does your work allow you to help, serve, and care for others?

Passion

When I first began developing and following these three principles, I believed that passion was about finding work that excites and thrills you. For example, if you love woodworking, perhaps you should consider a career in making furniture.

But the more I’ve been practicing them, the more I’ve experienced a unique paradox. In most cases, you don’t simply become passionate about something because you enjoy it. Rather, you enjoy work that allows you to connect with your purpose and serve your people.

Passion is as much something you gain from the first two principles as it is something that you pursue independently.

  • Is the work your doing something that fills you with joy and excitement?
  • Is the work your doing something that stems from the first two principles: purpose and people?

Conclusion

If you’re still spending your life chasing a paycheck or pursuing pleasures, you haven’t even entered the arena in the game of life. Once you make this transition in your focus, you’ll view the entire world in a different light. It changes everything.

In fact, I’ve found that chasing meaning and the three principles that allow me to achieve meaning have led to better decision making processes, more income, less stress, stronger relationships.

It has transformed my habits and my lifestyle. I’ve read 50 non-fiction books so far this year. I’m enrolled back in school working towards a second bachelor’s degree. I’m at the gym every day.

All because I filter everything, literally everything, through the lens of these three values.

Give it a try. I dare you.

Nicholas Cardot

U.S. Army Psychological Operations Sergeant with a passion for fitness, reading, mindfulness, and leading from a place of inner bravery.

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