Define it yourself: The search for meaning

November 30, 2022

Define it yourself: The search for meaning

“He who has a Why to live for can endure almost any How.”—Friedrich Nietzsche

Hustle culture raised an army of very dedicated, busy, and often very tired hard workers. Despite all the negative self-talk and stress we face on a daily basis, humans are capable of putting in the hard work. However, it often leads to burnout and a plethora of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Let’s face the facts. We all need to work to earn enough money to survive and be happy. Most of us grind because we feel the pressure of bills and responsibilities. But it makes us tired. And without having a sense of purpose and meaning to support our grind, it can just leave us in despair.

We want our work to matter. We hate the feeling of finding out that we wasted time and effort working hard on something meaningless. 

The modern professional cares about their careers-even to the point of making their profession an identity. As humans, we crave meaningful connections with other people, in our personal lives and at work. Plus, we all have some level of interest in creating an impact, making a difference, or leaving a legacy with the work we do.

But what makes something meaningful?

Defining meaning

In the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl zeroed in on the fact that, despite our love for the idea of passion, meaning is what sees us through tough times.

Passion can be defined as an intense desire or enthusiasm for something, but at the end of the day, it is an emotion—it ebbs and flows, is fleeting, and is often uncontrollable. That’s why we often hear people “lose their passion” for something they used to love doing.

As entrepreneurs, it is risky to build your success on something unreliable like passion.

On the other hand, meaning is something different. Meaning is motivation.

All our behaviors have meaning. We all have our own meaning-making systems, and it is what influences our thoughts, actions, and emotions. If you want to find what “meaning” is for you, start with responsibility.

What are the things you feel responsible for?

When we feel like we are capable of doing something, and are responsible for taking action in order to (1) make something better or (2) secure a better future for ourselves or someone we care about, we see that as having meaning. Our values are an expression of purpose. We feel responsible for things we deem important, so we take action to protect and improve them.

In other words, when we take ownership of our responsibilities, we are motivated to see things through and keep on doing the hard, boring, grinding work necessary.

Let’s take growth as an example. We know that growth comes with the grind, and it isn’t something we look forward to. But we know we need to grow, in order to support our goals. When we know our Why, and are clear on what our actions mean, it balances out the pain necessary for growth.

But take meaning out of the equation, and the grind just becomes arduous suffering.

Lead with meaning, and passion will follow. When we know the purpose, mundane tasks turn into missions. It energizes us, and that motivation can become a passion and a sense of fulfillment whenever we make some progress.

And the more we search for meaning, the more we learn new things about who we are.

Finding meaning

Meaning in life is often found in the act of living. When you decide that you want to do something and you get clear on achieving things, you often find that once you achieve that thing, you also find out more about yourself. 

You create who you are along the journey, and part of that is your meaning for existence. What you learn, who you inspired, your habits, your emotions, etc.

It’s extremely important to set out to achieve becoming better, and in becoming better as a human being, you find a better form of being purposeful as a leader.

Creating meaning at work

Now that you’ve cultivated meaning for yourself as a leader, how can you help others find their meaning, especially at work?

Personally, for me, that can happen in two ways. Passively through who you influence by setting an example; and actively through taking time to develop other staff members' skills by focusing on what they’re good at and allowing them to flourish there. 

Creating meaning at work is essential if you want your business to flourish. It helps generate high levels of commitment with your people, and it boosts your employee engagement. As we mentioned earlier, we desire to do work that is meaningful to us and to the world.

In essentialism, they simplify finding or creating meaning at work as the intersection and alignment of your people’s interests, skills, and the impact the work has.

In Japanese, they have the concept of Ikigai—the reason to get up every morning and the “secret” to living a happy and fulfilling life. They see it as the intersection of four things:

In other words, your Ikigai is the culmination of your passion, mission, vocation, and profession.

It is our responsibility as leaders to clearly define a mission or purpose that (1) has a positive impact on our society, and (2) that you and your people agree to get behind on and share ownership of.

Instead of seeing them as simply “talents” that you can use to further your business, get to know their individual passions and talents and figure out how to utilize and direct that energy—what motivates them—toward the team’s overall goals. If their individual goals align with the organization’s mission, even better.

Clarify their individual roles and what they contribute to the team and the mission.

Lastly, find effective ways to help them develop their skills, both as individuals and as a team, so that their talents can continue supporting the growth of the team and the mission.

Thank you for reading "A Brilliant Tribe."