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The quest for meaning

The world is in search of meaning.

It's in a hurry forced by the pandemic.

Is my life worth the living?

This is a question that is frequently in the minds of people who I coach. Coaching conversations these days are more existential than before. Even though they start superficially, people volunteer to go deeper.

They want to seek. They want to know whether who they are and what they do makes sense or is it just a dream or a drama that is transient?

In my coaching conversations in the last year and a half, I am hearing hundreds of people across the globe seek to define what makes their life meaningful. And there is a pattern - there is commonality and there is variance.

The commonality is wanting to see one’s loved ones healthy & happy. Spending time with them is the lowest common denominator in all the conversations on what makes people perceive meaning. The next perhaps is am I doing the best for myself with my life? Can it become better?

Beyond this, the rest of ‘meaning making’ is subjective and varied.

A few minutes walk in the park is meaningful for some while a task well accomplished is meaningful for others.

Creating music, design, art is meaningful for some, doing nothing for sometime is meaningful for some others.

It’s of course an individual journey to seek meaning in who you are and what you do.

If you are someone looking for meaning there are a few places that you are highly likely to find it. Here they are:

  1. Accomplishments: This is an obvious one. All work / tasks/ endeavours that one accomplishes leveraging ones strengths give a sense of satisfaction. It’s not just the outcome itself that gives meaning - it’s how one made a difference to the outcome that does. Accomplishment needn't be just about work or a big project. It could be a well meaning phone call, a well tended garden, a game with friends, a solo travel trip - anything that brings all of who we are alive & is useful to the cause!

2. Authentic self expression - Even before Covid, many of us wear masks when we go out in the world hiding who we truly are. Its our belief that we will be more accepted if we don’t show who we are and it would be easy to fit-in if we become the person who the world wants us to be. Apart from creating conflicts within ourselves, this robs us of our meaning/ contribution to the world. Any activity that leads you to show who you really are as a person is meaningful because it lets you be authentic. Authentic expressions can be cathartic & liberating. There is no expression that is silly. If you believe you have a frog’s voice and yet want to sing, have two left feet and still want to dance, its absolutely alright!

3. Agenda-less learning: Learning things that have no bigger purpose other than making your heart sing not only elevates your mood but also makes you feel worthwhile. It could be sculpture, scripture, art, photography, baking, martial art, physical exercise, reading and what not - it really does not matter. All it matters is you are willing to be available to grow!

4. Beyond self/Purpose: Service to a cause beyond one's selfish needs expands people beyond their limitation. Just volunteering a few hours on a cause that you deeply care about can give you a feeling of abundance - about having something in you that is useful enough to give away. There lies the seed of meaning & contentment.

5. Belonging: Belonging is a deep rooted need for many of us. Some people like building close relationships (family & friends) that make them feel they belong. Some like building communities. Whatever be your choice, build your own! The most common mistake we do is to think that we need to sacrifice time we spend with friends and family to become someone in our career. If we indeed become that someone, who are we going to celebrate it with?

6. Channel to reduce suffering - If our mental model, skills and actions either serve us or others in reducing suffering, our life becomes a lot meaningful. During the pandemic, hundreds of people became self-made saviours coordinating beds, supplying food, helping with funerals because they perceived a calling to reduce suffering & enhance well-being as much as they can.

7. Spirituality: Belief systems that encourage the exploration into a higher source of power lead us into a space of greater meaning - our space in the world and how to make the most of it. Over centuries, these systems developed across the world use various tools, rituals & practices to help one feel empowered, resourceful in order to live a meaningful life. Seek your own belief system & make the most of it!

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, taking care of patients in the last 3 months of their lives summarised their regrets as below:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Finding your meaning leaves you with less regrets later in life.

Are you ready to find yours?

Interesting reads:

Man's search for meaning - Victor Frankl

The Power of Meaning - Emily Esfahani Smith

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