What gives me meaning and purpose? I meet many who ask this and feel dissatisfied with what currently seems to be in their life or sense there’s something missing. Not everybody has this as a driver in their lives, but it is a significant factor.The absense of meaning can be a big cause of frustration and discontent.
Humans, it is said, are meaning-making beings. We make interpretations, we fit things into a scheme, we connect things to our beliefs and values, we link what happens to our likes and preferences, we look to get value from what we do, and in other ways make sense of what happens for us. For some of us a sense of meaning might be religious or spiritual. For others it might be doing something for our fellow humans. Others might want to be achieving something of value or what sits well with their values.
Many I work with have reached a point in their lives where what they’ve been doing is no longer “enough” and they want to “put something back”. Some find they have achieved a lot in their careers and but now they want something more “meaningful”. There might also be a young person who is inspired by making a difference and wants his or her life to be one about meaning, rather than say money, status or material possessions. Or some event has occurred that has led them to question the value of what they do, who they are and where they are going.
The classic way of looking at this is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, where he describes his experiences as a labour inmate of Auschwitz and what distinguished those who survived as opposed to those that died in the final winter before liberation. He considered that those that lived, despite the terrible privations, were those that continued to make meaning, “the hopelessness of our struggle,” he wrote, “does not detract from its dignity and its meaning…(his purpose was) to find a full meaning in our life, then and there, in that hut and in that practically hopeless situation.” Each needed to take personal responsibility to find that meaning for themselves.
For those for whom this is an important driver in their lives the question is no small matter. For such people, it inspires and motivates them. It illuminates their lives and enriches them. They feel the absence of it strongly. Knowing your purpose is uplifting. It sustains you even when things are difficult and challenging. When distracted, it serves to bring you back to focus on what matters. It is therefore an important area to explore, and it’s never to late to do it.
I give coaching to help people clarify their mission, vision, and purpose and get the meaning they want from their lives. To read more about my coaching, click here.