My client had three options for a new job but she finds herself stuck. She’s just turned 50 and wants to retire by the turn of the next decade so making money is an important goal for her. Of the three options, she’s ambivalent about one, bored with the second, and excited by the third. But the catch is the opportunity that aligns with her passions is unlikely to pay well. It’s a startup and it’s future is uncertain. Her yearning was for work that is meaningful but she feels constrained by her own goal of making money.
Finding meaning in our lives matters because we all want lives that have purpose. We want to work at companies where our contribution matters – where we are seen as contributing because of the range of experience and skills we bring. As customers we want to buy from companies that have values and meaning. We want an economy with purpose – surely we are put on earth for something more than to earn a salary to pay for the next smartphone upgrade?
Another client has reached the highest echelons of the company and has decided she wants to retire in five years. In her career journey, she has made conscious personal sacrifices that to the outsider might look hard to bear, but to her, it was a choice. In five years, she wants to shift gear and take on more voluntary work and non-executive director positions and get a dog. What informs what is in her 5-year plan – also known as the dog-plan – is her desire for having some significant impact on the organization and the people she works with. She wants to leave behind a legacy that matters to herself and her company.
The legacy we leave behind in this world appears to become more important to us as we age. I know that to be true for my own life. Legacy and meaning appear to be so intricately linked to me – without a view on what gives us meaning, how can we craft a legacy that matters to us? And the question of what gives us meaning is no small question.
There is a beautiful passage from a speech by John Gardener (also well worth reading) on meaning. It paints beautiful imagery of meaning being woven into our existence like invisible thread.
“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”
Like all good things, the enjoyment is the process of discovery. We choose to build meaning into our lives. As the passage says, all the ingredients are there. We need only take stock, stop and reflect to find the meaning before us.