The last two years have witnessed a fundamental shake-up in most of our lives. The notion that we are in control (not that we ever were) of events outside of ourselves is being questioned and, for some, is being shattered.
Few of us are old enough to remember a time when our way of life is being challenged and our frailty exposed not by humankind in the form of conflicts but by an invisible force. Depending on your viewpoint, it has required us to rethink and change the way we live or we are being manipulated to give up control. Whatever your view, what is clear is we have had to adapt to the way we live and work.
What many of us have done is to reflect on our lives and re-evaluate the way we live and work. Many of my clients have asked those big questions. Why do I do what I do? Am I in the right profession? What is my meaning? What is my purpose?
Well, here’s the good news: I will not pontificate about the meaning of life, but what I am going to do is suggest some simple steps to regain some clarity and refocus.
When it comes to our purpose, some of you will have a religious view, and believe this life is a preparation for an afterlife. Suffering may then be seen as a preparation and part of the process we must endure. Existentialists recognize the need to acknowledge suffering, and to take responsibility for our response to it. The belief that existence comes before essence requires us to find meaning in our lives rather than seeking some great ‘Holy Grail’ of understanding.
One of the best know examples of finding meaning in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, was Viktor Frankl. I’ve spoken about Frankl before, but his book “Mans’ search for meaning” is an inspirational account of his time incarcerated in Auschwitz when he recognized survival depended on finding a reason to stay alive by finding meaning in everyday tasks. Those who did usually survived.
I don’t believe there is anything mystical about finding our purpose. Our truth is within us and we’ll find our purpose when we stop seeking the answers from outside of ourselves and understand some simple truths.
1. Understanding through painful experience
Frankl’s lesson is available to us in our own lives. When we are challenged by illness, catastrophe, accidents and disasters, we often emerge finding meaning and purpose. I have heard many stories from people who have described hugely challenging and sometimes painful beyond belief experiences, and then stated, “Looking back, it was the best thing that has happened to me”
2. Accessing the gifts you already posses
This is the most obvious yet often most difficult for some of us. You don’t need to spend thousands to go on a course, or to buy books with the magic secret to finding purpose. Stop looking outward for the answers and look inside yourself.
We are all born with the gifts we need to fulfill our purpose. Yes, we need to acknowledge the need to sharpen and hone those skills. The brilliant musician may be born with natural ability, but still needs to practice and develop their skills, but they will want to because if feels right, because they enjoy what they do and are in that state we sometimes call flow.
3. Finding meaning through contribution and growth
We all recognize that prosperity flourishes when we provide something others want and need. Just as the heart functions by pumping blood throughout our bodies, and then returning to the heart to repeat the cycle, we must both contribute and receive in order to survive and grow.
B Corps will continue to grow because they understand the need to contribute not just to their customers and to the external environment, but to the environment within their workplaces and the well-being of their own employees. It’s the heart model at work in business. When we embrace them, contribution and growth become our mission
4. Thriving through connection
When we understand we are part of a greater whole, we add our gifts and enjoy the gifts of others. I remember working with someone who had the admirable intention of building a school for underprivileged children in a very poor environment in the Far East. He spent months working on getting the project off the ground, only to find there was already a similar project underway in a nearby region. By adding his resources to the existing project, he could make a far more impactful contribution. The project was funded and built far quicker than it would have been. Sometimes we need to put our egos to one side for the good of the greater whole.
The long-term benefit is that he now works with the larger organisation, is well rewarded financially and with job satisfaction. He now contributes hugely to the field of education.
Musicians bring us entertainment and joy made more so when part of a band or an orchestra.
5. Becoming who you already are
The biggest barrier to our own well-being is the desire to change ourselves because we don’t believe we are enough, or our experiences have led us to believe the world may reject us if they really know us.
One of the great ironies of our time is the dislike most of us express for wearing a mask, yet we go through life wearing an invisible mask to hide ourselves from the world. The only work we need to do is to remove the mask to reveal who we already are.
When we can free ourselves from this self-imposed exile from life, we will see our vision more clearly, connect with our mission, and will become passionate about it. Because we believe in ourselves, the world will then believe in us and will share our vision.
To live in our truth and live in our purpose is straightforward. We don’t have to seek an elixir of life or uncover some hidden secret. We have to stop worrying about the opinions of others and accept that when we stand for something, we won’t attract everyone. Our gift is that when we live in our truth, we will attract those who will benefit from us and what we provide.
We have everything we’ll ever need, and must access the gifts we already own, so that we can become who we already are. Then we are fulfilling our purpose.