The search for deeper meaning

HENRY David Thoreau said: “Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then throwing them back merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.”

How do you think you would enjoy a job like this? Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad – to start with. It might be novel to see how many stones you could throw over in an hour. However, I suspect that at some point, most people would reach a point wondering what the point is to it all. Sound familiar?

Think about your current work. Are you merely throwing stones over a wall for someone else? What is the point of your work? Is it purely to earn money so you can do and have the things you want during the rest of your waking hours? Or does your work fulfil some other, greater purpose?

Too many of us settle for a mediocre existence. We resign ourselves to believing that work is a means to an end and this results in work not having much meaning in itself. “Thank God it’s Friday” and “the Monday blues” are contemporary expressions that reflect the general state of mind of a significant portion of this nation’s workforce.

Isn’t there more to life? I think so. Inside each of us there lies a great need to experience life as we’d really like it to be – rich, rewarding and fulfilling. To know what it feels like to be truly alive. Most of us have had glimpses, but nothing more.

Maslow, with his hierarchy of needs, helps us understand that once we have our materialistic and basic needs met (shelter, sustenance, safety) we search to fulfil a higher need of self-actualisation. Western society has created the opportunity for most to meet our materialistic needs.

In fact, progress over the past 400 or so years has been measured by economic metrics – how well our society can meet the basic needs of its people – housing, employment and safety.

By and large we’ve come a long way in 400 years. We’re now searching on a higher plane, searching to fulfil a greater hunger over and above materialistic needs.

Meaning in work. What does this mean to you? Consider people you know who love what they do. They’ve got direction, and energy. It seems as though they’re on some sort of mission. What is it about them? Why do they love their work when so many others don’t? Is it luck? Are they just lucky to find a job that suits them down to the ground?

I don’t think so. People who appear to be lucky have usually put in the hard yards to determine what will make them happy, and then have gone after it. Simple as that.

Putting in the hard yards means asking and answering for yourself: “What will make me happy?”

The easy answer is not always the right answer. More money, less pressure, more time off, better car, better house.

Most of us have an inkling that, while these things can bring short-term gratification, once we have them, we’ll want to have more. We’re back on the treadmill.

Many people seek meaning and fulfilment in chasing things that are external to them.

Instead, you might want to look internally, and ask yourself some hard questions, such as: What is important to me?

What do I want to achieve in this life? When do I do my best work?

What needs to change in the world that I ought to do something about? Only by attempting to answer these questions will you begin to feel a greater sense of satisfaction in your work.

Winston Churchill once said: “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened”.

Next time you stumble over the truth – probably when you’re engaged in something that inspires or energises you – stop and take a look at what makes it that way for you.

And better still, look back over your life for your peak experiences. What patterns emerge?

I’ll leave you with this quote from the movie Dead Poet’s Society – your call to action: “I came to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to live deep and to suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that is not life, and not, when I had come to die, discover I had not lived.”

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