spirit and meaning

“The Great Resignation” is part of a greater rethink about what matters most at work — and in life. The pandemic forced a pause that gifted us with time to step back and search more deeply for purpose and meaning.

The last seven posts focused on Frank’s search for spirit and meaning. This seven-part series is in the Deepening Spirit, Meaning & Purpose section of our website along, with other blogs, articles, and book excerpts on this existential topic.

Here are a few of the series’ key points to ponder:

  • Frank realized that rethinking priorities and values often means moving beyond success to significance. We want to know that our lives count for something beyond a paycheck or position. We want to make a difference.
  • Life is a limited-time offer. Too often, our “dash” becomes a mad dash in “taking care of busyness.” Our work is part of our dash. When our work is part of a deeper life calling, we put our heart into it. That’s when what we do becomes a meaningful expression of who we are.
  • A centered leader is continually exploring inner space and drawing outer leadership strength from their heart and soul. It is the source of the spirit and meaning he or she brings to their families, teams, or organizations.
  • Frank learned that purposeful leaders love their organization’s greater purpose and see its products or services contributing to a bigger world that they love. That love — and desire for growth and development — extends to everyone involved.
  • A toxic culture is loveless, passionless, and meaningless. It has a weak heart and a sick soul. A healthy culture is engaged in meaningful doing through purposeful being. It has a high-energy spirit.
  • Assuming we care (if not, we’re looking for leadership in all the wrong places), our leadership challenge is to help others care. We need to help build the spirit of the team or organization.

But “You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job to Find More Meaning in Life,” according to a research report by that title published last month in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge newsletter, “Before you give notice and go on a vision quest, consider this: Fulfillment doesn’t require big change, says research by Julian De Freitas and colleagues. In fact, you can find more meaning even in a job you don’t love…If someone doesn’t enjoy an activity, even if it’s sensible, people may believe that their life is not meaningful. Conversely, it’s possible for someone to find real meaning from seemingly senseless sources, so long as they are fulfilled.”

Heart Wealth: In Search of Spirit and Meaning

Why do you exist is one of the three interconnected questions at the heart of our Focus and Context. If, like Frank, you’re looking to deepen your sense of purpose or reason for being, you might try a few of these approaches:

  • Develop a personal mission statement. It’s a discovery and learning process that takes time and thoughtful reflection to sort out what’s most important. Here are questions to ask in developing your personal purpose:
    • Who are the key people in all aspects (work, family, community, friends, etc.) of my life? If each one were giving a eulogy at my funeral about how I had impacted their lives, what would I want them to say?
    • What does my “dream list” reveal about my inner desires and purpose? Is there some “music” in me that might be buried with me, never to be played?
    • If I had only two more years to live, what are the most important things I would make sure I did?
    • What sort of work or activities really excite and energize me? When do I feel the most vibrant and alive?
    • What special talents or strengths do I have?
    • What insight does my gratitude list offer to these questions?
  • How well is your personal purpose aligned with your team or organization’s? Are there ways to live out your purpose within your current work? Search first within your own organization or team before going out and looking elsewhere.
  • Depending on the relationship with your manager, could you have a mission alignment discussion with him or her?
  • You might list off all the positive, energizing points about your work. Review it frequently. You could also keep a running list of all the mission alignment opportunities that exist in our job, team, or organization.
  • Work with your loved ones and write a statement of family values and mission. This could involve having everyone describe their picture of the ideal family future. You can use this to develop common themes and a composite vision of what our family life together could be.
  • Focus and Context (where you’re going, what you believe in, and why you exist) is the road we’ve chosen; goals are the mileposts along the way. Setting and reaching stretch goals is a critical part of fulfilling our purpose and moving toward our vision. Goals are means, not ends. Goals have a beginning and completion. Our Focus and Context are an unending, continuous process.
  • We need to ensure our purpose is ours, not a role others want us to play.
  • Purpose statements shouldn’t be written to inspire or impress anyone else. It’s designed only to inspire us. We can avoid that problem by not showing it to anyone else.
  • Cultivate the habit of setting aside some quiet, contemplative time for inner reflection, meditation, and spiritual renewal. This is time to do your vision, values, and mission clarification work. It’s a time to discover and listen to your inner music.

If you have a strong sense of personal purpose, you might be looking for ways to deepen spirit and meaning in the people you’re leading. Here are a few resources from our Vision, Values, and Purpose section:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is one of the seminal books on the founding of positive psychology, researched and written by Hungarian American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi. He found, “Someone who knows his desires and works with purpose to achieve them is a person whose feelings, thoughts, and actions are congruent with one another, and is, therefore, a person who has achieved inner harmony.” The M (meaning) in the PERMA framework — a central support of positive psychology — is often weighted as the heaviest well-being factor.

Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning Series