Maybe I don’t need to tell you this, but meaning and purpose are the talk of the town. Purpose, in particular, is now the unmissable subject on any corporate conference’s schedule, in the same way resilience has been these past few years.
Yet so many in the corporate world have become utterly bored on the subject of purpose and meaning. In certain circles it’s become the eye roller, the ‘oh no, not that again’ topic. Undoubtedly, it’s because there is still so much misunderstanding on the subject, but more so because we struggle with it and therefore find ways to discredit it or disown it.
For many of us, when it comes to work, we’ve gone along for much of our lives blissfully unaware that it should mean any more than money in exchange for a job well done. Some may focus on career progression, of course, but in-between that and today’s fast-paced way of living, there’s not much time for any further thought on the subject. And then wham! Someone mentions purpose. And meaning. And from thereon in, something changes. Forever.
Once we’re introduced to the idea that our lives and the work we do should carry meaning (i.e. align to our values) and give us purpose (i.e. a belief that there is a good reason for it) then quite frankly, it’s hard to go back. And when we realise (sometimes on a daily basis) that we’re working in, or running, an organisation which lacks purpose, then we tend to start feeling like we’re not living true to ourselves, true to our values. Things start to lack meaning.
And that’s when the headache begins.
As an individual, when these areas of your life do not align, the realisation dawns that there is no quick fix. Likewise, when you’re an organisation. So not being clear on your purpose often leads to staff feeling a lack of meaning in the work they carry out. So, whether you’re an individual or an organisation, the disappointment can be catastrophic at worst, excruciatingly painful at best.
It’s no wonder people roll their eyes at the thought of it, all because when you feel so far off the mark it’s hard to know where to begin.
Have you stopped to consider the difference?
Putting disappointment to one side, have you asked whether you need meaning or purpose? As I sat in a room of around 500 people last week at Meaning, a Brighton-based conference, many of us hadn’t, despite there being plenty of coaches and facilitators amongst the crowd.
Take a moment to consider this for yourself. What is the difference and what does it mean to you? Having purpose is a belief that our lives and/or our work, has been of use to others, a reason for being. Whereas meaning is the value (or values) which we assign to that belief.
Most people, I mean the ones who take the time to slow down, pause and contemplate where they’re heading in life, want it to have meant something. Meant something to us personally, something to those close to us, something to the world at large. That’s our why, our purpose. It’s the final frontier of being human isn’t it — to know one’s life meant something?
Map of Meaning
Purpose gets the big headlines, but here I’d to focus on meaning. If you’ve not come across it before, I’d like to introduce you to the Map of Meaning by Lani Morris and Marjolein Lips-Wiersma. It’s a tool (within a book) which helps you take responsibility for your own meaning. I’ve found it an incredibly useful tool for work and life as a whole.
By way of an example, I’ve recently returned from an incredible experience visiting a brand-new conservation reserve in South Africa during their soft launch. What made it incredibly special for me was the meaning it held.
I run a travel company and my vision is to offer as many responsible/sustainable experiences to our clients as possible. Yet it’s not easy to find places where sustainability is genuinely at the heart of all endeavours and operations. Yet here, it absolutely was.
Greeted by two young local Zulu women who ran the on-boarding process and took care of us on a day-to-day basis, these two women were incredibly inspiring. Both from local, remote rural communities, they were able to raise themselves up and get a place at university. All this whilst bringing up children they’d given birth to whilst barely out of school — the norm in Zulu culture. One had three children, yet no support from any partner. The other spent her days worrying if her husband would ‘take another wife’, as is customary in Zulu culture. On top of that, with no form of readily available transport, they had to hitch hike daily to get to university, which is incredibly dangerous for women, leaving their children at home to be looked after by relatives.
Yet after all going through all this, they were faced with little hope of employment. There are no jobs for women such as these and many face a bleak future indeed. Yet the lodge, on this new conservation area of the Umfolozi reserve, had committed to employing all local staff. Committed to providing hope by training these young women in 5 star hospitality and conservation from scratch. Women who, up until this point in their lives, had felt there was no hope for the future, or the future of their children. And they carried out this training with the utmost care, consideration and commitment. It gave these young women what had been missing from their lives up until now — meaning. It gave them a reason to get up each morning and see the world with new eyes. Hope that their children (all girls) would have a chance in life — the chance to feel part of something good. Zulus have had a chequered past with their neighbouring wildlife, but here they are taught about conservation. Taught about the importance of saving and revering the animals they share this land with.
This work had restored their dignity.
This lodge held values that I cherish dearly myself. Ones of commitment, loyalty, education, being of service to others and environmentalism. So I close by asking you what do you stand for? What will you do in 2019 to make a difference to your world and to the world of others less fortunate than you? You don’t need to go all out, just do something small. The important thing is, to just do it.
To take a journey to uMfolozi Big Five on a Soul Safari see here.
To read more on the subject see here.