Finding Meaning: The Hidden Motivator

August 28, 2018

By: John Sandahl

In my last post I referenced the ABC’s of internal motivation (Link to past article) and mentioned that watching my new baby learn at an alarmingly fast rate has reminded me how important the ABC’s (Autonomy, Belonging and Competence) are for both the father of babies, and business leaders to remember.  The fourth component in the ABC’s that I mentioned is “meaning”. Naturally, it’s hard for me to know what is meaningful for my 8 month old right now (Outside of snuggles and milk) – so that metaphor won’t work in this post. It will work in reverse, however, since being a first time parent has brought a whole new meaning to me.  But before I get to that – a little more about the term “meaning”.

Meaning is an essential element to being a fully formed and fulfilled human. I am using the term to mean – the thing(s) that give our lives “meaning”.  Some people use the term purpose, some use passion. It might be the value your work creates for others, it might be have nothing to do with work at all and instead be about your passion for travelling or your status as a weekend warrior athlete. But knowing WHY we do what we do is essential to making progress on our difficult goals and objectives in life.  Without it, it can be hard to get out of bed in the morning. If my work offers me a chance to live a life full of meaning and purpose – I’m going to be an engaged and productive employee. Even if the meaning is coming from things outside of work as it does for the vast majority of employees and business owners.

As leaders, we may have a corporate mission and vision statement – and as companies we do try and connect with the things that make work meaningful for each of our people.  But we also all know that we can smell a fake attempt to force “meaning” to come from the work for those who are just there for the job. Avoid this mistake and simply try to learn what makes your people tick – and manage from that place instead of assuming that your reports job title or salary is the thing that makes life meaningful. For the majority of your people – that’s not the case.  Even if it is for you.

For years, I did “meaningful” work as a facilitator of large group retreat programs for schools.  The early days were filled with joy and learning both for me and the students and educators with whom I was working.  I was living and learning through a job that gave me tremendous satisfaction and fulfillment. As I became more experienced I noticed that the meaning I was used to getting from my days in the schools was waning.  I was tired and burned out. The daily job had lost its luster and so I had to start to shift my role to make sure I was finding the meaningful parts and looking to do those as much as possible. It took some time but gradually I realized that my meaning – the truly fulfilling parts of my day were in the moments when I would get to see a colleague shine.  This set me on the path of coaching. If you’re experiencing these concerns if your day to day consider spending some time reflecting on what is important and get a trusted friend, mentor or coach to listen.  Likely there’s some wisdom locked in there that needs to come out.

Which brings me to today.  I’ve now got an 8 month old that I want to spend as much time with as possible.  She’s a little meaning making bundle for me. My dilemma isn’t what should I be doing – its how do I do the things that allow me the most time with her. You’ve likely experienced something transformational like this before.  A change in life situation that forces you to consider why you’re doing the things you’re doing. The question is, have you shifted your life to move towards more meaningful actions as a result? If not – what are you waiting for?

By: John Sandahl

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