A meaningful life
What is ‘a more meaningful life’?
There is a strange but common phenomenon in mentoring and coaching. It is the very large number of people who come to us wanting to lead ‘a more meaningful life’. They are mostly intelligent, hard-working, kind people who have got entangled in the net of wealth and find themselves twice worried. They worry they earn too much when others earn so little.
Paradoxically, they are also worried about whether they have enough for the bills that will come with age – their parents, their children, their grandchildren and themselves. That is a difficult sum to quantify and they know it is inflating all the time. So they go on working at the bank or at a job that leaves them dissatisfied with their contribution to others, to the world and to themselves.
People see a variety of ways to compensate for their mundane and (as they see it) not very useful jobs. In a word they want to ‘make’ or to ‘serve’. For many the idea of becoming a great cook is a dream too far. And yet they want to try. Baking a cake is still one of the most rewarding things you can do in life. Others want a small cafe where people meet socially and for business. A place where they, The Owner, can serve and smile and pass the time of day in friendship.
Common to all these wishes is the need to be in control. They know working for yourself involves a long day. They know the price of independence is a risk that customers will stop coming to you. They still want the option to say to a customer whose behaviour is unacceptable ‘Do not darken my doorstep again’. The freedom to say ‘no’ can seem illusory but the option to do so is real.
Reconciling the wishes and needs that people have is very much a mentor’s job. Not, of course, that the mentor actually does it. S/he is the conduit to nirvana or whatever substitutes for it. ‘Meaningful’ comes from within. It is not a system, a process or a mantra. It is being creative about the opportunities that present themselves daily to be kind in deed and thoughtful in judging.
To be meaningful, aka to have a meaningful life, you need to understand and do two things. First, you must know who you are. Most people don’t. That is not a criticism but a fact. The way we have brought people up does not include an occasional thorough study, not of the disastrous childhood they have suffered but of the tremendous gifts and opportunities they have been given.
Second, and once they know who they are, they must have a purpose, a destination, an objective. A cruise to nowhere is a pointless and usually unpleasant event. Lacking destination the passengers have to create their own – and it mostly turns out to be Oblivion. Nothing meaningful about that. To know where you are headed is to have life by the scruff of the neck, obedient.
My first advice to people is to do their sums, as far as is possible. Forecasting your needs is not easy. All the more reason to get a second opinion on whether your forecasts are realistic. Providing for those for whom you are responsible is your first duty. Second, deciding what level of risk you are prepared responsibly to embrace. Most people can take more risks than they do. Estimate your risk-propensity and then add a little to it.
Now work hard at finding out who you are. This is a process we should all do at least once a year – and then get over it. Constant half-navel-gazing is counterproductive. Once we know who we are, finding our purpose, our objective becomes much easier. Knowing your destination is a basic key to happiness. [The Daily Paradox is not a promotional piece but if you look at the “P.S” at the end it will give you some useful clues. In our case “P.S.” stands for Promotional Subscript.]
Each of us has a unique objective in life. The people whose objectives bring them the greatest pleasure are those who devote time and effort to others. Easy to say, not so easy to do. This is where the Number-Crunchers get at you. They are the people whose mantra is ‘more means better’. We all know the opposite is generally true. When we start to enumerate the good we do, it becomes a transactional blur – ‘what I gave, what I got’. There is no joy in that.
One person gave us the answer in my lifetime. That was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her reply, when asked how many people she had helped, was always ‘I help the one in my arms’.
The one in your arms is very close by.
Help them. And make yourself happy.
P.S. PASDAQ® was designed specifically to help people find out who they are and what their destination should be. It means Personality, Abilities, Skills, Dreams, Ambitions, Qualifications. For more ask firstname.lastname@example.org or visit website www.TerrificMentors.com.