"Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for." ~ Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl himself believed that meaning -- the meaning of a sacrifice -- could be found in suffering. I'm not so sure, however, that working in a stressful career to achieve higher monetary, material and social wealth fits Frankl's idea of finding meaning in sacrifice. Unfortunately, however, this willful sacrifice of one's mental, physical and spiritual health for that of financial health is more common today than not.
With regard to money, the basic utility of your job or career is to earn enough money to pay for food, shelter and clothing with perhaps a modest amount remaining for life's little pleasures. It is quite normal, however, to perceive the function of your career as something quite different -- as a tool to achieve material wealth far beyond what is necessary and to overlook the opportunity to do something significant -- to achieve your innermost latent desire -- to find meaning and purpose. This common sacrifice of self for money, material wealth and social status is where problems begin:
- Life goals become defined by monetary goals -- or at least you perceive that money is the primary enabler for fulfillment;
- You make your life fit the demands of your career, rather than the opposite;
- And if you hate what you do, you rationalize the stress as a sacrifice for providing for your family, your retirement goals and/or your desire to identify yourself as somebody.
One or all of the preceding points likely have some degree of relation to your existence; but what can you do about it?
Where most attempts fail to make lasting and meaningful change (i.e. diets and budgets) is where they begin. Your brain likes shortcuts -- lists of things to do -- that are quick, easy and painless. If you could take a pill to lose weight, your brain wants this. If you could read some quick tips on how to get rich and retire young, your brain wants this.
In summary, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, except in your brain (and geometry)! What your brain wants and what is good for you are not necessarily the same. Your brain wants the path of least resistance, although what it needs is the path to a meaningful existence, and this requires self-knowledge -- choosing to use your mind rather than defaulting and yielding to the brain's wants.
Rather than looking for shortcuts and rewards, which may be your greatest detriment as a human being, start taking small and meaningful steps toward goals, the least of which should be defined in monetary terms, if at all. Finding meaning in one's life can not be prudently obtained by shortcuts and lists of things to do. Put simply, this meaning is acquired by aligning who you are with what you do, which first requires self-knowledge.
With regard to our underlying theme -- finding a career that is meaningful -- I like these resources:
- Self-knowledge is everything when it comes to career choice. I believe the Myers-Brigg Typology Indicator, which is based upon the ideas of Carl Jung, is the best personality assessment tool. Check out the Jung Typology Test for a good start. This online tool also points you to occupations and educational resources based upon your personality type -- an excellent first step in aligning who you are with what you do.
- I like this list of the 50 Best Jobs in America. The selection criteria is based upon pay and growth prospects but most importantly, meaningfulness.
- There is certainly no shortage of media coverage on the broad topic of productivity. Unfortunately, the meaning of the term has been diluted to the degree that most people pursue productivity without first defining what it is they want to produce! Productivity is not just doing more with less and productive people are not productive because they have read and followed a list of things to do on how to be productive. They are productive because they have acquired self-knowledge -- they have identified their values and purpose and spend a significant amount of their time there -- in this sweet spot, if you will. If you are not productive or successful in your work, you are probably not acting from your sweet spot of values and strengths. You can find more on this topic at a previous post, Mind vs. Brain Part II: Priorities, Pursuits & Productivity.
- You might also try my Life Planning series of posts. Follow the links to Life Planning Part I: Are you a tool?, Life Planning Part II:The Search for Meaning and Life Planning Part III: Creating the Plan.