Attending the 8th Meaning conference in Brighton this week provided a space for me to ponder more deeply on the link between meaning, work, and self-realisation.
I fully get that for many people the idea of work as a place where they might find meaning in their life is a tough enough challenge, let alone to stretch that to the idea of self-realisation. Notwithstanding, having what some may feel is an over-identified sense of the role work plays in our lives I feel called to share the results of my reflection.
I have written before about the importance of work in our lives and its role in enabling us to share our talents, gifts, knowledge, and experience. Additionally, the very act of being in ‘gainful work’ (not necessarily paid) is as fundamental as our breath. Strong words you may say. And yet, its true for me. The power of feeling useful and able to contribute to our human family is a deep calling from our soul. Some might call it ‘being of service’.
Work can, of course, take many forms and doesn’t have to be on the ‘global, change the world scale’. It can be paid, unpaid, family or community centred, business or public service and so on. One of the gifts of work is about being in a rhythm, part of the orchestra of life within which we play a role in advancing the well-being and greater good of our world.
We may also consider the specifics of what triggers that feeling of value and self-worth.
So, what of meaning? In the post-conference questionnaire, I was faced with the question ‘what other topics would you like to see at the 2019 conference?’ This, even more than the conference itself, caused me to think about the scope and boundaries of ‘meaning’. Certainly, it’s a feeling, one that takes us to a place of defining value – our value and sense of worth. How and where do I matter? We may also consider the specifics of what triggers that feeling of value and self-worth. This is where it gets more complicated and deeply personal. One person may derive meaning from being with a group they consider to be supportive, valuing and kind. Others may connect with the work output itself and derive meaning from that – a sense of pride that the work product contributes to the life of others in some (often good) way.
We may also consider our role in supporting others in their quest for meaning – as co-workers, leaders/managers, family members, community stakeholders and so on. We may have a profound effect on others’ search for meaning.
Reflecting then on the link between work, meaning and self-realisation may feel a bit lofty – especially the idea that work (potentially quite mundane for many) can play a role in, or even be instrumental in, our deep personal growth-fulness.
Yet if we each consider our own work life journey – the habits and disciplines, talents, challenges, experiences, the ‘wins’, intellectual and emotional growth – we can see that the world of work provides often unique opportunities to expand our own sense of self. Every minute of our work life provides us with the chance to know our capacities and capabilities, to access resources – material, emotional, mental and spiritual – that we may never have known had we not had the doors opened for us through work.
As a self-confessed workaholic and a three on the Enneagram, I am fully aware of my bias toward work and yet still feel that my perspective has merit. The power of work to help us fulfil our potential and find meaning in our life is vast. So perhaps the subject of meaning should rate somewhat higher on the organisational agenda – not because of financial gain from highly motivated people but because it’s part of our birthright?