Hands down… bar none… without a doubt, the most frequently asked question I receive is: “how do I find my calling – meaningful and fulfilling work?” All of us want it, but how do we find it?
I’m gonna start us down that path in a very dark place, a Nazi concentration camp outside of Dachau in 1944. A young Jewish doctor is working as a slave laborer, watching his fellow prisoners fall one by one. This young physician has already lost his family to the horrors of concentration camps and sits alone, toiling away. It was during these dark days that Viktor Frankl discovered the power of meaning and purpose. He noticed that prisoners who could find meaning and purpose in their existence could continue through the harsh realities they were forced to endure, but once that meaning and purpose was lost, those individuals would give up and die shortly thereafter. Upon his liberation, Viktor Frankl went on to publish Man’s Search for Meaning and founded logotherapy, a therapeutic approach based on helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives. As Viktor Frankl so perfectly put it,
“The existential vacuum – or, as he sometimes terms it, ‘existential frustration’ – is a common phenomenon and is characterized by the subjective state of boredom, apathy, and emptiness. One feels cynical, lacks direction and questions the point of most of life’s activities. Some complain of a void and a vague discontent when the busy week is over.” Yalom, Irvin D. (1980) p.449
Wow. Eerie isn’t it? How many of us don’t have those feelings and thoughts when we think about our jobs? In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl argues that we can find meaning in three different places:
- By creating a work or doing a deed – What we do at work. Either the work product itself or that sense of completion we get when something’s done
- By encountering someone (in our lives) – Our role as it relates to others in our lives. Our role as a mother, a son, a wife, a brother, a father, a manager, etc…
- By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering – Overcoming difficult struggles in life and making meaning of those challenges later – think cancer survivors
Fast forward to today. Finding meaningful, fulfilling work is no easy task, but with some introspection it can be done. In my years working with individuals from all walks of life, from graduate students to frustrated entrepreneurs, from stay-at-home moms to retiring senior executives, I have found 5 questions that are some of the most powerful questions we can ever try to answer. I offer those to you in future posts as we go through the journey of finding meaningful work together.
In this video, I set up the 5 questions and get you ready for what’s ahead. And in case you’d like to check out ol’ Viktor in action, here’s a clip for you. He was and is absolutely FANTASTIC!
One final thought, finding one’s purpose is 50% of the battle. Taking the steps to making it become a reality is the other 50% – and it is a tough 50% so get yourself ready!