“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
What is the meaning of life? Scientifically speaking, the “meaning” of life is to persist and evolve. Every organism has a drive for self-preservation. Every creature is genetically encoded to replicate, to evolve, and to persist. At the most basic level, that is the fundamental meaning or purpose of life – to live.
But that’s not the kind of “meaning” we’re talking about here. So again, what is the “meaning” of life? Humans have pondered this for thousands of years. It is the very thing that separates humans from other animals…the self-awareness necessary to ask this question.
If you search that question on the internet, you will get back over 2.3 billion results – a clear indication that there is no simple answer. Millions of blogs, articles, even books all claim they have an answer. Read through some of them and you’ll discover a wide range of answers. Some will tell you the meaning of life is to serve a higher power (clearly a spiritual perspective). Philosophers will tell you it’s to be happy (not a bad thought). Academics will tell you our very ability to process thought infers that the meaning of life is the pursuit of knowledge. Overachievers will tell you it is to be successful in whatever you do. And so on… you get the point.
With so many perspectives, it seems difficult to answer the question. But what if all of those were right? What if the meaning of life was to serve a higher purpose, or to be happy, or to pursue knowledge, or to be successful? What if the meaning of life came down to your perspective – to what’s important to you, individually?
You know what word would capture that? Purpose! What if the meaning of life is to HAVE PURPOSE? What if the meaning of life was defined by each of us based on what’s important to and resonates with us? If the very meaning of our existence was to find purpose in life.
While I believe each individual’s purpose should be unique and personal to them, there is an overwhelmingly common thread throughout the various definitions of “the meaning of life.” If you were to amass the entire universe of data on that subject – and the related concept of purpose – then analyze what ideas come up most often, it’s safe to say that being of service to others would be our front runner.
On a personal level, age and wisdom have allowed me to define that purpose clearly. For me, I find purpose in the giving of myself to my family and my friends. I find the more I focus on living, being present, sharing, and serving others, the more meaning my life takes on. But that’s mine – and I’m sure each of us define and pursue our own purpose in unique and personal ways.
Which brings me full circle back to Winston Churchill’s quote – “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
I think he’s right, but I think we can do better. Why can’t making a living also have purpose? Why can’t we make a living and a life by what we give? Just like the scientific definition suggests, as humans we have evolved over time, and that evolution has given us a different understanding of the value and importance of human life. But it has also given us an understanding of the importance of environment and society, of taking care of both ourselves and others.
Today, the importance of purpose has extended beyond the personal search for meaning. Organizations and businesses alike are waking up to its essential nature and are beginning to shape their existence by more than just a business plan or a strategy. They are beginning to recognize that, if they are to attract and energize the RIGHT people whom they need to produce exceptional results, they also must have purpose. As it turns out, a shared purpose is the difference between good and great.
So, since purpose is individual in nature, the challenge for organizations lies in attracting those with similar core beliefs and motivations. Sometimes the organization’s mission alone is enough to serve that end such as in non-profits and community service. In that instance, likeminded, altruistically inclined people naturally gravitate to the organization and its mission.
In the case of most businesses, however, a bit of introspection and re-evaluation is required to define the difference they are trying to make in the world. And the work doesn’t end there. A culture that supports that purpose and attracts “true believers” must be built and preserved. That culture must also be roomy enough for varied individual expressions of that shared belief to work purposefully together. It’s a very simple concept that isn’t necessarily easy to implement. But, when it’s done right, amazing things happen.
For instance, at Genuent we are in the business of helping people connect with worthwhile, rewarding, and lucrative work while supplying hiring managers and their businesses the team members they need to succeed. For us, it’s no huge leap to a defined, shared purpose. We make a difference in the lives of real human beings every day.
So, if the meaning of your life is TO HAVE PURPOSE, the meaning of your work should also have purpose. What’s yours?