How to Find Meaning in an Uncertain World
It’s clear that having meaning in your life is imperative if you’re going to be happy. For instance, yesterday I had an interesting conversation with one of our Team Members at Thriveology. The conversation started when she mentioned that she was on “Spring Break” this week (she’s a senior in high school). Now, I put spring break in parenthesis for a reason. Because, really, all students have been on spring break for the past month.
The conversation got interesting when she said, “I hate that I’m not going to be going to my Zoom classes for the next week because now that’s another 3 hours out of the day that I don’t know what to do with”. The irony is, if I would have asked her how she felt about school just 2 months ago, she would’ve said that she couldn’t wait for it to get over!
And yet, here we were, just 2 months later, and she was resenting the fact that she wasn’t going to be able to fill at least SOME of her time with schoolwork. How could this be? How does someone go from being resentful of HAVING TO GO TO SCHOOL to being totally resentful that THEY WON’T BE ABLE TO DO SCHOOL WORK?!
What Does it Mean to Lose Your Meaning?
Naturally, to answer the question above, many people would say, “Oh, she’s just a teenager, so she doesn’t really know what she wants anyway”. And I would totally agree. However, I know MANY, MANY, MANY more “adults” who are in the same boat.
Just think about your own situation for a second. If you’re not currently working due to a shutdown, or if you’re working from home instead of going to the office, what are your current feelings about having to work? Do you wish that you could go into the office JUST ONCE? Just so you could have SOMETHING to do? Or, are you perfectly content sitting at home, doing nothing, and having no purpose to work toward?
If you’re like most people, you probably fit in the former group. The reason for that is simple. We all need to feel needed. And we all need some sort of meaning in our lives so that we feel like we’re contributing in SOME WAY. When so many people suddenly had to stop working or stop going to school, their meaning was suddenly taken away from them.
In an instant, millions of people had nothing to work toward. They had no path. They had no purpose for which to get up and pursue the day with passion and vigor (you do pursue every day with passion and vigor, don’t you?)! This is what it means to lose your meaning. When you have nothing to guide you, then you feel lost and confused. Which makes it hard to feel motivated to do, well, much of anything.
The Real Killer Behind Your Loss of Meaning
So, it’s clear that having something to work toward is important if we want to feel meaningful in this life. Why, then, do you suddenly feel so meaningless now that you have the CHOICE to do what you want when you want, how you want? After all, that freedom is what SOOOO many people wish for every day, is it not?
That’s why our high school Team Member WAS wishing to get out of school. So she had the freedom to move on with her life and make her own choices. That’s why “adults” look forward to the weekend. So they have the choice to do what they want, when they want, how they want.
However, it turns out that, when it comes to being free to make choices about what to do over the long-term, we’re inherently BAD at it! But why? Why could we be so bad at being free to make choices, when it’s apparent that we want the ability to do so?
To understand that, let’s talk a little bit about your upbringing…
Don’t Worry Little One. We’ll Protect You!
For the majority of people in North America, we grew up in an atmosphere that told us what to do. As kids, our parents told us how to act, what to wear, how to eat and so on. In school, we were told that we needed to be good at studying and passing tests. We were told to stay in our seats and not to step out of line.
And once we finally get into the corporate world, we were told what work we needed to focus on in order to build someone else’s dream. We were told how to dress, what cubical to sit in, the proper way to act around our coworkers, and when we could take lunch.
Now, I don’t say this to put down your parents, the school system, or the corporate world. On the contrary, the reason that these institutions keep you from finding meaning is the same reason why you had meaning in the first place. And that’s Goals.
How Process Goals Keep You Filled with Meaning
Generally speaking, there are 2 types of goals that we all have in our lives. Each and every one of us uses both of these types of goals every day whether we know it or not. That’s because they’re both imperative to help you make progress while at the same time feeling like you’re contributing to the world.
The first type of goal is the outcome goal. This is the type of goal most of us are familiar with. Think about your last health goal. Maybe it was to lose 20lbs, or run a marathon, or bench press 150lbs. These are all OUTCOMES you want to achieve.
When it comes to work, an outcome could be a project you’re working on that is complete next week. The project is the goal. Or, in this case, it’s the outcome goal you’re shooting for. For school, an outcome goal might be a term paper. If the paper is due at the end of the month, that is the outcome you’re striving for.
The second type of goal, which is actually the more impactful yet overlooked goal, is the process goal. A process goal is something that you do regularly to achieve an outcome goal.
For instance, if you’re outcome goal is to lose 20lbs, a process goal might be to workout on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:30am. When it comes to work, a process goal to complete a project might be to do research every day from 10:00am to 12:00pm.
Redefining Your Goals to Find Meaning Again
As you can see, it’s important to have both outcome AND process goals in order to have some form of fulfillment in our lives. However, for most of us, we relied on OTHERS to set those outcome and process goals for us.
In the instance of work, we let our boss tell us what projects to work on and how to make it happen. For school, we let the teacher tell us what papers to write and how to go about doing it.
In other words, we were working towards someone else’s purpose instead of having our own goals to work toward. Which is why so many people are struggling now to find meaning in life.
Luckily, there’s no better time than NOW to redefine your goals and set new processes to bring back purpose and meaning to live a fulfilled life again. But where should you start? Where can you set a goal? And how do you set a goal in the first place?
While I’ve gone in-depth on goal setting before, I won’t go too crazy here. But let’s take a look at how you can start to bring meaning back into your daily routine again:
#1) Find an area of improvement.
Start by thinking of one area that you’ve always wanted to improve in. Maybe you want better health. Or maybe you want to learn an instrument. Just start by writing down 3–5 areas that you want to improve. Then, choose the one that excites you the most.
#2) Set your outcome goal.
Once you have your area of improvement, decide on an outcome goal for that area. Remember, an outcome goal is an endpoint that you’re trying to achieve. If you want to improve your health, maybe you shoot to lose 20lbs in 3 months. If you want to learn a new instrument, maybe you shoot to learn 3 songs by the end of the month.
#3) Implement a process goal.
Now that you have the outcome you want to achieve, what is one process goal you can put in place to achieve that outcome? A process goal is a thing that you’re going to do EVERY DAY to help you reach that outcome. For instance, if you want to learn a new instrument, maybe you practice every day for 30 minutes. If you want to lose 20lbs, maybe you make a healthy breakfast every morning.
By following this simple, 3 step process, you can start to reignite your passion and feel some meaning in your life again. We’re all so used to having others guide us. But NOW is the time to TAKE CONTROL of your own destiny! Decide what YOU want to work on and start to build YOUR OWN dreams instead of working on everybody else’s!