THE BLOG

How to Find Meaning in Work and Life

10/01/2012 05:41 pm ET | Updated Dec 01, 2012

First things first," my mother would say when I was young. "Let's not start this project until we know what we need to do first." I, however, preferred to dive in right away, taking on the project en masse.

Flash forward a few decades and I now hear myself saying to my own children, "First things first. Let's take a look at everything and decide what's most important before we begin."

If I'm consulting with other professionals and business leaders, writing business plans, or just beginning my day, I'm adamant about determining priorities. Most important among those priorities is answering the question "Why?"

When I was writing business plans for other people, I always wanted to know why their goals were important to them. If I know the why, or more importantly, if my client knows the why, they have an infinitely higher chance of being successful. If I know why I'm doing something, and I can get behind that why, I know I'll be effortlessly driven to achieve the kind of results I want. if I can't answer why or if I don't feel good about the why, I know my motivation will be temporary.

Being able to -- or having access to an opportunity -- is not necessarily enough of a reason why to do anything.

We're all immeshed in projects, jobs, and relationships, slogging away at the task of meeting the demands that come our way, without giving any thought to how we want it to be, or perhaps more importantly, why we're involved in it in the first place.

Without knowing why you're doing something, it's only a matter of time before your motivation runs dry and you wake up one morning with that question burning in your heart, "Why am I doing this?"

If you ask some why they do the work they do, you'll find that many will answer, "to pay the bills" or "for the money" or maybe even "because I'm good at it." All of which are valid answers. But I doubt that those answers are enough.

Before you get out of bed in the morning, you ought to give thought to why. Not out of desperation. But out of searching for meaning and importance.

The drive to be successful may be motivating to us when we're young or when we need money. But later in life, our attentions tend to look to answer the "why" question. Why am I doing this? What am I really accomplishing with this life? What sort of legacy am I leaving? Eventually -- hopefully, anyway -- we realize that life and success without meaning is a vapid existence.

Ideally, your business plan or career path would be aligned with your passions -- though they may not, ostensibly anyway, seem related. For example, those passionate about helping others might find themselves in professions of varying sorts, not just medicine, education or clergy. There are teachers of all kinds in every profession, though their job descriptions may not mention anything about teaching or helping. We can mentor, guide, provide examples, support and lend helping hands in all different kinds of ways, subtle and direct, not just the ways determined by our job description. And usually, those ways make the largest impact on someone's life.

Studies show that those who consider their lives meaningful, those who dedicate some time and energy to a cause greater than themselves and to helping others, experience more happiness.

Take time to consider your unique gifts and how they might help another. Perhaps those gifts can be channeled into your current day by simply looking for opportunities to help. Or there are countless volunteer opportunities in everyone's community. Consider a prayer that God would use your special gifts and talents to help another. Ask that He would bring those whom you could help across your path today and every day, and to make you aware of them, that you might help change their lives for the better. Your life might just change for the better as well.

For more by Melissa Van Rossum, click here.

For more on success and motivation, click here.

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