It is Friday afternoon. A group of people has gathered in California for a yoga retreat. Everybody shares his/her intention for that weekend. Among us is a woman in her early 30s with a somewhat sad face saying that her only wish is to discover her life purpose so she can ultimately be in the right job. Later I mention to her that I conducted an interview with a life purpose coach earlier that day.
Eric Maisel is a retired psychotherapist and widely regarded as Americas foremost creativity coach. He is the author of more than 40 books with one of the latest being Life Purpose Boot Camp: The 8-Week Breakthrough Plan for Creating a Meaningful Life. Here is what he shared with me on how individuals and companies can create meaning in life.
The big misunderstanding around life purpose and meaning
People need to be thinking in plural about life purposes and work being just one of their life purpose choices. Work may not always feel meaningful but it is still one of our life purpose choices, and we know why we are doing it. Some of the artists I work with may not be enjoying writing their novel on 300 out of 365 days and perpetually asking themselves “why am I doing this when it does not feel meaningful?” The answer is, “It is all on the surface of meaning”. The act of writing may not feel meaningful in the moment but we know the purpose of why we need to write and organize our thoughts.
Move from the idea of looking for meaning to making meaning
Meaning is just a kind of psychological experience that gives you joy. So let’s say, you thought your PhD was going to feel meaningful but it did not and holding your kid’s hand does feel meaningful. Well, now you know something. The small experience of holding your child’s hand is more meaningful than that PhD ever was.
It helps to identify what has felt meaningful in the past and then try to replicate those experiences. If something at work has felt meaningful, you want to ask for more of that. That is the only way that work is going to feel more meaningful. If nothing at work feels meaningful to you, you have to get another job or understand that this is only one of your life purpose choices and you have to find meaning in other places of your life.
One hour in the morning spend time on what is meaningful to you
Maybe that is your own business, novel or activism. If you do not start your day that way, and there are reasons why it needs to be first thing each day, you may not have any reservoir or capital for that day. Then, the whole day may feel meaningless to you and you will have an existential crisis every day.
Companies can create meaning for their employees
This has to do with people’s feeling that their individuality is not being squashed all the time. A company can create space for individuality by giving their employees the opportunity to speak and contribute to the big picture, whether anonymously or not. If there is kind of a suggestion box giving everybody the opportunity to say, “your division is not really working and here is why I think that…” and if some of those suggestions are actually taken seriously, that increases the experience of meaningfulness for employees.
If you do not believe in your company, you have a basic problem
If you work for a tobacco company and you do not believe in smoking, there is a paradox. There are millions of people working in industries they do not believe in. As a company it will be difficult then to ask your employees to make the company better.
Most companies do not understand creativity
Business defines creativity differently than creative people do. Business defines creativity as innovational problem-solving whereas individuals define it as manifesting their potential and making use of themselves. Until business allows for more manifesting of individual potential, they are not going to be on the same page. The “Google’s” of the world understand – what most other companies do not – that the process involves mistakes and blue-sky thinking, and that the individual needs to be allowed a certain latitude.
Ultimately everybody should be his or her own boss
This is not easy or without any financial or mental health risk but this is the kind of investment that will allow creativity and meaning. I would suggest to anybody to see if they can start building their own business in that one hour each morning. It does not have to be a financially lucrative one in the beginning but it ought to be eventually if they want to quit their day job. Everyone needs to be an entrepreneur for his or her own sake, not to fulfill some ambition but to save his or her own mental health.
Most people are too much daunted by failure
A lot of people pursue activities on the side that could be their own business but they do not do it with the right level of energy and belief. They are daunted failures too much. Successful people have so many failures behind them and they seem not to notice somehow. They do not care and just move on to the next thing. But most people are upset by their own mistakes and very quickly stop on their personal journey.
I just finished writing a book on the experience of growing up with an authoritarian family member, be it a mother, father, siblings or grandparents. My core observation here is that people are harmed in a lifelong way from being shamed and ridiculed in childhood. One of the consequences is that they cannot start their own business. They are incapable of getting past their first mistake, which will be on the first day of starting. So they are looking for a safety net in corporate life because life in their childhood has felt so unsafe.
Make a change sooner rather than later
One of the things I learned from the people I interviewed for my book “The Life Purpose Boot Camp” is that at some point most of them lost the meaning in what they were doing but still it took them around 5 or 6 years to make a change after realizing. People need to be helped in what they need to do to make that change either inside or outside of their current work. But that change needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Interview by ASLI TOKSAL.
Based on Eric Maisel’s recommendations, I invite you for a quick reflection. If you want, you can take some notes or share with your close friends.
Food for Reflection
What were the two most joyful moments you had in the past 6 months?
How often do you consciously create these experiences for yourself?
What kind of person could you possibly be in 6 months from now if you spent one hour everyday doing what you truly enjoy?