Pilgrimage is all about making meaning, and it doesn’t stop with making our travels meaningful–living the life of a pilgrim is about seeking meaning in every aspect of our lives. That’s why I’m so excited to share this post with you from one of my good friends Dan Cumberland. Dan is in the midst of making meaning of his own–through a new project called The Meaning Movement, which “helps you to bring more of yourself to the world and work” (and “cause as much of a ruckus along the way,” he adds). It’s all about making meaning through our jobs, careers, and life, and Dan serves as a catalyst for those on a vocational journey. New to the journey? In this post, Dan gives advice on how to begin. -Lacy
I never knew what to do with my life. I never knew how to answer the question, “what should I do when I grow up?” And I struggled for much of my life to put a finger on what I’m most passionate about.
I’m not the only one who struggled through these questions. These soul searching inquiries bring us face to face with who we are and what we were made to do. And many people, like me, often get stuck in the midst of them. What I’ve found is that some of the so-sticky-you-can’t-escape nature of these questions has less to do with the questions themselves and more to do with our underlying assumptions about work, ourselves, meaning, and the world.
In efforts to clear the air and give some guidance in answering these, I’d like to offer two shifts in thinking that can begin to help you become unstuck, find your purpose, move you toward a place of deeper impact, and change your relationship with your work.
THE FIRST SHIFT
Work is not only about making money.
JFK famously told the US public, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I say to you, “My fellow Sacred Journey Pilgrims (see what I did there?), ask not what your job can do for you, but what you can do through your job.” It’s time to stop thinking about work as just something that you have to do to get by and pay the bills.
“Ask not what your job can do for you,
but what you can do through your job.”
Of the MANY potentially harmful messages that we’ve had spoken over us about work over the years, my least favorite is: “work is a necessary evil.” That makes me want to scream and throw things. No evil is necessary. It’s time to get the evil out of your job. This calls for a vocational exorcism. Here it comes:
Yes, you need to pay the bills, but if you hook yourself into a soul-sucking vacuum cleaner of a job for 8 hours a day and 5 days a week, you will not have any soul left after a few months, let alone years, let alone a lifetime (insert sidebar conversations here about depression, midlife crisis, affairs, and all kinds of status symbols that are used to anesthetize this kind of pain).
Sure, no job is sexy all the time, and even the best jobs have their difficult and painful moments, but when what you do is connected to who you are, the goodness you get to be a part of makes the hard moments worthwhile.
You will spend the majority of your life working. That is a fact of life for most of the world. This means either a lifelong sentence to labor camp imprisonment or you can try to find work that is worth doing.
I know, you’re thinking, “But what does that mean and how do I do it?”
Oh, I’m so glad you asked. Read on.
THE SECOND SHIFT
You long to impact the world in some way.
A place to start when it comes to doing work worth doing for you, is to realize that you want to impact the world in some way. I use “world” here very broadly. What I mean is that you long to make a difference, and that difference affects people, systems, cultures, organizations, life, spirituality, etc. There are things that get you fired up. There are things that break your heart. There are things that move you. These all have something to do with meaning, longing, and desire. What you would most love to see happen and be a part of has something to do with what moves you.
Now, talking about being “moved” by something has not been particularly valued in many of our lives. Many of us have been taught that our feelings don’t matter, and when we have been moved we have been told to “man-up,” “grow-up,” “suck-it-up,” and move on. (That’s probably the same voice that we agreed to exorcise four short paragraphs ago—I just want to make sure you know that he/she/it is still around and that we still have work to do together.) Because of this, some of us may have more difficulty with knowing what moves us than others do. Having kept that part of ourselves under-wraps for so long, it can’t just be turned on. But I think you might have a better sense about it than you think you do. Think about your favorites stories, characters, hobbies, pastimes—what do they have in common? What would your friends say matters most to you? When do you feel most engaged and alive? What scares you?
These are just starting questions. The point is that life has meaning for you and the things that move you are indicators of that meaning. You want to be a part of something meaningful. You want to live a life of meaning. You want to see things change. You want to see people change. This second shift is about acknowledging and exploring what that meaning may be for you.
“The point is that life has meaning for you
and the things that move you are indicators of that meaning.”
Really wanting something meaningful is tricky because your deepest longing and desires can be really scary. The way that you most want to impact and make meaning in the world should feel risky. The more something matters to you, the more you will feel the possibility of failure. If you begin to act on your hope for change in a person, culture, or organization (etc.) you have to face the possibility of failing to fulfill that desire. And that’s scary. The more it matters to you, the more you may (read: will) feel fear of it.
You have two choices then: 1) run from and avoid it or 2) Enter more deeply into your fear.
Take a leap. Try to risk. And know that though it is difficult, you are seeking to make an impact that has meaning.
If you’re still with me, we’ve come to realize this: Your job is not only about making money, but also about making meaning.
As we begin to shift the values beneath the questions, we find that the questions themselves begin to shift. The question ceases to be “what should I do with my life?” and becomes “how do I want to make an impact?” It is still a big question, no doubt! But it is also one which we can begin to answer as we continue the journey.
How do you want to make an impact?