The Magic Of Meaning

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The Magic Of Meaning

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A shaper is someone who becomes energised by work. The way they work provides for the highest expression of self. They lead deeper and more fulfilling lives because what they do everyday serves them and the greater good.

The nature of work is quickly changing so that more of us can find meaning in what we do. And given the opportunity, it’s absolutely imperative that we search for work that lights us up.

At this watershed moment, with massive disengagement and a system of work that is broken–we can embrace the drive we all have within. As shapers we pursue our vision for fulfilling work because it impacts every aspect of our lives and the lives of those around us.

Work is now a practice through which we search for meaning to help shape a colourful life. The choice we have is to move beyond ourselves and connect with something larger. This deep sense of commitment and purpose is non-negotiable and is what gives shapers their shimmer.

Last I checked, they don’t stock bottles of happiness on store shelves. (OK, depending on where you shop and what’s in the bottle, perhaps they do.) Instead, the shelves are lined with books about the pursuit of happiness.

If you want to learn how to find your bliss, chase down the things that spark joy, and untether your soul, there’s no shortage of authors and teachers who are glad to point the way in exchange for a handful of your dollars.

What you don’t see lining the walls of bookstores and the splash pages of your go-to guru is the promise of keeping happiness once you have it. It’s a promise nobody—at least, nobody honest–is going to make.

Shapers know that happiness is perpetually in flux and hinges upon getting what you want, or at least getting what you think you want at various times. And it’s fleeting. It comes and goes, flexes and flops, rises and pops.

A double-scoop ice-cream cone might fall to the floor or melt divinely in your mouth; but either way it’s gone and so is the momentary happiness it brought. And that makes happiness a moving target and, therefore, a crappy career goal.

Meaning, a close cousin to happiness, is much more astute. The magic of meaning is that it persists through time. We can move to and from meaning again and again because it’s not a destination to which we hope to arrive–but discursively comes from what we give our attention and energy to.

Often it’s when we connect with something larger than ourselves that meaning makes a cameo.

Meaning is nuanced and textured. It’s subjective. It’s a choice that emerges from those things to which we ascribe significance. But it’s slippery as hell because it’s not always clear what those things are at any given time.

It could be pinned on someone, something, or some place. When felt, when lived–meaning spirals into our soul and provides for an expansive sense of self. It helps connect the once seemingly unconnected through time.

Meaning matters because it lets us show up in the world as we were meant to be. It propels our inner drive. It gives us energy. It provides the colour to our lives. We need meaning both for the will to live and the ability to grow.

Since most have abandoned religion in favour of work in the secular West, we now seek an enduring sense of purpose not from the house of God but the church of work. The largest religious group in the U.S.A is, you guessed it, ‘non-believers.’

We’ve supplanted the altar with the office, the Bible with the smartphone, and come to expect righteous Sundays every damn day.

We’re searching for ‘daily meaning as well as daily bread,’ wrote broadcaster Studs Terkel about work. It’s in the spiritual practice of work where the hunt for self-actualisation and even transcendence now takes place.

And for something to hold meaning, it must be seen as valuable in the eyes of the beholder, to our culture, or both. For shapers, this search is a compulsion–they’re always getting closer.

In order to boost our chances of finding and sustaining meaning, we need to stop divorcing ourselves from our work. Basta! Instead, we should inject ourselves quirks and all, into what we do. For shapers this is a heartfelt obligation.

It’s how they make their best contribution to the world. And then like a swell in the ocean, that unmistakable feeling of meaning rushes in.

To be certain, we can often confuse urgency with meaning. When the pressure is so heavy and the exigency so real, we attribute what we’re experiencing as supremely significant.

It may be in the face of adversity or confronting our fatality that might expedite a sense meaning, but none of these are necessary conditions. All that’s required is the ability to choose.

When you believe in your uniqueness, you stop trying to fit a mould; you move closer to becoming your truest self. You cater to your impulse to create.

‘If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself,’ reveals social psychologist Roy Baumeister. For a shaper, this is the ultimate freedom and responsibility.

It may be paradoxical, but shapers understand that finding meaning typically appears when we’re not looking for it.

By plunging into something bigger than ourselves, setting aside our ‘convulsive little egos’ as the father of American psychology, William James would put it, meaning can gently bubble up. For example, I studied digital marketing to go into the music business, and lo and behold, I bumped into the love of my life.

Meaning ensues from a process of discovery and defeat. During the ups and the downs, turning points, and in between all the gnarly waves that life brings, shapers show up wholeheartedly in the present. They enjoy the fruits of their labour as well as the process, the sweat, and the struggle. This unyielding commitment to a purpose is what gives shapers their shimmer.

Shapers begin with their why, and then figure out the how.

Their interiority lets them create meaning time and again. Their self-efficacy lets them shun the negative self-talk and spiral upwards. They feel part of something larger than themselves.

There is sacrifice, yes. Settling, no.

This is an edited extract from SHAPERS: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future by Jonas Altman (published by Wiley, August 2020)

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The Magic Of Meaning

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