What is your money for? What is important about money to you?
Those are maybe the most important questions that our planning process helps people to answer. If the meaning of life was just to make more money, then no one would ever stop working. The best uses of our time and our money lead us to more meaningful experiences that help us to grow as individuals, connect to our loved ones, and make a positive impact on the world around us.
If the hustle and bustle of life and work have come between you and your sense of meaning, try this three-step process to get back in touch with what matters the most.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle between ourselves and our sense of meaning is finding time to reflect. Schedule a block of time to simply sit, relax, and think about where you are in your life right now. You might try meditating, journaling, prayer, or even light exercise as a way to tune out the rest of the world and clear your head. Make it a habit. Maybe its the first thing you do in the morning and/or before bed. Start small say I am going to write one word or sentence and see where it goes from there.
So much of our identity is wrapped up in what we do for a living that it's important to think beyond how we earn money. Think about the people who are most important to you and how you work on those relationships. Think about the interests you had when you were younger, the courses you took, and how those things led you towards your career or away from another line of work. Envision a week when you didn't have to work at all and think about how you would spend your time. What would you keep the same? What would you do differently? What is one thing you could incorporate into your life or something you are already doing and do more of it?
After working through these questions, you might find that you're already more connected to your life's meaning than you realized. Or you might identify potential changes that you want to spend more time thinking about, such as building more self-care into your weekly routine, taking online classes to learn a new skill, or even contemplating a new career.
Wherever you find yourself encourage you to take one small action versus trying to focus on taking many actions. Take one until it becomes a habit then focus on the next one.
Very few people get to spend every second of their day doing exactly what they love to do. The trick to getting through the inevitable drudgery is to cherish those moments when you are putting your skills to their most meaningful uses.
For example, the pandemic era has been particularly stressful on medical professionals and educators. Doctors and nurses have had to contend with challenging work conditions, grumpy patients, staff shortages, and delivering the worst imaginable news. Educators have transitioned back and forth from remote teaching to in person. Also, many other items in between on top of the difficult job already. But they've also deepened their bonds with coworkers, exercised all their skills and knowledge, learned new things, and helped countless people.
Every job has those moments of meaning that we should all spend more time focusing on. No matter what you do, there's an end customer whose life you're making better, a co-worker you're teaching or learning from, a problem that you're able to solve, or a family member who benefits from the fruits of your labor.
Be grateful and take pride in your contribution to the world and know that you are making a difference no matter how big or small it may seem at the time. The small ones taken over and over add up to way more than just one big one.
If your workday is so full that you can't build more meaning into it, you might need to be more mindful about how you spend your time outside of work. Volunteer at a school or charitable organization. Teach or mentor the next generation of professionals in your field. Wake up an hour earlier so that you can devote some extra time to self care whether that is meditate, prayer, journal, exercise, etc. Invest in more meaningful relationships by leaving work at work and focusing your free time on friends and family. As Cal Newport put it have a shutdown complete routine where you have it outlined how and when you will end your workday and you leave it at work so your family gets your best self at home.
Or, if your current job just isn't improving your life, start working on a plan that will help you make a smooth transition into your next act. Understand that whatever that act may be it isn’t just going to hit you like a lightening bolt. It is key to take a small action and be okay if it doesn’t work out ont he first try or the twentieth try. Keep taking the next best action. Focus on what went well and keep doing more of that.