How To Live a More Meaningful Life

 You already have everything you need to succeed inside of you.

 I did not always believe that, but I do now and let me tell you why:

I started out my career as a Critical Care Nurse and I spent a decade working with individuals and families who were experiencing devastating, life-changing (and sometimes life-ending) tragedies. I was not only responsible for taking care of them in the hospital, but I also felt one of the most important parts of my job was helping families communicate with one another and helping them find meaning in even the darkest of times. 

The thank you cards I got from those experiences told me that I had changed their lives forever. Except, I didn’t think I did anything special, they came up with the answers themselves about what to do, I just helped them access those answers.

I realized I wanted to meet these individuals when they were thriving and hope that they never experienced a tragic loss or accident in the future, but if they did, I felt like I could prepare them for it. That was how I began my coaching practice. Now I help professionals and business owners start seeing themselves the way the rest of the world already sees them, so they can start living their purpose through their work.

But after reaching the top of my career path in my twenties, I realized that life is not all about work and no matter how much meaning and passion you have for what you do – it still feels like something is missing if you don’t have the other pieces of the puzzle in place.

What you really want to feel is “Happy”.

What is happiness?

Think about what it means to you. The dictionary says it is “the positive emotions we have in regards to the pleasurable activities we take part in through our daily lives.” This means it is not constant, despite what we would like to think when we scroll through social media and believe everyone else’s lives are great all the time.

If happiness is not constant and we would be silly to think that we could be happy all the time, then what is it we are searching for?

I believe it is meaning.

What does it mean to live a meaningful life?

The dictionary defines ‘meaning’ as “the way in which a person justifies his or her life to him or herself and others.”

In Emily Esfahani Smith’s book , The Power of Meaning, she describes 4 pillars of meaning.

They are:

  • Belonging,

  • Purpose,

  • Transcendence, and

  • Storytelling.

Let’s look at these in a little bit more detail.

 

Belonging

We achieve a feeling of belonging through our relationships, love and community. These don’t have to be romantic relationships. It could be an interaction that you have with someone walking down the street.

I remember one morning when I was walking to work in New York City, back when I still worked as a nurse, I came around a corner and saw the sun rising. It was the most beautiful sight to see and I stopped to take it in. A woman came around the corner who I had never met before, and she stopped next to me and smiled. She then looked at me and said, “It’s magnificent, isn’t it?” Then she apologized, “I’m sorry, I don’t know you but I just had to share that experience with someone.”

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We are more connected than ever in this day and age through social media and the internet and yet the rates of loneliness are at a 30 year high and some research studies actually show that the reported rates of loneliness are higher in millennials than they are in the elderly, a statistic that has not been published previously about the younger generations.


Exercise #1:
Begin creating a sense of belonging is through shared experiences with others.


So why did the woman apologize to me for wanting to share that moment?

We all experience fear in our lives and the most common fears that hold us back from feeling connected are the fear of rejection and the fear of not being good enough. 

What you may not realize is that our minds are wired to want to help each other. It is natural for us to want to form tribes or the modern term for it would be communities. And when you begin a conversation with acceptance – accepting another person – they naturally try to find common ground with you.

 Here’s an example:

Think of the last time you were in an elevator and it was raining outside and you forgot your umbrella. If you get into that elevator and you are embarrassed because you are soaking wet so you nervously mention that you forgot an umbrella and then blame the rain, what does everyone else in the elevator do? They start complaining about the rain. They try to relate to you. 

But, if you get into that elevator and you say that you love thunderstorms and you are smiling and standing up tall, what do you think everyone else in the elevator would do? They may not love thunderstorms, but they will probably start talking about something they love too rather than complaining. They might even call you “brave” for wanting to go outside in a thunderstorm because they would rather stay inside where they feel safe.

People naturally want to connect with you and you get to decide how you want to connect with them every time you start a conversation no matter what the topic is.

Purpose

If we go back to my story about my career and climbing to the top of the ladder, I did feel like I had a lot of purpose there and I think this is the pillar that a lot of people think is going to be THE ONE that makes them feel fulfilled.

The elements of Purpose are career, strengths and service.

An example of this would be a person who works in facilities maintenance at the hospital. They are responsible for taking out the trash and keeping the environment of the hospital clean to prevent infection. If you ask someone who works in this area of the hospital what they do, they might answer “I save lives.”

Believing that the work you are doing serves a purpose that is bigger than you and significant for other people is how you can find true purpose in your career.  

The key is to answer the question: why? Why are you doing what you are doing every day?


Exercise #2:
Lead with your purpose when meeting new people.


The next time you are at a networking event and the first question someone asks you is “What do you do?” Try leading with your “why” rather than your “what” and see how your conversations change.

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What holds us back the most from achieving our purpose? It is the fear of success and the fear of failure.

 The fastest way out of fear is to take action towards your goals. Don’t walk, Run!.

 

Transcendence

 Transcendence comes from your spirituality and creativity.

 Regardless of whether or not you are religious, I think each and every one of you have something that you enjoy doing so much that you lose yourself in it. I wrote a blog post on the IA Women blog about how you can use creativity to relieve stress and enter a flow state. The flow state is where you lose track of time and you forget your to do list and you are completely present in the moment. To learn more about this, you can check out the blog here.

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So, how does fear hold us back from reaching transcendence? The fear of judgement and fear of missing out tend to govern how we spend our time. Remember that you are in control of your calendar and your schedule. The things you decide to spend time on will show you your priorities and if you are not on your list of priorities then you may need to reevaluate your schedule.


Exercise #3:
Take 10-20 minutes out of your day every single day for you!


I go for a walk every morning for 20 minutes on weekdays and I take pictures of the sunrise between the buildings of New York City so that I start my day off with prioritizing myself.

To read the rest of the story about how I decided that was the thing I wanted to do every morning, click here.

Storytelling

The key components of storytelling are love, redemption and growth.

What better way to tell you about storytelling, than with a story:

We have probably all tried to learn to ride a bike before, and of course there is that saying that I think it is safe to assume everyone has heard:

“It is like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it.”

I remember when I learned how to ride a bike for the first time. I insisted on riding my older sister’s bike even though it was too big for me. My dad ended up putting training wheels on it and adjusted the seat so I could reach the pedals.

Then the day came for me to try it without training wheels. The bike had a bar on the back of the seat to hold onto and my dad said he would hold onto the bar. All I had to do was look forward and pedal. So that’s what I did.

The only problem was, he didn’t tell me what to do when I got to the end of the road and I didn’t know how to turn. I looked back smiling at first to ask him what to do next, and I noticed he wasn’t holding onto the back of the bike anymore. I panicked, stopped pedaling, and fell. 

He had said he would hold on the entire time and he wouldn’t let me fall.

I held a grudge against my dad for a long time after that and it was really difficult for me to trust him enough to let him teach me something new. I became a stubborn kid who wanted to do everything myself and grew up to be a very “Type A” young adult who liked to be in control of everything I do. 

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It wasn’t until I was older that I looked back on that experience as an analogy to how we overcome fear. I didn’t fall down until I got scared. In fact, before I looked around for guidance and validation from another person, I was already doing it. I was riding the bike. When I started focusing on being afraid of falling, that was when I fell.

A couple years ago I called my dad and thanked him for teaching me how to ride a bike and for showing me that I can literally do anything I set my mind to and I am in control of whether I ride the bike or fall down.

The emotions that hold us back from Storytelling are: anger, sadness, fear, hurt, and guilt. It wasn’t until I worked through those negative emotions that I was able to find meaning in that story. Once I found that meaning, I was able to rewrite my narrative.


Exercise #4:
Ask yourself: In what area of my life am i holding a grudge?

How can you use that grudge as a flashlight to show you what is really important to you so you can find meaning in your story and rewrite your narrative?


For more information on how you can work with Tara to align your core values with your business practices, click here.