Finding Meaning in Your Life and Career

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Fankl is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.  It details Mr. Frankl’s life in a Nazi concentration camp.

The other day, I read an article in the Denver Post about a Colorado State University professor who studies how people find meaning in their lives.  Michael Steger’s findings are similar to Viktor Frankl’s message.  He says…

“People who find some overarching meaning – some foundational purpose supporting the things they do and their beliefs — tend to better withstand the things life throws at them.”

Yerin Shim is a graduate student working with Dr. Steger.  She focuses on the intersection of meaning and work.  She argues that meaning in work isn’t just about happiness and money.  It’s about working for a specific purpose.

This interests me.  The first step in my life and career success model echoes the work being done at CSU – Clarify the purpose and direction for your life and career.  I devote several tweets in my career advice book Success Tweets to it.  Check it out…

  • Tweet 1 – Define exactly what life and career success mean to you.  It’s easier to hit a clear, unambiguous target.
  • Tweet 2 – The more you are clear about what success means to you personally, the easier it will be to create your life and career success.
  • Tweet 3 – Think of your purpose as your personal mission; why you are on this earth.  Your direction is your vision for the next 3 to 5 years.
  • Tweet 4 – The mightier your purpose, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Tweet 6 – Make sure that your person mission and vision are what you want – not what someone else wants for you.
  • Tweet 8 – Don’t focus just on making money.  If you do, you’ll be asking too little of yourself.  Focus on how you can be useful in this world.
  • Tweet 9 – Happiness doesn’t come from getting more things.  It comes from finding a worthy purpose and pursuing it.
  • Tweet 17 – Clarify your personal values.  Your values are your anchor.  They ground you.  They center you.  They keep you focused on what’s important.

You can see why Dr. Steger and Ms. Shim’s work interests me.

I’m a big believer in finding your purpose in life, and as Success Tweets 8 and 9 suggest, it’s more important than just making a lot of money.  Here’s how I think of life purpose…

  • Your reason for existing.
  • Your passion.
  • Why you are on this earth.

This isn’t always easy to discover.  Dr. Steger suggests that there are some people – he calls them seekers – “who find meaning only through an arduous, long and never ending quest.”

So if you’re young and still trying to figure out your purpose, don’t worry.  It can take time.  That’s why I always tell people to be open to new ideas and thoughts, as you never know what you might pick up.

If you’d told me when I was in high school that my life purpose would be to help others succeed, I would have laughed.  It took several courses in college and a year of service as a VISTA Volunteer for me to figure it out.  That’s when I began my career in the human resource development field.

Your purpose needs to come from deep inside you.  It is unlikely to change over the long run.  I’ve had lots of different jobs in lots of companies and have been self-employed for over 25 years.  Through all the changes, one thing has remained constant – my desire and passion for helping others succeed.  In my heart of hearts, I know that I am on this earth to help others navigate the ambiguities of life in order to reach their goals.

Here is my life purpose…

To help others achieve the career and life success that they want and deserve by applying their common sense.

It hasn’t changed since I was 25 years old.  This purpose reflects who I am and why I get up every morning.  It’s what’s right for me.

What’s right for you?  What is your passion?  What is your reason for living?  Why are you on this earth?  What is your life purpose?

Recent research shows that if you take the time to figure out the answers to these questions, you’ll be more likely to be happy in life and successful in your career.

Want more?  OK, how about some stories to illustrate my point.

When I graduated from college in 1972, I chose to do a year of service.  I became a VISTA Volunteer.  I worked for a grass roots community group in North Philadelphia.  I had a successful year.  I wrote a proposal that was funded by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  We received a grant to do Sickle Cell Anemia awareness and screening in the community.  The grant provided some much-needed jobs in the community.  More important, we were able to identify local people who carried the Sickle Cell gene and make them aware of its consequences.

I enjoyed the experience tremendously; so much so that I took a job as a VISTA trainer, training new volunteers.  I was a full time employee, but we used several independent training consultants and coaches to help us with our work.  These folks worked out of their homes, traveling to the assignments.  I liked their lifestyle.  They were able to do work they loved helping people learn new skills – and they had the freedom and flexibility that came with being self-employed.  Of course, they had to generate enough income to fund their lifestyle, but that appealed to the entrepreneur in me.

By the time I was 25, I knew that I wanted to become an independent coach and consultant, helping other people create their life and career success.  I knew that I needed some additional education and experience to be able to do this successfully.  So I went back to school and received an MA and PhD.  I worked in the Training and Development Departments of three Fortune 500 companies, moving up the ladder, taking increasingly more responsible positions.  All this was in preparation for that day in March 1988 when I resigned my job and struck out on my own.

All these years later, I’m doing what I decided I wanted to do when I was 25 years-old.  I’m doing some things that I didn’t imagine way back then – blogging and writing books.  However, my life today is much as I imagined it in 1975.  My clarity of purpose was very instrumental in helping me become the career success – and career success coach – I am today.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is a serial entrepreneur.  He started a software business when he was 27.  He built it up and sold it to a major computer manufacturer by the time he was 35.  He has since started and sold four other companies.  His clarity of purpose lies in the challenge of creating something new, building it into a viable, sustainable business and then moving on.

I have another friend who recently retired as the Executive VP of Human Resources for a Fortune 50 company.  We were chatting a few days ago.  She told me that when she was in college, she decided that she was going to join a good company and work her way up the ladder.  She took an entry-level HR job with a company she liked.  It took her over 25 years, but she eventually became the most senior HR person in that company.  Her clarity of purpose and definition of success was different from mine and the serial entrepreneur’s, but she reached her goal.

My second friend told me that her son has yet a different definition of success.  He is not interested in climbing the corporate ladder, or in being an entrepreneur.  He wants an interesting job where he can contribute, but he doesn’t want to spend inordinate amounts of time at work.  He wants to spend as much time with his family as he can.  His definition of success is different from his mother’s.

I’ve just told you four stories about four different people.  All four of us are professional successes – according to our clarity of purpose.

As a career success coach, I often tell my clients that there is no one correct definition of career success.  There are as many definitions as there are people in this world.  Your definition of career success is what’s right for you – not anyone else.  I would not have been happy building and selling a number of businesses in succession, climbing a corporate ladder or working for a large company in an individual contributor position.  However, as you can tell from the stories of the three people above, they were.  They knew what they wanted and they went after it.

That’s why defining your clarity of purpose is so important.  Your clarity of purpose creates meaning for your life.  It provides both a foundation and launching pad for your career success.  The old saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there,” is a cliché, but true.  Getting clear on your personal definition of career success is the first step to becoming a career success.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Your happiness in life and your career success begins with a clear idea of how you define success for you personally.  As research being done at Colorado State University indicates, a life and career filled with personal meaning, is likely to be a happier, more successful life and career.  If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you take some time and think about your clarity of purpose.  How do you define life and career success for yourself?  Keep that purpose and definition of career success in mind as you move forward in your life and career.

That’s my career advice based on the work of Sr. Michael Steger on the meaning of life.  What do you think?  Please share your thoughts with us in a comment.  If you decide to take the Meaning of Life Questionnaire, please share your results with us.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site last September.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  You can find out about the membership site by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.

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