Get clarity on what’s meaningful to you
Have you ever looked at someone else’s significant career and had feelings of jealousy? In those moments when the jealousy arises have you wondered why you’re not at a similar stage in your career progression or in a similar place or circumstance? These feelings are very natural and we all experience them at certain stages of our lives. The reality is that we are not in a similar stage of progression, place or circumstance simply because we are not them.
These people have found their meaning, the reason they get up in the morning, the underlying excitement to create something they believe in. Their meaning propels them forward and motivates them each day.
If you want to find fulfilment you need to get clarity on what’s meaningful for you. This will have its own qualities and will be based on your experiences, your personality, your relationships and your DNA. You are embarking on an exciting journey to find out what makes you tick and the things needed to light your fire moving forward.
Take time to pause
The first step to getting clarity on what’s especially meaningful to you is to take time to pause. This is a deliberate effort to stop and evaluate who you are and what you need. If you are seeking meaning it’s also very important to work through how you think you can contribute to the world in your own unique way. So many of us get caught in a hamster wheel where we are just keeping up with the life we’ve created. There are bills to pay, families and loved ones to see and look after, jobs to do and admin to keep on top of.
Sometimes this pause is a deliberate action from you to stand back and evaluate, sometimes it can be forced upon you by a circumstance that demands you take a different path.
In my podcast, ‘Ladies that are making a difference,’ I interview female founders and CEOs who have been a significant force for change. The common experience for them all was that they all had a time or an experience where they pressed pause. For each of the ladies to take action, first they needed to be in the moment to absorb the new and impressionable information which then created a desire for them to create the action.
For celebrity journalist Amy Hanson this pause happened when she was working at a HIV hospice in Cambodia and visited the Stung Meanchey Dump in Phnom Phey in 2009 where she saw hundreds of barefoot impoverished children scavenging in waste. Appalled by what she saw she turned to social media and raised £3,000 enabling her to buy 1,000 pairs of boots which she then distributed to the children living on the dump. Her charitable act exploded, a documentary was made, media coverage ensued and the Small Steps Project began. Amy then started asking celebrities to donate their shoes for auctions to generate funds to help these people which she has continued to do every year since she started the Charity in 2009. Her charity now provides emergency aid, shoes and food to children and communities living on municipal rubbish dumps around the world. The charity also provides support for children to take steps into education and adults into employment.
Lizzy Hall's pause came in August 2018 when she was watching the Ken Loach film, ‘I Daniel Blake’. She was very moved by a scene where a single mother was caught shoplifting for basic toiletries which stirred her to take action. She sent a WhatsApp message to her contacts saying she was collecting items to take to her local food bank as she felt strongly that everyone in society deserves to feel clean and dignified. One thing led to another and before she knew it people started contributing items to help others. Lizzy's belief that no one should be left struggling to wash their hair, brush their teeth or be unable to change their baby's nappy as often as needed led her to start The Hygiene Bank which now supports thousands of people in need.
For Emily Penn co-founder of eXXpedition and Sky Ocean Rescue Ambassador, her pause has happened on many occasions. She's an ocean advocate and skipper dedicated to raising awareness of ocean plastic pollution and other environmental challenges affecting our world. In 2008 she set sail for Melbourne when she rounded the planet on the record-breaking biofuelled boat called Earthrace. During this trip she was in very remote parts of the ocean and witnessed first hand large amounts of ocean plastic from small items like a toothbrush to plastic chairs which over many years turn into microplastics. She decided then that she wanted to raise awareness of plastic pollution and come up with solutions to avoid the devastating environmental and health impacts. Another of her pause moments was forced upon her in 2009 when she was on a tiny Tongan island and it was hit by a tsunami. She retreated to safe ground and then when it passed she worked with the locals to clear the debris and organised the largest ever community-led waste cleanup on the tiny island making sure that any plastic waste wasn't burned but cleared responsibly ensuring it didn't get into the ocean. When time allows, Emily takes a moment to pause which might be when she's doing her artwork or a quiet moment on one of her trips, for example, the Arctic North‐ west Passage or on a leg of the eXXpedition Round The World Voyage. Emily has been awarded the British Empire Medal by the Queen in recognition of her work over the last decade.
Your pause may not be as dramatic as the pause these women have experienced. It might be you deciding you need to pull back on some things in order to have the energy to work through what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Consider that you need to open yourself up to opportunities that might be missed because of over scheduling and constant doing.
My clients find it helpful to schedule in this pause, once a month, once a quarter, once every six months and/or once a year. This is the time for asking yourself where you are at, where you want to go and what you want to fix, we’ll come to this later.
Regardless of how the pause comes about or the nature of it, it can be a helpful practice for changing your trajectory and finding meaning.
What’s the problem you want to fix?
I often say to my clients in the early sessions of our consultations, ‘What’s the problem you want to fix?’ When we fix problems it gives us satisfaction and meaning but it also contributes. This is different to the common question we ask ourselves when we are contemplating our career which is, ‘How can I be happy?’ Do you see the difference here?
I encourage you to find a quiet space, and list the problems that you personally want to fix. Don’t limit yourself by your current circumstances. The women’s stories that I’ve just shared have shown that careers can be created by a strong desire to fix something and this is the common characteristic of meaningful careers.
Aristotle said, ‘Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.’ Now look at your list and think about how you could lend your skills and talents to fixing these problems.
I’ve seen people go around and around in circles and on career paths that are unsatisfying until they eventually take the pause and come back to this point years later. Now is your chance to start this work.
Once you’ve started to narrow the problem or problems you want to fix have a think about the following:
Can you narrow down your list of problems into one problem that really motivates you or are the problems interrelated?
What research can you do on the problem or problems you want to fix?
What are the causes? List as many as you can. Who is harmed by the problem and who benefits from it? What solutions can you see at this stage to the problem?
What solutions are the most feasible and achievable? What organisations, businesses or communities are already looking at the issues and how can you connect with them? Draft a brief action plan from your research to motivate you to move forward. I’ll share more about action plans later to help you with bringing this to life.
Working Meaningfully is the new book by Katie Redfern, available from book stores and Amazon, including Kindle.