Imagine for a moment what our world would be like if we all focused on one simple rule. It goes like this:
“I will focus my time, energy, and talents on doing meaningful work and living a meaningful life, while doing no harm in the process.”
That one simple rule could completely change the dynamics of our world. The domino effect over time would slowly transform society and our world for the better, making it a win for everyone involved.
Three ways to make our own lives more meaningful include personal development, adding value to the lives of others, and making our world a better place.
Personal development is a lifelong journey to become our best selves. Certainly, it can include formal education and training, but there’s more to it than that. Did you know that researchers have identified four potential stages of development for the adult mind? It’s up to each of us to actively grow and move through all the stages, rather than waiting on chance circumstances to propel us.
Gaining control of our own mind remains our biggest growth opportunity. The magnitude of people taking legal and illegal drugs, and engaging in destructive and mind numbing behaviors in order to cope with daily life is a strong indication of the importance of being in control of our own thoughts. When we are in control of our thoughts we can channel our energy into enriching behaviors.
In addition to self-control, interpersonal and communication skills, and the ability to distinguish our beliefs and cognitive biases from reality are essential to our success and happiness as we navigate daily life. The reason it’s difficult is because so much of our thought processes and behaviors are invisible to us. We make assumptions that turn out to be wrong. We make decisions based on biases that come back to bite us.
Don’t let yourself get stuck. Keep growing. Focus on one thing at a time. Making progress towards meaningful goals gives us the energy we need to keep moving forward, especially when it’s hard. Every achievement leads to greater insights and more growth opportunities. It’s a perpetual cycle. The worst thing you can do is stop trying. Even taking baby steps makes a big difference over time.
Add value to the lives of others. As social beings, a large part of our brain function is dedicated to how we fit into society. It’s why being put into isolation is a form of punishment. Since we spend most of our waking hours at work and the organizations we serve often have greater reach than we do as individuals, our biggest opportunity to add value to as many lives as possible is typically through our jobs. Regardless of your title, or lack of one, you can ask questions and make suggestions that influence the decision makers where you work.
Technology is moving fast. Far faster than we mere mortals are developing. For organizations to have any chance of competing, they must support the growth of their workforce, both personally and technically. As AI takes over more and more technical tasks, people will be required to handle more mentally demanding duties that require simultaneously evaluating multiple stakeholder perspectives, along with accurately identifying customer needs, opportunities, and risks.
Developing mental complexity isn’t done through traditional education and training. It can only be done by mastering day-to-day challenges and seeking growth opportunities along the way. It’s also individual. No two people will have the exact same needs at the same time. Mental complexity is not tied to formal education. More college degrees does not guarantee a higher level of mental complexity. As a result, forming voluntary small groups (minimum of 3 people to a maximum of 7) to work together providing feedback and support for individual development goals can be very effective. When an entire organization works on ongoing personal development, the results are far more effective. The predisposition of our social mind assures our willingness to participate and succeed, to avoid being left behind.
Make our world a better place. Our world has suffered terribly as humanity has moved through various stages of development. There are endless opportunities for individual and collective efforts. When an entire organization takes on an initiative like eliminating all waste through re-use, recycling, or repurposing, it has the obvious benefit of saving money on waste disposal, purchasing fewer replacement items, and brand enhancement. It also puts pressure on competitors and neighbors to do the same, triggering a domino effect. If we all make, even small efforts to repair past harm and prevent future damage, together we will reach a tipping point and turn the tide so that future generations can lead healthy happy lives.
If you doubt your ability to impact the lives of others, consider this. Researchers went into a school and gave all the students in one grade a test. The researchers told the teachers that the results of the test would indicate which students had high potential. Then the researchers completely ignored the test results and randomly selected the student’s names that they gave to the teachers. The researchers found that the teachers gave the selected students more encouragement, more challenges, and more opportunities to work through those challenges. At the end of the school year, the students were re-tested. The students they selected did make significant improvement. Not because they were special, but because of the extra attention, encouragement, and growth opportunities they received.
So look around at the people in your world. Who would benefit from a little encouragement? Who has a spark that you can nurture into a flame? Whose life trajectory can you give a little boost that could make a big difference over time? Help someone see that little something special that they can’t see in themselves. Watching someone grow and achieve their life’s goals is its own reward.
Do No Harm. One cautionary note, while it’s easy to jump right into problem solving, take care that the second and third order consequences don’t do more harm than good. The road of good intentions is littered with unintended results. It goes back to our ability, or inability, to see the multiple layers of every issue. We think we’re doing something good, but it backfires and makes the people we were trying to help worse off in the long run. It’s why we need to get directly involved, learn from others, and distinguish from our assumptions and beliefs to get a clear picture of reality from those we want to help.
If you’d like to explore ideas and insights, please join the forum at MakeMineMeaningful.com. If you’d like to make change happen where you work, without potentially putting your job on the line, complete the Anonymous Survey and I’ll follow-up on your behalf. For more details go to Safe.MakeMineMeaningful.com.