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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Find meaning in your life practically

As we discussed in the blog on challenges of today's professional, one of the significant challenge of today's professional is to find 'meaning' in life, because money does not motivate today as much as it motivated his father. Often, it is also a root cause of mid-life crisis when professionals take sabbaticals to find something meaningful in life. In a milder version, it is a problem of most of the today's professional, when they seek job-satisfaction in life.

Difficulty in finding meaning

'Finding meaning' is difficult for professionals, because it not a left brain sequential process. It is in the realm of your right brain. And therefore, it is not in your control. Left-brain outcomes like earning x money, or marrying with x are direct, sequential and easy to achieve. But finding satisfaction from x money, or finding happiness in marriage are right-brain outcomes. They cannot be achieved directly; they have to approached indirectly. For instance, you cannot 'sleep' at your Will. You have to approach it indirectly. 

Right-brain outcomes like satisfaction, meaningfulness, happiness cannot be achieved directly by Will. They are typically the by-products of some other actions, of the way you explore life. Meaningfulness is an outcome that 'emerges' out of the way you engage with life. It is an outcome of not what you do, but how you do

If you do it in the right way, you will 'automatically' understand what is meaningful in your life. But if you are one of those who have got attracted to the 'individualistic' philosophy of westerners, then you will find it very difficult to find meaning in life, because you do not appreciate the oblique way of exploring life. John Kay has written on how goals are approached obliquely, not directly. His reading will benefit this exploration. 

Methods of exploring (for discovering meaning in life)

Meaning is personal for everyone. If you find 'ecology' meaningful, that does not mean i will find 'ecology' equally meaningful. Here are some of the suggestions for indirect approaches of finding meaning in life.
  1. Engage in action with your values: Narayanan Krishnan was lucky to find his value in one encounter when he visited Madurai. Most of us are however not so lucky. To understand if you value 'removing corruption' or 'tackling ecology', you need to engage in action with that value. For instance, you have to actually work with some NGO and help underprivileged and find out if you would really want to do that 'at any cost'. Only thinking about 'values' is not useful; engaging with those values in action is more important. To understand what values are, please read this
  2. Use your passion to express yourself: We all have hobbies and interests. But we find it difficult to find time as we start working. I have a friend who loves to read novels and books, and tells me that once he retires ( he is now 45), he will 'rest and read books'. I have friend who wants to write poems 'after he is 55'. Developing right-brain hobbies like drama and reading help us explore our values.                                                                                                                              Expressing oneself provide us the 'fuel' to charge our life. Above all, it helps us meet people who are 'passionate' in their lives and understand the 'unfolding' of passion in others. When we start appreciating how others find significance in something as silly as 'cooking', we start understanding the meaning of passion and liking in our lives.
  3. Develop friends who work with 'values' in their work:  Many corporate achievers in their quest of achieving money, fame, and position forget to look at their hierarchy of beliefs because in corporate life one rarely experiences conflict with one's value. This is unlike in some fields where one faces 'value-decisions' daily in 'work'. For instance, fields of entertainment, publishing and medicine expose our values and force us to take some stand. Infact, one of the most misunderstood fields where value is strongly incorporated in the work, is the work of politics and (one that is popularly portrayed in cinema) police work.                       One of the best way to explore your values ( or your belief hierarchy), is to develop friends in these fields. If your school friend is working in this field, you are the luckiest, because that will enable you to understand the interplay of 'values' and 'work' much more easily. Our values conflict with our actions many a times, but we chose to ignore such conflicts instead of facing them. A friend who is engaging in this conflict becomes a 'model' to understand these conflicts, if not face them, at the least possible harm to oneself !  I had a police friend whose value-conflicts affected my sleep for many months ! 
  4. Help friends and colleagues to realise their values/passion: This is a more easier method to explore your values. Work with a friend or colleague who is passionate about some value. The interaction is very helpful because 'collaborating' forces one to engage densely and therefore discover many hidden aspects of what you believe in your heart , but which you have never questioned! 
Evaluation of value 

Process of exploration will lead to discovery of your values, which may fit with Scheler's Pyramid of Values. The pyramid from the lowest to highest consists of four categories. It starts from Value of use and pleasure > Value of vitality > Value of spirit > Values of holy.  Value of use and pleasure are the the values of utility such as value of 'taking care of my family'. Value of vitality are noble values like bravery, magnanimity, loyalty and humility. Values of spirit are values like justice, beauty, and truth. Values of holy are values of compassion that originates when one understands that 'everyone is same'. 

Moving from lower to higher value depends both on one's physical and mental resources. If you do not have enough physical resources like your father/grandfather, you will be forced to remain at the lowest value hierarchy. Of course, we all have our unique definition of what is 'enough' for us. While Aamir Khan considers acting in one movie in a year as 'enough', other actors are not satisfied with even five! However, it is the lack of mental resources that often blocks one from moving to higher hierarchy. One lacks mental resources not because of inadequate ability, but due to withdrawing oneself from the dense-situations (where one confronts one's value ). With little practice, one's mental resources remain undeveloped ! If one uses these four methods of exploration from the initial stages of life, one is more than likely to discover one's value! 

Above all, please remember that your value cannot be evaluated and rated. How will you evaluate a poem? or a relationship with friend? or a passion of a friend? So even if your discovered value is the "Value of utility", you need not be 'apologetic' about it. You have to be practical about it. You have to respect your constraints, wait for physical resources to increase, simultaneously keep on exploring your values, so that you are ready to migrate to higher hierarchy when the time comes.