Discovering Your Why

10 Ways to Live a More Meaningful Life

It can be easy to run through the maze of life without pausing to think of its meaning.

Does what I’m doing matter?

More importantly, discovering your WHY.

Feeling that what you’re doing has a real purpose and meaning that matters to you can make a huge difference in your life. It makes getting up each day the most exciting thing in the world. You can’t wait to get started. Forget trying to force yourself to work hard, it becomes more important to remind yourself to take breaks to eat!

But how can we cultivate a more meaningful life? The answer is usually complicated. It can depend on many factors. I’ve written down 10 ideas that I believe will help you find meaning in your life every day, so that you can’t wait to get up in the morning and see what the day will bring.

1. Know What’s Important

Know what’s important for you. Write down your top 5 things that you believe are the essence of how you want to live life. This can include things like “family time,” or “sing every day.” It could also include more complex ideas, like “honesty” and “simplicity.”

2. Pursue Your Passion

I believe everyone should pursue their passion in life. It’s what makes life worth living, and gives our lives true meaning and purpose. Each time you work on something you love, it creates joy inside you like nothing else. Finding a way to use your passions to give back to the world will give your life ultimate meaning.

If you can’t manage (or aren’t ready) to work on your passion for a living, be sure and make time for it every day. By working on your passion and becoming an expert in it, you will eventually have the opportunity to make money from it. Be ready to seize that opportunity!

3. Discover Your Life’s Purpose

If you had to give yourself a reason to live, what would it be? What would you stand for? What principles do you hold highest? Is your life’s purpose to help others? Is it to inspire others with great works of art, or you words? Finding your life’s purpose is a daunting task, and when I first heard the idea, I had no idea where to start. For methods on discovering your life’s purpose, I recommend Steve Pavlina’s blog entries on the subject. I also recommend reading the article What Makes Life Worth Living.

4. Be Self-Aware

Be aware of yourself and your actions. Remain mindful of what you do at all times, and make sure you are living life according to your principles, your life’s purpose, and what you are passionate about. Review your actions each day, taking stock of those that strayed from your path. Work towards correcting any incidents in the future. Meditation is a great tool for accomplishing this task. It helps us increase our self-awareness throughout the day.

5. Focus

Rather than chasing 3 or 4 goals and making very little progress on them, place all of your energy on one thing. Focus. Not only will you alleviate some of the stress associated with trying to juggle so many tasks, you will be much more successful. Try and align your goal with something you are passionate about, so that there will be an intrinsic drive to work hard and do well.

6. People More Than Things

Often, we are faced with wanting to buy material goods. I recommend you consider carefully what you purchase, and think more about spending your money on experiences with friends and family. Not only will this give deeper meaning to your life by focusing on your relationships rather than material wealth, but you will be a happier person as a result.

7. Live With Compassion

Both for yourself, and others. Keep in mind the following quote:

"One must be compassionate to one's self before external compassion" – Dalai Lama

For some, compassion is the purpose of life, what gives it meaning, and what leads to ultimate happiness.

8. Find a Way to Give Back

Do something that both honors your beliefs and passions, while giving something back to the world. By giving something back, we inevitably find purpose in the act. By cultivating more of these activities, you will find your life has more meaning and purpose behind it.

9. Simplify Your Life

By simplifying your life, you’ll have more time to do what fulfills you and gives your life meaning. It can also help reduce stress and make your overall life easier to manage. It can also greatly improve your productivity. If you’ve never tried to simplify things before, it really is a great feeling.

10. Set Daily Goals

In the morning, before you start your day, create a list of 3 goals that you find fulfilling and meaningful. Make sure they adhere to your set of principles and beliefs. Tackle the hardest things first! Don’t make this list too long. By placing too many things on the list, you’ll feel the urge to multi-task, which is not good, or you’ll feel overwhelmed, which isn’t good either. By trying to do less, you’ll end up doing more.

Doing all of these things at once may seem daunting, but you can pick one thing at a time and slowly incorporate the ideas into your life. Life is about the journey, not the destination. Living a life of purpose gives both fulfillment and meaning to your journey.

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Criticism: The fire in the forge of great leadership

Much of my time is spent working with entrepreneurs, and I have discovered that many, if not most, are uncomfortable with the role and responsibility of leadership. The typical entrepreneur is someone who has a desire to be financially self-determined, who has enough confidence to try something on their own, and who is willing to take some risks. Most of them are comfortable with the idea of being someone else’s boss. But they would prefer to be a boss without being a leader.

What is it about being a leader that is so daunting? Part of the problem may be that we’ve taken the concept of leader and attached it to larger-than-life personalities like Jack Welch, making anyone else who aspires to leadership look like a pallid wanna-be.

Part of the problem may be that our national personality is largely influenced by populism, the idea that the rank and file have greater value than their leaders because of, their, um superior realness (read on to discover the glorious contradiction of this idea). This populist tendency leads to a rather toxic practice of boss-bashing and fault finding. Any intelligent person who wishes to pursue a position of leadership must first consider their own ability to deal with constant criticism. One of the first pieces of management advice I ever received, delivered from a mentor I revered, was “the higher you fly the more you get shot at.” I have often encountered talented workers who were unwilling to break ranks with their fellow workers and train for management because they didn’t want to upset the social applecar

The Flawed Man

Another reason some people eschew leadership is because it’s so damned responsible. Myriad scientific and social studies demonstrate that the wildly successful aren’t those who make less mistakes – they are the ones who make more mistakes, because it requires much more action and risk-taking to achieve big wins. Leaders are by their nature flawed. Truly great leaders air all their flaws in public in pursuit of great accomplishments. The responsibility of driving an organization forward is the responsibility of constantly trying to be educated, informed, forward-thinking, and strategic thinking enough to make more decisions than anyone else has to make – frequently at breakneck speed and always at the risk of being wrong. The armchair leadership critique squads get to sit on the sideline and comment on everything from the leader’s personality to their character to their subject knowledge to their style. They are sometimes correct, rarely kind.

Are you the Garden Variety Entrepreneur?

No wonder many entrepreneurs would rather be a garden-variety boss than a leader. It’s safer. You get to keep/make more friends. You get to make the vast majority of your mistakes in private.

The problem for entrepreneurs who do not wish to be leaders is that it doesn’t work. People crave leadership, even as they criticize it, even as they resist it. We all want to know where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, what risks we’re going to face, and what our chances are of making it. If nobody takes a leadership role, the result is the social equivalent of sheep milling around in a barnyard. The contradiction of our social populism is our equally great craving for accomplishment, a sense of purpose.

Be the Leader The Alpha Entrepreneur!

Can a business survive without a leader? Absolutely – I hear about and encounter businesses without leadership every day. Business owners who are described as wishy-washy by their employees, who avoid making difficult decisions, who move the business so incrementally that the evolution is nearly indiscernible (or nonexistent), who push tough decisions off to people like the human resource manager, the operations manager, and the accounting department. They are frequently well-liked, even admired, people. But do their businesses grow and thrive? No, they do not.

When an entrepreneur takes the responsibility for hiring others, they take on a responsibility for other people’s lives. If you’re self-employed and it all falls apart, you’re only damaging yourself and your family. When an employer goes down the drain they take many others with them – employees, vendors, and even customers.

Many entrepreneurs believe that by being very conservative – by not making mistakes – they will preserve their business. But case-study after case-study demonstrates that the typical business failure isn’t made of one bad decision (or even several bad decisions), but of failure to evolve, to chart new territory, to end things that have lost their value (or never had value), to seek new customers in new markets or to invent new ways to create value. Failure is typically the result of stasis.

The practice of leadership is demanding; demanding of skills, knowledge, ability to grow, and ability to maintain self-confidence. Jim Collins asserts that to be a great leader one must first be a great manager. Leadership isn’t about charisma. It’s about having tremendous knowledge about the work (all the work), how to do the work, and what could improve the work. At the same time a leader is looking inside with tremendous insight, understanding, and contribution, they are also looking outside with foresight, a passion for learning, and an eagerness to evolve. The competent leader is assessing all the variables, recognizing that each option presents both pros and cons, and driving in the direction of the greatest pros while working to offset or eliminate the cons.

And great leaders? Jim Collins says that a great leader goes beyond those characteristics to combine a blend of intense personal will with great humility. And there it is. The biggest risk. One does not become a great leader without having first been a not-great leader. Humility is learned on-the-job. The risks of leadership aren’t just technical, strategic, financial. They are personal. Intensely personal. The emerging leader must make peace with a very difficult idea. He (or she) must accept that demands and complaints from the rank and file are part of his growth, because a leader must strive to be more capable, more effective, a better decision-maker than the people they aspire to lead. And he does all this in public, being the flawed human being he is, and holding himself to a higher standard than his critics will ever be held to themselves. More daunting is the fact that this goes on for a long time, because great humility is rarely achieved in one’s 30s or 40s. Great humility is typically pursued over a lifetime, which means someone who aspires to be a great leader is aspiring to decades of humility lessons.

Is it fair? Well, as I often ask my children, “what’s fair anyway?” The more appropriate question is “what do you want to achieve?”  If what you wish to achieve is a thriving business that grows and evolves and is capable of producing the retirement income or legacy you desire, you will need to either accept the role of leadership or fully entrust that role to someone else who will. If you choose to learn to be a leader – then a great leader – the financial, intellectual, and psychic rewards can be great, but as with every great reward, you will pay the price every day. You will have to be a striving, mistake-making, earnest, struggling, imperfect human on a public stage. The ultimate risk. And perhaps the greatest reward of all.