The Search For Meaning @ Work

by Elaine Cercado

In my late 20s – around ten years after I professionally worked – I felt burned out and started to nag myself with questions like: Is this what I really want? Is there more to life than these?

I just went through a major turning point at work and I was progressing well. My career and income kept rising. Yet I didn’t feel at peace and joyful. I felt physically tired and felt I was shortchanging my other important roles in life. 

At the personal level, there were a couple of important things happening while work was becoming more challenging in terms of balancing time, business complexities and emotional intelligence. My son was fast growing in his formative years, and my husband’s projects required him to be physically based in another country.

In hindsight, there were two things that led me to search for more meaning in life and at work where I was spending most of my time.

  • Lack of balance, which led to discontent and frustration with this situation. I felt I wasn’t spending enough time with my young child, which caused self-doubt and guilt at times.
  • Question of legacy and contribution I’m leaving and giving to this world. I felt there was still something missing despite all the success I was achieving at work. I couldn’t see much the tangible impact or difference I was making in this world.

The search for answers took many years. It was a process, a journey. Through it all, I could sum up here the top three that helped me most during this phase of life – mentors at work, a spiritual journey, and the unconditional love from family and friends.

Mentors at work. I was blessed to have many mentors at work, and some of them have given me life-changing guidance. I vividly remember the meeting with my first mentor in our corporate mentoring program. He asked if I felt physically tired and burned out from work, and I said yes. Then he asked who/what I valued most, and I replied my then 2-year old son. He instructed me to visualise how I wanted the future to look like when my son turned 12 years old. He told me to imagine what’s happening 10 years into the future – from the time I woke up to the time I slept. He told me to root that 10th year scenario with who/what I valued most in life. That was my first realisation of the power of visualisation, which I shared in a previous article.

Spiritual journey. My other mentor, a friend in my business network, gave me the book “The Path” by Laurie Beth Jones. This book led me to a discernment and discovery of my purpose, as defined in my personal mission and vision. I shared the book with my husband and young son, and together, we developed our family mission and vision. Being purposeful led to simplification as we became more discerning of how we spent our personal and family time and other resources. This led to an over-all more balanced and joyful life.

As I shared in this article: “Simplicity doesn’t mean abandoning pursuits. On the contrary, it means pursuing and excelling in what really matters to us as defined by our personal mission and purpose. When our pursuits are aligned with our purpose, we have the energy to develop and master them.” Robin Sharma wrote, “Pursue simplicity versus complexity. Build your life around a few key choices so you’ll have the willpower to become amazing on those few key things.” Our mission led our family to a fulfilling life of service with and for a community whose beliefs, values and causes we shared. Volunteering enriches our life and can re-ignite our career indeed!

Love from family and friends. In alignment with my personal and family mission and vision, I embarked on a new profession in my late 30s. The unconditional love and support of family and friends during this period were important. I treasured those moments when my husband was fully present, listened empathetically and welcomed the different possibilities for the path ahead. My family and friends understood and cheered for my passions and path in life, and these made the journey joyful despite the uncertainties brought by the changes. I felt, and continue to feel, so grateful and blessed.

Have you discovered the meaning and purpose of your life? Discovering the meaning at work may be a starting point. Ask yourself: Is this what I really want? Am I peaceful and joyful? Am I giving my best to what or who I value most in life?

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