Monday, February 6, 2012

Living Meaningfully Well?

"The Big Question: what does it mean to live meaningfully well? If you accept the less-than-heretical proposition that our way of life, work, and play, while materially rich, might be leaving us emotionally, relationally, socially, physically, and spiritually if not empty, than perhaps just a little bit unhealthy; that it might be optimized for more, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier over wiser, fitter, smarter, closer, tougher — how would we redesign economies, markets, and organizations to help us live better?" – Haque 2011/12
(Quotation credits at end of post)
At this point of my life, that Big Question feels pretty familiar. I would hazard a guess that many folks who have hit the big “four oh” have asked - what am I doing? Is this how I want to live my life and/or is there more to life than my current career path?  Actually, now that I think about it, I hear quite a number of the under forty set asking those questions. Perhaps I’ve simply been in a unique position these last few years to listen to people of different ages seeking change in their professional lives. Not everyone has wanted to reinvent their careers but many have wanted to change how they relate to their profession of choice.
Personally, I’m working through that process now for myself. What has become clear to me is that “meaningful” is a word that we each define in our own way. Living meaningfully well asks for a certain measurement – practically a litmus test on what is valued as meaningful. Point of view, social position, values, community, and beliefs are all going to color those varying definitions. Sometimes we know all this and struggle against it. Well, I do, anyway. Societal values are a pretty strong current to swim against.
"Being human is never easy. But that's the point. Perhaps as an unintended consequence of our relentless quest for more, bigger, faster, cheaper, now, we've comfortably acceded to something akin to a minor-league contempt for the richness and grandeur of life unquenchably meaningfully well lived.” (Haque 2012/01

Pulling back from that relentless quest hasn’t always been easy.  And yet – read this again – “the richness and grandeur of life unquenchably meaningfully well lived” – doesn’t that sound like a goal worth the best hours of our days? Haque is writing for an audience of business professionals and goes on to write that a meaningful life is found in meaningful work.  Prodding business leaders to think beyond mediocrity is important but life goes beyond the office, right?
Maybe I’m crazy but living meaningfully is also about exploring what creates joy and wonder in my life. What lifts me up instead of what drags me down. Family, friendships, love, connection. Somewhere in that mix is a rich, well-lived life. I want the work I do "out there in the world" to be woven into a balanced life within.

My personal answer to Mr. Haque's question which started this whole musing - how do we basically escape a society driven by more, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier over wiser, fitter, smarter, closer, tougher  - is to slow down, look around and remember how to love my self, my family, friends, and the earth that spins under my feet. I need to remember what I love to do each day - what will I happily set the alarm for. Ultimately, rediscovering wonder and opening my heart to joy cracks that relentless, furious and 'mediocre' world wide open - one choice at a time.

And when you believe as I do that change can ripple out from one single person - that makes all the difference necessary.

Quotes are taken from two Harvard Business Review blog posts by Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Labs and author of Betterness: Economics for Humans.

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