Where are we investing our time? Where do our effort and energy go? What does our Outlook calendar look like? What activities and behaviors are within those boxes at specific times?
What we calendar, we take seriously. Some of what’s on our calendar we inject meaning into. We think we derive meaning from the activity or behavior, but we’re really putting it into the activity. Nearly nothing of what we do each day has inherent meaning. It is up to us to decide what is meaningful and then take action to inject it into the thing, activity or person. Meaning is 100% on us.
There’s nothing inherently meaningful about going to the gym and lifting dumbbells. We go to the gym and lift dumbbells in order to look good, to feel good, to build community, and to ensure a compelling yet disciplined future. As they say in the SEALFit training, “We do today what others won’t do so we can do tomorrow what others can’t do.” They’re building and injecting meaning in their students through that statement and through the daily trainings.
There’s nothing inherently meaningful about grilling ribeyes for your family. Within the process of grilling ribeyes for your family, you think about doing a good job, the proper prep work involved, not wanting to burn them, what else you’ll prep to complement them, what people want, and the entire cooking creative process in general. If you care about cooking for others and the quality of its output, you care about its meaning and inject it into your prep work. Besides, you don’t want to ruin perfectly good ribeyes.
There’s nothing inherently meaningful about cleaning your house. Most people hate to clean the house. It’s mundane. It’s boring. It’s thankless. There’s no Hall of Fame for house cleanliness. It is very difficult to find meaning in this activity. But we enjoy being surrounded by cleanliness. We like clean bathrooms. We like clean floors. Clean kitchens assure us. We’re safe there. While we won’t derive meaning from cleaning, we can inject meaning into cleaning because of the feelings its result creates. We may not enjoy the process, but we like how its output makes us feel.
There’s nothing inherently meaningful about getting rid of stuff. So many of us have so much stuff. We have so much stuff we forget about the stuff we have. It is a rather particular problem. When we decide to give some stuff away, we lighten our load. Note that this is not only a physical load — it is a mental load as well. We’re doing mental work here, too. While it doesn’t mean anything to unload your stuff, we put meaning into unloading our stuff. You’re giving it away to others. You’re throwing it away for good. You’re selling something that once had meaning to you. You’re discovering new meaning in giving your things away. You’re finding what you can live without. This self-discovery teaches that you can get by on less. What you thought you needed turned out to be not true. You just created meaning there.
You may struggle to find meaning in the work you do in the office or at home. Have you considered what the impact your work has on others? Have you considered what contributions you make to your co-workers each day? Do you think about how your presence, your leadership, your creativity makes for an enhanced workplace? We often don’t ponder our own impact because it isn’t natural for us. Worse, we rarely get feedback. When we inject meaning, creativity, and caring into our work, people notice. While they may not say anything about it specifically, they’re aware. It shows. When it shows we care, that we’re creative, that we’re putting meaning into the thing, it is contagious. It is a positive social value that spreads. If we’re really good, it inspires others to go and do likewise.
When you see creativity and care be put into one’s work, tell them. Tell them what you see and give them feedback. Tell them how much you appreciate the time, effort, enthusiasm and care they’re injecting into their work because it shows in the output. People do not typically get this kind of feedback. This is unfortunate because a little reassurance you’re on the right track goes a long way. A kind complement about one’s work and effort lasts a long time and doesn’t take much time to deliver. A kind complement creates positive, lasting meaning not only for the recipient, but for the sender as well.
We are far better off when we stop looking for meaning in things, activities, and people and start injecting it into the activities and people we wish it to be. Remember that meaning is 100% on us, not on other people or inherent in things. If we wait on others for meaning, we’ll wait a long time. Meaning is subjective: what is meaningful to you may have none to me. But since it is completely on us, we should not complain about the activity due to its lack of inherent meaning. If there is positive output in the action, we can put meaning into to the thing no matter how mundane it is. When we choose to do this, we see beyond the act, beyond the ordinary, and through to the bright, shiny output.