"In times of crisis, people reach for meaning. Meaning is strength.
Our survival may depend on our seeking and finding it."
-Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Frankl talks about a mid-life crisis as a crisis of meaning. We normally associate a mid-life crisis in disparaging terms regarding an older person attempting to return to the thrilling days of their youth. Often the results are embarrassing. I strongly encourage you to google "Danny DeVito skinny jeans" to see what I mean. On the other hand, and at other times the results can just be enjoyable. For example, a return to a more healthful lifestyle with more activity and wide eyed wonder at the miracles of everyday life can provide a lot of enjoyment. The struggles of living can cause us to forget that we once enjoyed photography or music, and now that we have the time, we can pick up that camera or instrument and begin again. That endeavor can be enjoyable.
Rather than focus on the mid-life part of the crisis of meaning, I reflected on the crisis of meaning itself. According to the Oxford dictionary, a crisis is a time of intense difficulty or danger. We can react differently to a crisis, one person might be deeply affected, another not at all. So crisis appears to be not the situation, but our reaction to it. Crisis in Chinese is represented by both the characters for danger, and opportunity. A crisis can be a danger or an opportunity, a turning point, a fork in the road.
In the workplace, were we spend much of our day and much of our life, we encounter experiences that could result in crisis. A symptom of that crisis can be a lack of motivation. We have often been told that the purpose of business is to maximize the return on investment for shareholders, a none too inspirational or motivational purpose for many. Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto spoke about this lack of motivation with Millenials, but it certainly has applied to baby boomers in their careers as well. He said, “Okay, so let me get this straight. I’m supposed to come to work for you and work every day with the singular goal of maximizing the value of faceless, nameless people who can blow us off in a nanosecond if they had a bad hair day? Am I right thus far?” The truthful answer is, yes. And the Millenials are just saying, “Like,you got to be kidding me. Seriously?“.
When I read that statement, I was rather stunned, but Roger has a point. That purpose is not very motivational, so people become disenchanted and seek some meaning elsewhere in their lives. They seek out new careers, other employers, any attempt to better their situation. Often they just leave one non-motivational environment for another. Of course, it doesn't have to be that way.
We cannot change the desire on the part of the shareholders and their representatives to maximize profits, but we have the free will to determine who we will follow and which organizations are more closely aligned with our value set. We can even choose another career more aligned with our values.
How can we find meaning when confronted with these crises, these difficulties, these dangers? Where is there danger? Where is there opportunity? In order to react properly in a reasoned, deliberate manner, we must first of all understand our life purpose and our authentic values. These values are the traits and beliefs that underlie our behaviors, particularly our behaviors when reacting to a crisis. If we understand our values, our beliefs, we can construct behaviors that react to a crisis more in keeping with our goals in life.
We can help. Your life is too valuable to not take the next step.