In a world where it is easy to become obsessed with self-image and the public depiction of our own success, the perception of a meaningful life has become one where our own ambitions are achieved.
Even if those ambitions are to help others, our good deeds can too often be driven by an inherent learnt sense of selfishness, to be seen by other people to be “doing good” or to gain something in return.
"To build a meaningful life, we should aspire to become meaningful to others."
To develop a truly meaningful life, we must first shed the burden of other people’s perceptions of what it is to be meaningful and understand that it is about others more than it is about ourselves.
To build a meaningful life, we should aspire to become meaningful to others.
Whether in the short-lived moment when you help a struggling stranger with their pushchair on the tube, the mentoring of an employee to help develop their career, or using your skills and making yourself available to others, supporting others each day collaboratively I feel is the core to building a meaningful life.
As CEO of a national children’s charity that has supported over 45,000 disabled children, people inevitably expect my life to naturally feel meaningful, but the reality is that my role may enable and facilitate positive change on a mass scale but what makes my life feel meaningful lies much closer to home.
The way we all interact has changed so much over the past 30 years, with more and more of our communication conducted via some form of digital platform. The technology we all use today acts as a crutch, a mask, and a barrier to our communications, both aiding and restricting our ability to interact with each other.
The moments where my life feels meaningful are the times I experience when I can add value, insight, or practical support to enable someone else to achieve their own goals. These moments are enhanced when I can use the power of collaboration to bring people together with a shared focus, ambition, and passion.
Helping others is instinctive, but you have to be willing, emotionally available, and ready to use all your skills. Word of warning! The feelings are addictive, and there will be learnings on the way, therefore I have shared a few of mine.
Becoming Meaningful to Others
Know Your Strengths
Offering something that is not within your gift can only lead to unmet expectations and further problems. Accepting that you personally can’t help everyone all the time and helping people understand their own strengths or facilitating collaboration with others may be the most meaningful outcome.
Example: In the formative years of Caudwell Children, I embarked on a journey of discovery to identify the most appropriate, efficient, and effective way we could help families. The most important decisions were why we would say no to someone in need of help, and that had to be because someone else was better placed to offer that support.
Everyone Is Different
We all see and experience the world differently, so don’t assume you know what anyone needs or wants; allow them to decide and listen to them before offering your support.
Example: When designing the new Caudwell International Children’s Centre and Autism Service, our most useful insight came from consultation with the children and families. By listening, we faced the most productive challenges, and their feedback informed every decision we made. By listening to them at every step, we have built a service and an environment that is meaningful to the thousands of children, with numerous health conditions, it will affect.
You Are Not The Answer
For meaningful change to occur, it has to be delivered with a sense of ownership and responsibility from the person/people it affects. You want to play a meaningful part in people’s lives; you don’t want to live their lives for them.
Example: Changing the support we gave families after feedback, from 100 percent to 80 percent support made a huge difference to the relationship between our beneficiaries and the charity; it enabled families to retain their pride and ownership. The responsibility of funding a small percentage of the service we provided empowered families, who felt in control of their outcomes and an important part of the overall process rather than uninvolved bystanders to their child’s care.
Don’t Expect Praise
It may not come in the way you imagine, but you will feel a sense of fulfillment and happiness that is unexplainable.