- Mario Musa
March Thought-Starter: Can a mentor help us find meaning at work?
Our monthly thought-starters come to you from our team of Guides, who are trained to help you make the most of your MeaningSphere experience. They're on hand to help members of our community explore the big question: "What is the meaning of my work to me?" Find out more about our Guide services here
”Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Trying to make sense of our everyday experiences and to understand how they fit together within a larger context is a fundamental human need. Work is no exception.
This "search for meaning" across different parts of our lives is arguably something that sets us apart as humans from the rest of the animal world. The experience of meaning is not only unique to the human species – it’s also unique to each and every human being. But understanding what brings us fulfillment, joy, and ultimately meaning at work is a skill we each need to nurture and cultivate over time.
So what can help us better understand what brings us a sense of meaning from the work we do? "Self-mentorship" by making time for self-reflection; working with a mentor or "guide;" and nurturing our own listening skills can all be effective ways to better understand what brings us meaning at work.
Make time for self-reflection
How often do we pause and reflect on our day at work? Self-reflection and self-exploration play a fundamental role in understanding what’s meaningful to us. Being able to reflect on a particular experience or event and identify what makes it meaningful – or meaningless – to us relies on our capacity to discern who we are, what really matters to us, and how we operate in different situations. It means turning the lens on ourselves and looking inside, behind the surface or image of ourselves we usually project into the world.
By no means is this an easy task and it is not something society and its traditional institutions – family, school, workplaces – prepare us for. On the contrary, looking into ourselves implies accepting our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which is not something we usually or easily do in front of others.
If you're looking for a place to start, MeaningSphere's Mirror offers an online journal to support this kind of reflection about work.
Talk to someone
Having a companion can really make a difference in helping us better understand ourselves and what’s meaningful to us: for example, the relationship a mentee establishes with a mentor. When we search for a mentor, we normally look for someone who can support and guide us in our own professional or personal development. Often this role is particularly valuable in times of transition, when we are going through significant life changes and the mentor can act as a sounding board and provide encouragement to help us be intentional in our choices.
At MeaningSphere, we focus on helping our members experience more meaning at work. We focus on work not only because this occupies most of people’s waking hours but because – in line with Viktor Frankl’s teachings – we believe that a meaningful life is a responsible life and the only answer to the question of meaning can be found through our own actions in the world – our work. Work is the way for us to create an impact with what we do and all work can be meaningful, irrespective of job titles, career positions, and pay checks.
Self-exploration is therefore ultimately geared towards action and we offer our “Explorers” the support of a companion – or a Guide as we call them – whose task is precisely to “be there,” to help Explorers understand what really matters to them at work and help them identify big or small changes they can make to bring more meaning into their working life.
Learn through listening
One of the biggest challenges when trying to understand what brings us meaning (or doesn’t) is developing the capacity to articulate our needs to ourselves and others. At MeaningSphere, we deeply believe that sharing our realizations about what makes work meaningful with others is a necessary stage in building more meaningful careers, workplaces and, ultimately, society. Listening and talking about what is or isn’t meaningful to you is therefore a key skill, though not one that is commonly available through traditional education. We learn by listening to ourselves and listening to others talking about meaning but also – and very importantly – listening to ourselves through others: that is, noticing when we deeply resonate with what other people share.
As a MeaningSphere Guide, my main task is to create and hold the space for “my” Explorers to feel safe to share, to listen with great attention to the way they describe their own experience of meaning and its drivers, to mirror what I’ve heard back to them, and lastly to initiate a reflection on what can be done and support them through the process.
Am I then a meaningful work mentor? Well, I think so…
Mario Musa is a MeaningSphere Guide based in Como, Italy.
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