Seek the Mission That Gives Your Life Meaning
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl writes, “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.”
We are daily bombarded with so much attention and focus on being happy, but I firmly believe this is a misguided and shallow notion. Happiness is neither a means nor an end. It is a byproduct of a life lived with meaning and purpose. Happiness is not a thing to be chased for its own sake. It is too fleeting and circumstantial to be the goal our actions strive to achieve. Rather we should pursue things of greater substance. The accomplishment of these greater purposes may yield happiness as a consequence. But in seeking happiness, you will find yourself like the raccoon who flits from one shiny object to the next.
Two of the things that provide purpose for me are my faith and family. I want to be a good steward of the gifts that have been bestowed upon me. And I want to be a good provider for my family. Aside from my profession as a lawyer, my writing is one of the tangible ways I tend to those purposes. But there are other internal and external motivators for my writing as well. Phillip Lewis (who I recently interviewed about taking the opportunity to pursue your passions) asked me where does the drive come from to write the blog and my book, Building a Better Law Practice. I likely gave him much more answer than he was seeking, but here’s how I responded:
Well, I try to be pretty self-aware, so I know there are many layers to that answer. Since I was a teenager, writing has been very important to me – then it was creative writing. I wrote a lot of poetry over the course of 10 or 12 years.
When I was working on my master’s in history (I taught HS before going to law school), I wrote a couple of papers that got published in historical journals. Then once I went to law school and started practicing, all the extracurricular writing stopped for a couple of years. I just had a hard time justifying doing it when there was billable work to be done.
But in 2016 (my 4th year of practice), I realized that to build my own insurance defense practice, I was going to have do something outside the box. So I started my law blog. I wandered in the wilderness of obscurity with very few readers for 6 or 8 months, before things started to get a little traction. About that same time, I started branching out from the appellate case summaries I had been writing to writing about other topics.
And I discovered I am very interested in and have a lot to say about managing clients, cases, and a practice. So those topics have been the bulk of my writing now for the last 16 months or so.
As we get to the less healthy end of the answer to your question – I’m a 3 on the Enneagram (an achiever), so it’s important to me what my peers think of me and the things I’m accomplishing. The blog and now the book have been a way to set myself apart from the crowd.
I’m also motivated to pay off my substantial student loans, so I am hopeful these things can help get me there.
That’s probably more than you were asking for, but those are certainly the motivators I’ve identified.
That’s a bit more personal than I normally get on the blog, but it’s so important that we find a sense of meaning and purpose about our work that I felt compelled to share it.
I was listening to Jeff Goins’s interview with Shawn Askinosie on The Portfolio Life, and Askinosie made this statement: “If we can find some meaning in our lives, we’re going to live longer, be more joyful, and be more pleasant to be around.” (May 17, 2018). Askinosie is a former litigator who decided to get out of the business of law and started a chocolate company, which he’s been able to leverage into a something he has found more fulfilling.
Maybe your sense of meaning isn’t tied to your vocation. Perhaps your vocation is the vehicle that enables you to do the other things that give you purpose. Whatever the case, once you’ve found that purpose, don’t lose sight of it. It will help you stay grounded and motivated. Working with purpose can help you avoid the burnout that afflicts so many who are working furiously but without any clear direction.
Photo by Jean-Marc Linder.