Life has the meaning we give it — our richness, our enthusiasm, our pride — or our cowardice. ~Miguel Torga.
The search for meaning is a constant theme in our lives. In a sense, the search for meaning is our primary pursuit in life, and people have found all kinds of ways to imbue their lives with meaning. But I believe that meaning can be found in the way we add to the world.
Albert Einstein said that ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.’ I believe he is saying that a life of service to others is what truly brings meaning. I prefer to use the term adding value. Let me explain.
The term ‘service’ suggests some kind of sacrifice. There are people, of course, who do sacrifice a great deal in the service of others, and they have certainly found happiness and peace in their choice of lifestyle. But a life of adding value does not mean abandoning your own needs and desires. When we truly add value to the lives of others, we cannot help but receive value ourselves. There is a kind of synergy at work here.
Take an examples from nature. Tree roots are often surrounded by fungal growths that take nutrients from the trees. Having no chloroplasts of their own, the fungi cannot make their own energy, and so they piggyback on the trees’ ability to do this. In return, the tree gets to use the fungi’s vast underground network, extending its own reach and sucking in more nutrients from the soil. The soil, of course, gets this all back – and more – when the tree dies. This is truly a ‘win-win’ situation.
Victor Frankl said that we must detect the meaning in our own lives, and I think what he meant by this was that we need to figure out the best way of adding value.
So the question remains, how can we add value? I believe the answer to this is surprisingly simple.
To quote Steve Jobs in a speech he gave in 2005, ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.’
Through Apple, Steve Jobs has undoubtedly added immense value to the world: every day, I use Apple products and so do millions of others. He did this by following his heart and has been richly rewarded for it. The same can be said for many famous, successful and wealthy people.
The formula is simple. Find what you love. Do it. Add value. Success will follow.
Finally, some food for thought. In his book Making a Life, Making a Living, Mark Albion cites a study following the careers of 1,500 business school graduates between 1969 and 1980. The graduates were split into two groups: group A said they wanted to make money first so they could do what they really wanted later, and group B said they would follow their interests first, regardless of financial considerations. At the end of the study, there were 101 millionaires. All but one came from group B.
Do you know what you love? There is little more important in life than finding out.