July 25, 2009

Finding the Meaning In It All

What a great, great article in the Wall Street Journal—Tuesday, July 14, 2009—“A New View, After Diagnosis” about how “cancer patients find meaning in the face of mortality…how can you live knowing that you’re going to die?”

To me, the article was inspiring, hopeful, and courageous.

A new therapy called meaning-centered psychotherapy addresses the question that cancer patients have: “How do I live in the space between my diagnosis and my eventual death.” And it answers the call with the philosophy of the Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, who taught, “people can endure any suffering if they know their life has meaning.

Meaning-centered psychotherapy works with cancer patients to make “the months or years of life that remain times of extraordinary growth” of “reconnecting with the many sources of meaning in life—love, work, history, family relationships,” and of resolving issues of our past.

Through spiritual well being, we can reduce our anxiety and fear of death and find meaning in life and the legacy we can leave behind.

No, this article wasn’t about work or technology or leadership per se and yet it was about all of them so much more.

How often do we go through our daily lives and question the meaning of it all? (What’s life really all about? What’s it all for? Why do we work so hard? Who really cares? What affect does it have in the end, anyway?)

In fact, all our lives we are searching for and desperately seeking spiritual meaning in what we do.

We are multi-faceted people. We have professional lives, families, friends, community, hobbies, and so forth. And we try to imbue spirituality in what we do every day—to elevate the mundane into the holy—to make the meetings, reports, bills, dirty diapers, dishes, and laundry, meaningful.

Recently, one of my friends who is looking for a new job (in this tough economy) said to me, “I want to find a meaningful job.” And I asked him “what is meaningful to you?” He answered “I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

It seems that we all cognizant of the short time we have here on earth and we want to make the most of it. Yet, despite all the people, activity, and things (“technology toys” or otherwise), we still are not sure what exactly “meaningful” means.

Is the answer really simple and straightforward--is it our good deeds, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and serving our maker? Well yes, of course, but we also have an inherent need to see that there is some positive end-result to our life’s work—a legacy that transcends us. Whether it is through our children and grandchildren that carry onward after us, charitable gifts or trusts that helps feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, or treat the ill, or having a positive influence on the people and society around us—inspiring, motivating, leading, and creating a better world.

Certainly, with a cancer patient, at the crossroads of the life and death, meaning must be found now or lost for all time. Others, not facing imminent death, have more time to explore, experiment, and search for the meaning in their lives. In the end, all of us desire to leave this world with a clear conscience knowing that we did our best, and left the world and the people in it that we touched, better off than had we not lived at all.


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