The Four Pathways to Meaning
Integrity with Self
This refers to who we are becoming as a result of being engaged in our life and work. It relates to developing inner qualities, such as the confidence to speak up, the patience to guide a staff member through a challenging project, the wisdom to know when to stay silent and the courage to remain true to ourself.
Unity with Others
This refers to the meaning that we get from working and living together with other human beings. It relates to the joy of working well together, i.e. pulling together to complete a difficult challenge; the sense of belonging that people have in well-functioning teams; or the sense of connection experienced when people deeply understand each other.
Expressing Full Potential
This refers to the meaningfulness of sounding our own note in the universe. It relates to the human need to create and accomplish. For example, it can relate to an engineer finding a new way to stabilise a crane, or to a bus driver achieving a very high customer satisfaction rating.
Service to Others
This describes the meaning we derive from improving things for others. For example, through helping a colleague at work, or making a difference to a client, or to the planet.
Meeting the needs of the four pathways can set up tensions, and too much focus on one can lead to a loss of balance. Meaning is found by working through all pathways, and in balancing or addressing their fundamental tensions. In our research we found two tensions that relate to meaning: one between being and doing, and one between self and others.
Being and Doing
We need to find balance between our human need to focus inward and reflect, and our need to act in the world. Being focuses on the need to reflect, to make sense of things, and to evaluate. At work it is about asking questions such as, "Why exactly are we doing this?" Doing focuses out into the world. It is heard when we catch ourselves or others saying: “I just can't wait to get my hands on that clay” or “We've talked enough, let's get on with it” or “I just want to get started”.
Self and Others
We all face the ongoing challenge of meeting the needs of the self, while also meeting the needs of others. At work it can be experienced when we want to get on with our own project but are simultaneously called to assist colleagues. Or if our work has become too focused on our own career and we are starting to lose the connection with others at work or home.
Inspiration and Reality of Self and Circumstances
This depicts the bigger realm in which meaningfulness takes place, which is at any time somewhere between inspiration and reality; between our hopes, ideals and visions for the future and the place in which we currently find ourselves. Both are automatically present in conversations about meaningfulness.
Meaningfulness is experienced when an individual feels aligned with some form of ideal or hope. In work it can for example express itself through a positive rather than cynical work climate.
Reality of Self and Circumstances
Meaningfulness cannot be experienced when we pretend, either in relation to ourselves or to our circumstances. It includes awareness that we are imperfect and live in an imperfect world. At work it can for example express itself through authentic emotions and realistic goals, rather than pretence and over-the-top expectations.