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Strengthen Your Meaning and Purpose in Times of Struggle

Our personal and professional lives are constantly changing and evolving. To boot, many women hold multiple jobs. For example, women may hold a formal job or career (that brings home an income) in addition to informal, often unnoticed “behind the scenes” work that is unpaid. Many of us are raising children or caring for aging parents, both of which involve spending earned income!

With so much happening in day-to-day life, we are all at risk of having a “knock at the door” (or unexpected intrusion) from various stressors that are hoping to make their way into our homes and wreak havoc. Our “homes” include the work we do, our relationships with self and others, and life in general. So how do we prepare ourselves for these unexpected and uninvited knocks at the door? How do we secure the deadbolt from inside?

The key is strengthening meaning in our work. Research has proven that experiencing meaning in our work (and lives) is positively associated with psychological well-being.

Meaning and purpose can serve as a shield during times of struggle, providing women with a sense of empowerment to kindly escort stressors to the door and into the driveway, down the block, or outside the city limits. For most women, meaning and purpose is not simply found. Rather, it is built through the use of thoughtfulness and practice.

So, you may ask: How do I continue to build my meaning and purpose?

My response: Create your own meaning and purpose tree. I know, I know…This may sound silly at first, but bear with me. There is a ton of research to show the persuasive power of metaphors.

Your meaning and purpose tree should be unique to your work and your life. What kind of tree do you want to be? Perhaps a white birch tree? A flowering fruit tree? Maybe a graceful willow tree? Once you have an image in mind, reflect on these questions: 

  • How strong is your root system? Think about how your work and life align with your values. Strong alignment will result in a deep and diverse root system which is necessary for your tree to be healthy and strong.
  • How sturdy is your trunk? A trunk is a connecting point for nutrients and provides support for the leafy, upper branches of the tree. This is your investment in positive relationships. Who we work with is just as important as why we do the work. This statement is true for the personal relationships that we include in our lives as well.
  • How full are your branches? Your branches represent the skills you use to impact others. It’s important that we connect what we do with the people we care about and/or love.
  • Is there new growth? Think about ways that you have taken difficult tasks and created meaning. How can you use a positive perspective shift in other areas of work and life to promote additional growth?

Regardless of your profession or life situation, there are ways you can strengthen meaning and purpose. All packaged in one metaphor, the probes and questions shared above represent various strategies to promote meaning and purpose that are supported by psychological research. In addition to reflecting on them for yourself, share this intervention with your colleagues and with your friends and family. Doing so will allow you to benefit from being part of a larger grove of healthy minds.

If you’re wondering why I used the tree metaphor, it’s simple: We all have the inherent ability to grow. Strengthening meaning and purpose is important to your personal and professional growth and serves as a protective factor against those knocks at the door. So the next time stressors comes knocking at your door, look outside the window at that tree standing in your front yard, breath in its restoring properties, and answer the door with the positive mindset that you have the resources to address the needs of these uninvited guests and move them on their way.

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