"We all want to be part of something -- an organization, a team, a community, a relationship -- that somehow allows us to exceed our expectations of ourselves."

Inc.com may seem to be an unlikely place to find the meaning of life, but stick with me and you might be surprised.

There's a great scene in the movie City Slickers in which Billy Crystal (playing a city- dweller in the throes of a midlife crisis who's trying to find himself on a dude ranch) is talking to Jack Palance, an old-time cowboy, about the meaning of life. Palance holds up one cowhide-gloved finger (No, not that finger; his index finger) as he says, with a cigarette dangling precariously from the corner of his mouth, "Do you know what the secret to life is? This." Crystal looks a Palance, puzzled, and asks, "Your finger?"

Chances are, if you're reading this, you spend a lot of time questioning the meaning of your life because so much of it is dedicated to your work. You're likely putting in 12 to 16 hour days -- on good days! You have your family and your fortune wrapped up in this journey. And the term "work-life balance" sounds like the punch line to a really bad joke. Where in all of that is there time to find meaning? Better to wait until you have a big bank balance, the time to contemplate life, and a place a few rungs higher up on Maslow's hierarchy before asking that question, right? Wrong!

Being effective at growing your business means being effective at growing yourself and those around you. When I consider the hundreds of leaders I've worked with, one thing becomes abundantly clear: those who were successful in keeping their best people and connecting with their customers all had a deep sense of purpose and meaning to what they were doing, and that created enormous gravity.

The reason is simple: We all want to be part of something -- an organization, a team, a community, a relationship -- that somehow allows us to exceed our expectations of ourselves. We are all searching for meaning, from the least successful among us to the most; it is a common human need. It's why we fall in love, raise kids, volunteer, why some seek spirituality, and, yes, it's why we work. Fulfill that need and you create something that is really magic; something that binds people together like nothing else can. Karen Armstrong summed it up well in her book, A Short History of Myth: " We are meaning-seeking creatures."

What great leaders know is that building a business is about creating purpose and meaning that can elevate our self-esteem and self-worth. That's why people take pride in being part of a great business or brand. You have the incredible opportunity to do that with the business you are building; to make meaning for yourself and all of the people who have decided to take this journey with you. Meaning is not a search but rather a conscious effort to creating a vision and a passion around something worthwhile to which you can dedicate your life.

As the scene at the dude ranch closes, Palance looks at Crystal and smiles wryly as he holds up his finger and goes on to explain the meaning of life. "One thing, just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don't mean s-t."

"That's great, but what's the one thing?" asks Crystal.

"That's what you gotta figure out," says Palance.

Yes indeed, it really is that simple.

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Published on: Jul 12, 2015
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