Millennnial meaning and how to discover it for ourselves

Road forwardDuring hardened economic times, such as these we have been experiencing since 2008, material success is much more difficult to come by.  As a result, individuals come to rethink what constitutes success. Success during times of economic hardship becomes less about material prosperity and more about something else.

Millennials are looking for something else..

It follows, therefore, that those who have entered the workforce since 2008 are more likely to be focused on materialistic things and more about living a meaningful life.

Contrary to some people’s views that millennials are selfish and motivated primarily by money, a 2011 report commissioned by the Career Advisory Board and conducted by Harris Interactive, found that the No. 1 factor young adults aged 21 to 31 wanted in a successful career was a sense of meaning. For them “meaningful work was among the three most important factors defining career success.”

Meaning, of course, is a mercurial concept. But it’s one that social scientists have made real progress understanding and measuring in recent years. Social psychologists define meaning as a cognitive and emotional assessment of the degree to which we feel our lives have purpose, value and impact.

No one size fits all…. meaning is personal

In research undertaken by Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer Aaker and quoted in the New York Times, the authors looked closely at the building blocks of a meaningful life. Although meaning is subjective — signifying different things to different people — a defining feature is connection to something bigger than the self. People who lead meaningful lives feel connected to others, to work, to a life purpose, and to the world itself. There is no one meaning of life, but rather, many sources of meaning that we all experience day to day, moment to moment, in the form of these connections.

When individuals adopt what is called a meaning mind-set — that is, they seek connections, give to others, and orient themselves to a larger purpose — clear benefits can result, including improved psychological well-being, more creativity, and enhanced work performance. Workers who find their jobs meaningful are more engaged and less likely to leave their current positions.

How to find my meaning…

Discovering or creating meaning in day to day work doesn’t have to be difficult. However, it does require some action. As meaning is subjective, no one can tell you what is meaningful. Rather, you need to discover it for yourself and then manufacturer or craft ways to undertake more of these meaningful activities in to your day to day work.

You may prefer to work through some exercises yourself ….

Try the wild question technique

  • What would you do if you were free from fear and knew that you could not fail?
  • What would you do if you won a fortune on the lottery tomorrow?
  • What have you always wanted to do but held yourself back from?
  • If you were granted three wishes that you knew would come true, how would you use them?

Or write your own epitaph:

Imagine that you could live your life free of any physical ailments, anxiety, or fears. Wouldn’t that be something? As you connect with this, imagine the headstone on your grave in the far off future. Notice that the headstone is blank. Your epitaph (words describing your life) hasn’t been written.

What inscription would you like to see on your headstone? Think of a phrase or series of brief statements that would capture the essence of the life you want to lead. What is it you want to be remembered for? What would you be doing with your time and energy if you could do anything? Give yourself some time to think about these really important questions. If you find an answer—or more than one—just write them down on the lines on “your” headstone. Think big. There are no limits to what you can be remembered for.

How about a questionnaire?

  • Personal Values survey (Schwartz and Boehnke, 2004)
  • Valued Living Questionnaire (Kelly Wilson – please contact Kelly for permission)
  • Or the Work as Meaning Inventory (Michael Steger – please contact Michael for permission)


Pam Kennett believes it is possible to create meaning from even the most mundane task or activity. If you want to learn the best way for you to find the meaning in your life, contact her now.