One of my favorite TED Talks is from Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the now legendary Abraham Lincoln biography Team Of Rivals which served as the inspiration for Steven Spielberg‘s recent epic. During her TED speech, Goodwin speaks of the single most powerful lesson she learned from immersing herself in the life experiences of so many Presidents throughout her career — that in order to live a truly fulfilled life one must find an inner balance between three realms: LOVE, WORK, and PLAY. “To pursue one realm with disregard to the others,” Goodwin notes, “is to open one’s self to ultimate sadness in older age, whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication is to make possible a life filled not only with achievement, but with serenity.” You can watch Doris Kearns Goodwin’s entire speech in full below.
Of all three perhaps play is the lightest ball to juggle; however, one or both of the other two — depending on who you are — tend to be much heavier. In a brand new essay for Harvard Business Review entitled “Finding The Job Of Your Life”, Gianpiero Petriglieri explores the challenges and difficulties encountered in the search for purpose and deeper meaning in our careers. Petriglieri offers a brilliant perspective of how the search for a meaningful job has strong parallels with our search for a meaningful life partner: “The more we reach for meaning, the more elusive it becomes. Interrogating its nature, what it may look and feel like, makes it more mysterious. Thinking about meaning only deepens our longing. When you look at it that way, meaning is like love. Yearning for either turns some into poets and drives the rest of us on a quest to experience it. But when it comes to love, most grown-ups realize what that quest will take. We long ago gave up the fantasy that a Prince or Princess Charming will show up one day to sweep us off our feet. We know that finding love takes more than hopeful waiting. It takes building a relationship with somebody to share love with. Love, the sentiment, is a consequence of having found our somebody. It begins when our desire for love morphs into desire for a person . In fact, when we are in love we may not even think much about our desire for love. We’re too busy doing what lovers do — holding hands, writing letters, promising, being consumed and scared and comforted, raising children, fighting, making up, making out, having a laugh.”
Gianpiero continues by offering up an experiment to anyone looking for a deeper purpose in their 9-to-5 life — use the “dating” method. He writes: “On a first date you rarely ask yourself, ‘Is he or she the one?’ Ok, maybe you do, and you might be able to tell if someone isn’t. But you are more likely to wonder, ‘Is this going any further?’ or more precisely, whether and how you would like it to. The latter question is far more useful, for three reasons.” When you read Gianpiero’s essay in full be sure to take some time to let his three reasons sink in as to why it’s important to ask yourself the right question “Is this going any further” as opposed to the wrong question: “Is this job the ‘One’?” in your search for the Job of Your Life. His insights are bang on, and are immensely valuable advice for anyone on the search for a deeper sense of purpose in their career.
Gianpiero’s closing kernel of wisdom is that another common denominator between the pursuit of a meaningful career and the pursuit of love is the fundamental craving for a broader spectrum of emotions from A-to-Z. Oftentimes it’s not only that we’re searching for direct access to this broad and colourful emotional spectrum — many of us would be happy just knowing we’re at least on a direction that holds even the possibility of someday experiencing it in the future. You can read Gianpiero Petriglieri’s “Finding The Job Of Your Life” in full by visiting the Harvard Business Review.
Gianpiero Petriglieri is Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD. He is the Academic Director of the school’s initiative for Learning Innovation and Teaching Excellence, and chairs the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on new models of leadership. His interests bridge the domains of leadership, identity, adult development and experiential learning.
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