In a world where many of us are waking up to a greater purpose for our lives, such an awakening call can quickly fade if it is not directed into meaningful contribution.
Run a Google search on “finding my purpose” and you’ll find 1.8 billion results, a host of personal development teachers and sites that open the doors to possibility of what can happen when you clarify the reason for your life.
However, are most of these teachers giving us the full picture that you need to find true fulfillment and meaning in our lives?
In the 2014 report, Existential Mattering: Bringing Attention to a Neglected but Central Aspect of Meaning?, Crystal Park and Login George describeexistential mattering – “The degree to which individuals feel that their lives are of value and significance in the world” – as more important than even self-esteem.
Accessing awareness of our “Why” – which, by definition, is our cause, purpose or “raison d’être” – can feel like we’ve reached a state of utopia. It can give us a sense of self-esteem and having found our place in life…though there’s a catch.
Following many common teachings for the revelation of purpose often gives us only half of the formula for life-long fulfillment. Why? Because they fall short of helping us discover existential mattering.
As Park and George state, “Although EM is an implicit part of the current theoretical and empirical literature on meaning, it is rarely given adequate and focused attention.”
Without real-life direction for the new-found internal fire that comes part and parcel with discovering a sense of purpose, the flame can quickly burn out. And what good is a population who have awakened to purpose or meaning in our lives, if we are not using them for the greater good of all?
In their 2019 report, Meaning is about mattering: Evaluating coherence, purpose, and existential mattering as precursors of meaning in life judgments, authors Costin & Vignoles conducted two studies that tested the temporal relationships between coherence, purpose, mattering, and meaning in life (MIL) judgments. Both studies determined that the “sense of mattering consistently emerged as a significant precursor of MIL judgments, whereas sense of purpose and coherence did not.”
They concluded, “That researchers and practitioners should pay more attention to the relatively neglected dimension of existential mattering, beyond their more common emphases on coherence or purpose as bases of meaningfulness.”
The solution: we need to understand how to set our discovered purpose (our “Why”) in motion, and make it existential, rather than solely ethereal.
How do we do we set our Why in motion?
Simon Sinek is one of many great leaders helping us unveil the purpose, cause or belief that inspires us to do what we do. If you’ve listened to him entertain questions, you’ve likely heard his adamancy that we can only ever have one Why. I disagree…not only can we have two Why’s – or rather, two facets to our Why – it is imperative that we do.
The second facet to our Why isn’t “ours” per say, but rather the current-day need for our gifts, passion, knowledge and perspective with a particular audience that we understand at the deepest level, because we have lived and learn precisely what they are currently experiencing as questions or challenges. They may be working at or in a particular facet of business that we know very well or they may be struggling with a major adversity that we have overcome.
I call this aspect of our meaning in motion, the “Why Without” because asking 4 simple, yet powerful questions can help us set our purpose in motion in service to a particular audience, thereby creating meaning. Those questions are:
Without what you have to offer….
- What problems remain unsolved (for your audience)?
- What questions remain unanswered?
- What passion remains unexpressed? and
- What potential remains unfulfilled?
The combination of this “Why Within” (internal reason) and “Why Without” (external reason) helps us take our personal narrative of lived experience beyond ourselves and clarify what audience we are uniquely designed to serve with the greatest amount of significance and impact.
It allows us to expand the internally discovered meaning in our lives to its full value and impact, and step into the true definition and reality of meaningful work – to take something learned on a personal level and expand it beyond ourselves for the greater good of all.
Without clarity of this outward direction, we are not fulfilling the true transformative impact possible through any revelation of purpose or personal meaning in our lives. This in-motion aspect of our Why is the true catalyst for “the degree to which we feel that our lives are of value and significance in the world.”
It is this external reason that sets our Why in motion, leading us find our place in this world…and bringing us to a place of existential mattering.
Real forward progress and growth for humanity happens through realized action. The same is true for the level of existential mattering – this most critical component of significance, meaning or purpose.
What if were to all lead from our lived experience – teaching what we’ve learned first hand – and support the audience we are perfectly suited to serve (based on that lived experience), in a way that empowers others with personal or professional growth, and greater ease-of-life!
Ask yourself the simple, yet powerful, questions that lead you to determine more than why you are here; ask yourself what you are intended to do with that…and then go forth and contribute it.
We all have something uniquely valuable to contribute – insight, principles, processes, narratives – and a group of people waiting to hear from us.
“Why Within” and “Why Without” process has proven effective in shaping the
contributions of a diverse group of business owners – from the founder of a
happiness-based technology start-up, to an internationally-respected sales
& marketing expert, to the PhD candidate president of an executive
education school. It was built to help you simplify what can feel overwhelming
and complex: creating a meaningful life.
Originally published on Psychology Today.
 Existential Mattering: Bringing Attention to a Neglected but Central Aspect of Meaning? George, Login & Park, Crystal L (April 2014)
 Costin, V, Vignoles, VL (2019), Meaning is about mattering: Evaluating coherence, purpose, and existential mattering as precursors of meaning in life judgments