Responsibility is what gives life meaning. Start with that. Responsibility.
An example of responsibility that makes me smile involves the student managers of the Duke basketball team. They travel with the team.
Basketball’s pace means player sweat bigtime. When they fall, they leave wet and potentially slippery floors. The home team routinely has a couple guys on each end with these little round mops and they go out and briskly wipe the floor when a guy goes down.
Not these Dukies. Students clad in white collared shirt, dark blue slacks, crisp storefront; they flat out sprint from their bench. You wonder where they hide the starting blocks. And then they get to work. They darn near dive to the floor with rag in hand and furiously scrub the wet spot. They don’t so much drop to their knees as lunge for the spot. And they do it on the road! As the traveling team. The fellows with their little round mops are still putting down their Big Gulps as the Duke student managers are sprinting back to the end of the bench. The way these guys absorb their responsibility is what gives their actions meaning, and the roar of appreciation from the stands is an immediate reinforcement.
At work or at home. Faith based or entirely secular. Socio-economic status be damned. Responsibility is the hinge on which it all turns. Your life’s meaning swings on the hinge of responsibility.
At work, it means representing. It means you are on it. Critically, the employer has to have super clear responsibilities defined. Not vague. Vague responsibilities are not responsibilities. Each person has to matter. Each person has to focus on the metric. What gets measured gets done.
In the best workplaces, the ones with the most satisfaction flow from holding each other accountable. The military has inculcated that to great effect for decades. Each man does his job.
I think it is why at the end of WWII we were churning out planes and ships and rockets like mankind has never seen. From Rosie the Riveter to the grunt on Iwo Jima, the vast part of America won that war in four years because of the assumption of responsibility. From the time we dang-near lost our Navy in the Pacific to kicking Nazi ass across Europe to razing Germany through brutal strafing. Then we blew up Japan. Four years.
Yet industrially, we were just getting started! In terms of ramping up production we hadn’t peaked yet. December of 1941 to Summer of 1945 was all about Team America.
And this was possible because everyone felt that responsibility. On an individual level the sensation was I have to do my part.
Yet this is not a history lesson and I digressed.
If you are secular, then it seems even more cogent to apply life’s meaning to what your responsibilities are. If 80 years on this rock are it, if the unique, wonderful, never-to-be-repeated you is it, you may leave no trace. In a native American tribe, you could be Little Ripple. Because a little ripple fades away. So don’t be Little Ripple.
If you believe in God as I do, you understand your responsibility is to love others as Jesus loves you. It is in that pursuit, however failingly, your life gains meaning. Like opening a gate. Hopefully a big gold one.
Being a good brother or a loving spouse are obvious elements of life’s meaning. The best thing a guy can do for his kids is to love their mom. Chase her around the kitchen. Love mom and all the blocks slide into place. Our world would be such a better place if every dad did that. It would change the world.
Certainly as a parent there are times a good episode of Wheel of Fortune feels great but reading with a young one makes the pillow soft at night. Meeting responsibilities turns that hinge.
People like to be part of a bigger purpose. They like to work in concert toward a team goal. Drama troupe, girls’ basketball team, church choir. Everyone doing their part is what gives it purpose.
With the NCAA tournament coming up, there will be plenty of deep dives on why these teams are successful. Lots of heart-warming anecdotes. Loads of circumstances where the team started with a motto and ended with a culture. Moving from motto to culture is the turning of the hinge.
Responsibility is what gives life meaning.
Your life’s meaning swings on the hinge of responsibility.