122: Engagement, Meaning, Responsibility
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Engagement, Meaning, Responsibility
This is all about learning how to live a good life. We believe that fundamentally, it takes living with intention in the tension. That is our catchy mantra coined by my brother, Adam Setser. It’s what we believe is the key to living a good life. It’s living with intentionality and infusing it into all that we do. That is what we’re about and we get to do that. You’ll see solo episodes, peer-to-peer conversations and you’ll also hear interviews, deep dives into somebody’s story, unpacking the lessons they’ve learned and sharing it with you. That is what we’re here for. Thanks for tuning in and joining the Up and Comers Movement and Community. We’re so glad you’re here.
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This is a solo episode. I’m going to drop some thoughts for you. I’m going to dive in because there are a lot of words to say. I do hope that this idea and this topic is helpful for you. It’s something I’ve been putting a lot of time, energy and effort into as I’m rolling out a program for different corporations and companies to help with the engagement of the workforce. Engagement is something that has been perennially low in our society and culture. The first thing to say about that is it’s not a personal issue. It’s not necessarily an individual issue. It’s more of a societal and cultural issue at play that affects the individual in a major way. Where does engagement come from? We’re not going to talk about why it’s there. We’re not going to talk about how it’s there, how it’s expressed. I’m more concerned with practically speaking, individually speaking, what can we do about it?
The first question is where does engagement come from? I believe it comes from a few places. The first is having a reason to be engaged. Engagement comes from an underlying reason that motivates us to be engaged with something. This is both the specific reason for the thing that you’re engaged with and your underlying purpose for why you were engaged in anything in the first place. It’s your foundational why and the specific why with the thing you’re doing. “I am washing these dishes because they’re dirty.” That’s a specific why. For the greater why, “I want to be a responsible and effective manager of my household. I want to run a tidy organization, so I’m going to make sure the dishes are washed and to respect my roommates.” The first place that engagement comes from is having a reason to be engaged.Engagement comes from having a reason to be engaged. Click To Tweet
The second is having the right threshold of personal challenge. If you have an endeavor that is sufficiently challenging, yet not too challenging that it deters your efforts, that is a sweet spot of hard enough that makes it a fun challenge and that challenge is what helps produce greater engagement. The third-place I think it comes from is having some measure of reward or a feedback loop where you get to personally see and experience or learn about the positive impact that is created and produced for the lives of those around you. It’s participating in a greater cause, which is a fundamental need that we all have. We will inevitably have greater individual engagement in a cause that is for a purpose that’s bigger than ourselves. It’s a foundational part of it. There was a great quote on this, it’s from Jonathan Haidt who said, “We may spend most of our waking hours advancing our own interests, but we all have the capacity to transcend self-interest and become simply a part of a whole. It’s not just capacity, it’s the portal to many of life’s most cherished experiences.” I’ve definitely seen that to be true in my life. If we get back to engagement, the other question is where does engagement fundamentally come from?
On the fundamental level, engagement comes from meaning. We’re engaged with things that matter to us or mean something to us in the moment. Meaning comes from responsibility. My entire life, I wanted the responsibility. Ever since I was a kid, I longed for the day when I could be “responsible” enough for the responsibility. This deep longing, as naive as it may have been, is a longing that lies deep within each human heart. It’s a longing for something more. The longing for not just another task to do or another role to play, but rather the longing for what’s behind both task and that role. The greater picture of what it all means. Meaning is inextricably tied to responsibility. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
As a kid, I wasn’t expected to bear responsibility. I was rightly seen to be a child who would often behave in childlike or childish ways. This bugged me as a kid. I wanted to be seen as capable and competent. I want to be viewed as someone who could be trusted with responsibility. I wanted to have ownership over something and be proven worthy by the results that ensued. One of the earliest memories of this longing came in meeting one of the most basic needs in life, cutting grass. As a toddler, I would see my dad pushing the lawnmower back and forth for hours each week as he cut the front and backyard, keeping them pristine and manicured for us to play on. Not only did I desperately want to be hanging out with my dad during this time, I also wanted to play a role.
I wanted to play a part in being responsible for making sure the grass had its weekly haircut. This was important. There are pictures that show my dad leading the charge with his big boy lawnmower and me, following closely behind with my Tiny Tikes plastic mower, making sure that he didn’t miss any imaginary spots. This desire for responsibility was also one of the major subconscious drivers for why I ended up gravitating towards the sport of golf. Along with wanting to be trusted with responsibility, I had a competitive streak that would do anything to ensure victory. I remember in first or second grade, I came home and practice shuffling cards for a week so that I could be seen as the best card shuffler in school. It was a neurotic competitive streak at times. In my young eyes, team sports opened up the door for too many variables and too much-shared responsibility.Decisions are never harmless. Click To Tweet
I preferred my odds a lot more when I could take on full responsibility and control for the outcomes of win or lose. While this was nearsighted and rather childish, this perspective inwardly prodded me towards the game of golf where I would be the sole determinant in the results that ensued. This is a perspective that came with ample evidence against it. The longer I competed in the higher I strove, I realized that it meant bearing the full responsibility for failures. Over the years, this childlike and starry-eyed version of responsibility was shown to be only partially true. Responsibility was a good thing to be desired, but it was also a weight to be carried. Not only was it an opportunity to play a role and be proven capable and competent, but it was also an opportunity to have weaknesses, exposed and failures to be learned from.
One instance in college helped show the childish ignorance found in my view of responsibility. As a junior in college, I was given the responsibility of being the team captain of the golf team. This was an honor and one that I definitely cherished. My inner child leaps for joy at the chance for another tier of responsibility to be added to my plate as a student-athlete. What I failed to recognize is that this responsibility meant my decisions no longer affected only me. They now affected each of the seven guys on the team and the ultimate success or failure that we would experience in our season. That year, our team was consistently ranked in the top twenty. We were looking to make a good show in nationals thinking that this could be our greatest shot at a championship.
We had qualified for the national tournament. We’re on our way to seeing the dream through to potential reality until responsibility showed up knocking on my front door. Earlier in the spring season, I had made some decisions for myself, along with several of my teammates that broke school rules, as well as team policy and not to mention legality. These decisions, like every decision we make, had to weight. This responsibility did not factor in my mind as much as it should have when making those decisions. It seemed harmless at the time, but decisions are never harmless. If you desire responsibility in life, then decisions carry in added weight that can’t be turned on or off like a light switch. These decisions led to a several week period before finals when everything was brought to light. I’m no longer was responsible, this starry-eyed pearl of highest possession that it was when I was a child.
It was a judge on duty staring down the gavel at my childish ways with words of the sentence primed to leave her lips. This is one of the starkest wake-up calls in my entire life. It was the gas-producing splash of ice-cold water in the morning, the jolt of adrenaline that smashes you to alertness when waking up in the opposite lane of the highway. Responsibility is not only an opportunity but also a duty. It meant that each decision in action mattered. Not just for the person making it or taking it, but for all the people associated or affiliated with its effects. These two illustrations help show that responsibility has both a weight and a beauty to it. The beauty is that it brings value and importance to any activity, knowing that others are counting on you to come through for them and for the greater good or cause that you’re aiming for. The weight is that they are depending on you to act in their best interest and in the best interest of the whole. When we fall short, which inevitably will happen, we end up not only hurting ourselves but also hurting those who depended on us.
This is a two-edged sword of responsibility. There’s beauty in both sides of responsibility. Both the blessing and the curse because it means you have something to play for. The only way you have something to play for is if you have something to lose. Without the possibility of failing, there’s no possibility of success. Without responsibility, we won’t grow. If we go back to meaning, the middle of factor, meaning in life isn’t inextricably tied to responsibility. Without responsibility, there is no meaning to your actions. The beauty is in being human, you are endowed with a God-given natural responsibility. You have a conscious choice. Responsibility creates meaning because it gives us purpose. Not having any responsibility, robs us of the joy of meaning in life. It takes away the human longing for making a difference, for mattering in life, not to ourselves but to those around us and more importantly to those that we love. Practically speaking, what does all of this mean? Engagement matters because otherwise, what’s the point in living? If you’re not engaged in anything, then why are you alive? The question is, why meaning matters? Without meaning, what’s the point in doing anything? Finally, responsibility matters because if we aren’t required to do anything, we will opt for the easier path and either self-destruct or self-decay.
The question is, do you want to be more engaged with what you’re doing in life? Universally, we’ll all say yes. In order to do that, we must understand the greater meaning behind what we’re doing, as well as the specific role and meaning that is involved in each specific action. For example, why am I recording a podcast? The specific role is that there’s a schedule. I want to release episodes on the schedule to be responsible, consistent and committed. Also, I want to be faithful to this duty and this opportunity that’s presented in front of me and walk alongside others in their journey to learning how to live a good life. What’s the underlying purpose of that? I believe life is a gift that is given by God. I’m going to do the best that I can in this life to make the most of it. Not for the benefit of myself, but for the benefit of those around me. I believe that is my calling. That is my foundational why it’s given from God.
If you want to be more engaged with what you’re doing in life, you need to understand the greater meaning behind it, as well as the specific role and meaning that is involved in each specific action. If you want to have more meaning in your life or if you want to live a more meaningful life itself, the key is to start taking on greater responsibility with the first step, always being the taking of individual responsibility for your thoughts, decisions and actions. Responsibility is the key to meaning. Meaning is the key to engagement. Engagement is what the world needs from you. Your role matters. We can’t dilly dally around and wait for the world to change for us. It won’t. We must take ownership of our lives and never settle for less than we are capable of. That is our duty. That is our responsibility. Together, we can help create the change we wish to see one day at a time and more importantly, one step at a time.
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