Zach’s Blog

A Powerful Question To Help You Uncover Your Life’s Meaning(s)

A former student messaged me two months ago and casually asked, “Zach, what is the meaning of life?” 

To which I responded, “Which one? Your life has thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of meanings.”

As a purpose and meaningfulness researcher and consultant, such a question is fairly routine. Some popular variations include: “Zach, what’s my purpose?” “Zach, how do I find my purpose?” “Zach, what am I supposed to be doing with my life?” or “Zach, what should I do next?”

One constant feature of each of these questions is the unrelenting personal and vocational frustration they impart on their askers. Much of this frustration seems brought on by the oddly comforting, almost addicting desire to think of the “meaning” of one’s life as just one thing, somewhere out there beyond the horizon, just out of reach. People then seem to find a sort of aimless but satisfying purpose in finding, chasing, or pursuing “it.”

“If I can just have this experience, I’ll figure it out.” or “If I just get this type of job, I’ll figure it out.” or “If I just get this degree, I’ll figure it out.”

Ultimately, as most discover eventually, this scratching and clawing is futile because there is no “it.”

Because meaning is not found, it is made.

It is made where you are. It is made where you live. It is made where you work. The collective hurriedness to “arrive” somewhere else deprives us of the liberating awareness that our lives already have many meaning(s).

What are the meanings of your life?

Meaning by it’s psychological definition is the output of having made sense of something as significant.

For example, we give significance to souvenirs because they are useful to us – they give us fond memories of trips we’ve taken. We give significance to mementos because they remind us of people we love. Things have meaning because human beings make sense of them as being significant, or meaningful.

The same is true with our lives. Our lives and everything we do with them have meaning because other human beings make sense of us as significant, useful, or helpful (or the opposite!).

So, the meanings of our lives are actually held in the minds of other people.

Now, consider this: On average, research finds we’ll meet and interpersonally interact with three new people every day. Assuming an average life expectancy of 78.3, after we’re five years old, then, we’ll meet an average of 80,000 people over the course of our lifetimes.

That’s a potential of 80,000-plus meanings of our lives.

Hence my answer to my student’s question: Your life has many meanings.

So instead of asking, “What is the meaning of life?” a more powerful and practical question is “What are the meanings of my life?”

When we ask this question, we invite the responsibility that follows when we realize that our lives are defined by our contribution to others – not by money, status, job title, career, or some other arbitrary measurement or label.

Even more powerful is that most of the time, we can determine the types of meanings others make of our lives by choosing how useful or helpful we are to others. This is how we craft a meaningful life.

So, what are the meanings of your life? How do you contribute to others? How are you useful?

In the answers to these questions, we can start to craft our purpose, our contribution, and ultimately, our legacy.

Zach Mercurio is an international speaker, trainer, and purpose and meaningful work consultant. He is a researcher and adjunct faculty at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. His latest book is called, The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose.

1 thought on “A Powerful Question To Help You Uncover Your Life’s Meaning(s)”

  1. regarding Wells Fargo. Since their 2016 fine they have continued to abuse its customers. They cannot stop. Their culture is not able to change. Some systems are like this. The misalignment is so deep and so entrenched that doing right is not possible. See this data below for evidence of this. david dunnington


    January 23: Wells Fargo acknowledges potential worker retaliation. The bank says there are signs it retaliated against workers who tried to blow the whistle on the fake accounts.

    February 20: Four senior bank employees are fired. The employees either worked or used to work in Wells Fargo’s community banking division, which is at the center of the fake account scandal.

    March 27: Federal agency accuses Wells Fargo of “egregious,” “discriminatory and illegal” practices. In an unusual move, a top federal banking regulator severely downgrades Wells Fargo’s community lending rating. The decision stems from factors beyond the fake account scandal.

    March 27: Wells Fargo settles class action suit. The preliminary deal promises $110 million for wronged consumers.

    April 10: Former executives are asked for money back. The bank claws back $75 million from two former executives for their roles in the fake accounts scandal, including another $28 million from former CEO John Stumpf. A new report from independent directors on the Wells Fargo board reveals the bank prepared an internal report in 2004 about practices that may encourage employees to create fake accounts.

    April 21: The bank’s cost of a settlement goes up. The settlement in the class action suit is increased to $142 million.

    June 14: New allegations about mortgages are leveled. In a new lawsuit, Wells Fargo is accused of modifying mortgages without authorization from the customers. That means some customers could have ended up paying the bank more than they owed. It’s unclear how many customers were affected. Wells Fargo says it “strongly denies” the claims.

    July 27: New allegations about auto insurance are revealed. The bank admits it charged at least 570,000 customers for auto insurance they did not need. Wells Fargo says an internal review found about 20,000 customers may have defaulted on their car loans for related reasons.

    August 4: Wells Fargo is sued for allegedly ripping off small businesses. A lawsuit accuses Wells Fargo of overcharging small businesses for credit card transactions by using a “deceptive” 63-page contract to confuse them.

    August 31: More fake accounts are discovered. Wells Fargo says it has found 1.4 million additional phony accounts. This brings the total number of fake accounts to 3.5 million.

    October 3: Wells Fargo says it wrongly fined mortgage clients. Wells Fargo admits that 110,000 mortgage holders were fined for missing a deadline — even though the delays were the company’s fault. The company pledges to refund the customers.

    October 16: Regulators say Wells Fargo sold dangerous investments it didn’t understand. Regulators order the bank to pay back $3.4 million to brokerage customers because advisers recommended products that were “highly likely to lose value over time.” Wells Fargo does not admit to nor deny the charges.

    November 13: Wells Fargo admits it illegally repossessed more service members’ cars. The company says it found that it had taken vehicles from another 450 service members. Wells Fargo agrees to pay an additional $5.4 million, according to the Justice Department. The company promises refunds.


    February 2: The Federal Reserve punishes Wells Fargo. In an unprecedented move, the Fed says the bank won’t be allowed to grow its assets until the bank cleans up its act. The bank also agrees to overhaul its board of directors.

    –CNNMoney’s Donna Borak, Danielle Wiener-Bronner and Jill Disis contributed to this report.


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