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The Art of Engagement: Creating Meaningful Expression

Various colors of used paintbrushes positioned upright and viewed from above

This is the fifth post in our series about the five meaningful states we seek, known as the “Five Strivings”, or “The Meaningful Path”. Throughout this series we have been exploring each of the five meaningful states: prosocial, peace, happiness, engagement, and prosperity, and their applicability and impact in everyday work and life.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read the earlier posts in the series you can catch up on them by starting with the first post of the series, Five Ways We Strive and Thrive and each of the subsequent ones. There is a benefit to allowing time for each one to be considered thoughtfully and in the context of your own life experiences before moving on to the next, so you may want to come back for some review if you choose to go through them together.

In today’s post we’re going to explore the fourth of the Five Strivings: engagement. Remember that these are in sequential order, so with prosocial, peace, and happiness in place we can experience this meaningful state of engagement.


Primal Root = Creation

My son, who just entered the seventh grade, started at a new school recently. About two weeks into the school year, we had our first open house sort of event where I was able to go with my son through his classes. We met his teachers, then listened to a presentation each gave on who they are, what they focus on, their grading criteria and so on. In each of the classes I noticed that as part of the grading criteria it was noted that twenty percent of the students’ grade was in the category of RTE. RTE, they would explain, was the acronym for “ready to engage”. When asked about what went into that, each teacher explained that being ready to engage meant being present, with a charged computer, sharpened pencil or pen, and any other necessary materials for the class.

I understood their explanation, and the reasoning for their focus on this important part of learning. Yet, I think their framing of what it means to be “ready to engage” falls a bit short in some important ways that distinguish it from present, prepared, and participating. So, to better understand engagement we need to separate it from showing up (presence), showing up with what you need to have or know (preparedness), and speaking up and contributing to the activity, discussion, work, etc. (participation). We need to understand it as a state of meaningful creation, connection, and expression.

Engagement is being committed to the pursuits you take up and the people with whom you choose to spend your time. When you commit in this way, you invest time, energy, and emotion into whatever or whomever you’re engaging with. Even further than that, you bring yourself to the engagement. Yourself, or your self, is who you are, the meanings that make up the unique person that is you. Bringing yourself to bear in an engagement is not just participating, it is an act of shaping it, altering it. That is where the creation, or creative aspect comes in. A class of 20 seventh graders participating may face little change if one of those students were absent, but a group of individuals engaging will look and feel different if a person is missing.

At the root of engagement is the desire to create, and to express yourself, and to have that expression make a meaningful difference in what you engage in. Creation, or creativity, isn’t just about art or music or writing. It’s about bringing your unique perspective and ideas to the table. It’s about letting your voice be heard. It’s about making an impact. And the spark for this powerful engagement is the desire for creative expression.

What does it take to engage in this way? First, it takes courage to be open in this way. Along with expressing yourself, bringing your whole self to something, comes a vulnerability and exposure. Those are not weaknesses; they are necessary parts of authenticity and integrity. You may remember from our exploration of the second of the Five Strivings: peace, that it is necessary to create and maintain conditions where meaningful expression is welcome and valued. This is one example of the sequential nature of the Five Strivings. Peace creates conditions for the creative expression of meaningful engagement to thrive.

You may already have some ideas about how you can boost your engagement in your work, life, and relationships; but let’s also explore a few key areas you might focus on and talk about some ways to practice more meaningful engagement.

Three young friends at a table in front of laptops laughing

Engage in your relationships

Take a look at the relationships you have with the people you spend your time with. How do those relationships make you feel? Do they inspire you? Do you learn from them? Do your interactions bring about what you want more of in your life? If you find some opportunity here it may be an indication to engage better and to invite more of that engagement from others as well. Getting to know a colleague better and sharing more openly about yourself can enhance a work relationship, improving collaboration and outcomes. Being more authentic in friendships can reveal more common ground and strengthen bonds.

Engaging better with the people in our lives is not just about spending time with them, it’s about spending quality time in high-quality ways. Here are some suggestions to get the creative juices flowing:

  • “Date night” with a partner

  • Set aside time for a regular one-on-one catch-up conversation with a friend

  • Have a recurring networking meeting with a business colleague or connection

  • Have a check-in session with your team

  • Open up about something that will bring a personal or professional relationship that is somewhat on the surface a bit deeper

Also, you can try setting goals for these interactions. Instead of just meeting for a cup of coffee, for example, you could also try to find out what motivates the person you’re meeting with or discover through the engagement how they think about a certain topic. It’s not just about seeking out meaningful interactions, it’s about setting up interactions so that they are meaningful and fulfilling.

Colleagues collaborating at work, in chairs, in front of computers. Three men.

Engage at work and school

Remember that there is a difference between participating and engaging. So, raising your hand for an assignment or initiative and taking part is the start, not the end. Engagement isn’t a function of “having” to do something. It’s a way of actively contributing that has you bringing who you are to the work, using your unique skills and talents to contribute meaningfully.

Try shifting your thinking from a transactional relationship with work, to a transformational one. Instead of getting paid to do a job, you are using your unique skills and abilities to accomplish your purpose – to make a difference. This is a more holistic approach to work. By bringing your personal meanings to bear through the work you are doing, you produce outcomes that are expressive of who you are and carry out your personal purpose at the same time.

This makes “work” into something that transcends just earning money. Work becomes a vehicle for self-expression and personal growth. Remember the example from earlier with taking surface-level relationships and bringing them deeper, more meaningful? The same potential exists in the work you do. You can take a surface-level relationship with your work and change it into a meaningful expression of who you are.

How can meaningful engagement at work and school make a difference?

  • Burnout and disengagement are alleviated

  • Work experiences are more personally fulfilling

  • A sense of accomplishment is accompanied by the joy and personal satisfaction of personal expression

Relationships, work, and school are some great places to engage, but they are far from the only parts of life where there is opportunity for engagement. Hobbies, clubs, spiritual life and practices, community, and volunteerism are some other examples.

All of these and more can be where you engage to bring more meaning into your life and the interactions you have in it. It’s not just about what you do, it’s how you do it. Being fully present and giving your full attention and meaningful effort into whatever you’re doing. When you do that, it’s not just that the thing you’re doing benefits from your full engagement, you benefit as well. It creates a powerful feedback loop of meaning expression and personal fulfillment. The more of us who engage meaningfully in our work and lives, the better we all are. A sort of ripple-effect is created which resonates with positivity and well-being.

A man in a business shirt sitting at a table with paint all over his hands and the paper holding a paint brush in his left hand and a mechanical pencil in his right hand

You can start today, start small, but start

Being meaningfully engaged can have some pretty large and impactful benefits, but it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Small, everyday actions and approaches can make a big difference, establishing a foundation to build upon. Be fully present when you talk with people, and make sure you are bringing some of who you are into these conversations. Give your full attention and intention to the task you take on. Approach participation in hobbies or memberships with curiosity and joy. You may also take on something new as a way to express something personally meaningful to you that isn’t often expressed. Some examples might be to bring more music into your life, move more or in different ways (dance versus the gym?), or to volunteer for a spot on a new project team at work. New experiences are a great way to open up new doors and opportunities for meaningful engagement.

Now that we have prosocial, peace, happiness, and engagement in place we’re ready to move on to the last of the Five Strivings: prosperity. This will be the topic of the next post in the series. See you there!

Are you ready to engage with Meaningful Purpose in your life? Consider one of our workshops or one-on-one coaching.

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