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Centuries ago an orphaned boy spent long days pondering within a grove of olive trees that were dedicated to the goddess Athena. There, he would question the teachings of Socrates and debate the meaning of life with Plato. All in his search for the answer to the meaning of his own name, ‘the best purpose’.
This curious boy is described as the “First Teacher” by Medieval Muslim scholars and “The Philosopher” by Christian scholars; his name was Aristotle.
Aristotle identified eudaimonia (translated to mean human flourishing) as the optimum activity of the soul and the objective of all human deliberate action. One of Aristotle's prominent messages was his clear distinction between action and production. He proposed that the greatest rewards for man came from actions which were driven by a search for our greatest self and not by productivity.
This call for individuals to recognise and live with their ‘daimon’ or ‘true self’ demands that we follow our interests and realise our full potential.
Aristotle’s wisdom is till this day reiterated in modern guides to a fulfilled life. Yet, when it comes to the practical path to this enrichment, it is obscure, making it difficult to live up to.
By now, many of us believe that we have the potential to perform better, be happier, be more creative, but we continue to fumble and trip over our own laces.
We deny ourselves from the richness of our greatest self.
This is the case even at the elite executive level. A survey conducted by McKinsey Global Research Institute asked leaders across all industries what they thought was most missing for them and their colleagues. They invariably replied” a strong sense of meaning.
This research found that in these 5000+ executives, they were five times more productive in Flow, but they were in Flow well below 10% of the time. The executives asserted that the reason for this bottleneck was not intellect or emotional barriers but rather, the ability to add meaning.
What these executives needed more goes beyond defining direction or attaching a virtuous goal to the workload, something which has already been continually applied in organisations. Rather, the experience at work needs to be richer, more complex, and of higher quality. Experience in which people can play with their edges, explore their potential, and that is intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling in themselves despite its outcomes and company benefit.
This call for finding more depth and meaning to human experiences are not reserved for elites but rather a call to action for the whole society, to each and every individual.