Meaning and Purpose at Work: Understanding Cosmic Versus Terrestrial Perspectives

Meaning and Purpose at Work Understanding Cosmic Versus Terrestrial Perspectives


There are many benefits to what you do for your living, beyond the obvious reasons for working, like income, connection, and opportunities for practice. There are many ways to benefit from what you do for a living. For example, there are ways to add M&P to your work. You will find mental peace and excitement for the future by succeeding in either one or both. Robert Benchley famously stated that there are “two types of people in the universe: those who divide it into two kinds of persons, and those who do not.”

To adapt the phrase to current needs, let me say that there are two types of meanings in this universe: terrestrial purpose and cosmic significance. Although they aren’t exclusive, if one is entirely accepted, dominant, and explicit, then the expressions of M&P in the other will be significantly subordinated. This is by no means a negative thing.

The Cosmic Versus Terrestrial Meaning

These two meanings are familiar to you? Irving Yalom’s masterpiece “Existential Psychology” in 1980 was where I first saw these terms. Yalom explained the implications and consequences of pursuing either one of these two forms of meaning.

A cosmic meaning is a description of purpose that applies to all people and is a universal explanation associated with a grand plan. Contemporary religions embrace this form of substance. They believe that the purpose of life is to love, serve and know God and do what a deity requires. If you pursue this cosmic meaning, you will experience peace, happiness, and all the good things in your future. Although you must die before nirvana can be achieved, it seems like a small price to pay to experience profound, rapturous, and eternal joy.

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The cosmic meaning is to be patient and adhere to the rules, as described by leaders of any religion that you were taught as a child, or in some cases, choose to adopt as a sentient adult). This will allow you eternal bliss, beginning when you die.

This cosmic form of meaning, for billions of people, is/was the pinnacle, zenith, and summit of what it all means and why we are here, the proverbial Mother all meanings of existence.

Most people don’t discuss cosmic meaning except with those who share their ideas about the importance of life. This is usually limited to communities and places that are dedicated to these discussions, rituals, practices, and shared values. In other areas, such as work environments and different secular organizational settings, cosmic significance is not treated with respect. Avoid it. It’s a shame, actually, because cosmic meaning is so essential for those who embrace and follow it. This is a problem in a democracy that values freedom of speech and tolerance for differences, as well as a search for understanding and openness for new ideas. Respectfully listening to one another and sharing our thoughts on important topics, like this fundamental existential topic, could be an excellent way for us all to learn.

Yalom stated that cosmic meaning refers to whether the whole of life fits in a coherent overall pattern. Grand designs can provide comfort and consolation for our inevitable death. A cosmic outlook offers hope for a greater purpose in life and a reminder that there are other possibilities. Who would not accept cosmic meaning as the foundation of all forms of M&P if they could wish or believe it was so?

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Terrestrial Meaning

There is no universal answer to the question of Terrestrial Meaning that can be applied to all human beings, now, past, and future. Instead of asking what the meaning of my life is, it does not address THE purpose.

This type of meaning is easier to manage; it shifts responsibility for M&P from the individual. It gives you the option. It offers freedom, opportunity, and the challenge of a lifetime to create, tune, and celebrate all that is possible for your life’s many meanings and purposes. There are many possibilities, including the beauty and wonders of nature, the majestic grandeur of the cosmos, as well as the beauty and serenity of gardens and flowers, art, music, and love. There are so many fulfillments that it is almost impossible to list.

M&P can be viewed from a terrestrial perspective. A terrestrial-based perspective can provide a foundation for a natural wellness mindset and lifestyle. It encourages exuberance and the pursuit of science and reason, as well as athleticism to sustain the life vessel through mindful diet and exercise. Last but not least, it enhances the precious gift that is liberty. This freedom allows you to live your life in your own way, service, and consideration of others as well as your own happiness.

Some people believe the difference between terrestrial and cosmic forms of meaning is the existence of the inner world versus the external. Is it that meaning is imposed on us, and we have no choice but to make it, or are we free to create it? In a free society, it’s your choice. However, in this country, as well as other democratic countries, many people don’t have equal opportunities to recognize this reality and take action.

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Before significant numbers of people become independent adults, there are no cosmic or terrestrial options. They are passed on by their families and cultures, for better or for worse. Many, if not all, people reach adulthood before the mental doors to new perspectives on M&P are closed.

Questions for discussion

Do you prefer terrestrial or cosmic versions of meaning?
Did you choose the most efficient way to find M&P in your organization? Or did you make these decisions on the job?
Do you feel comfortable discussing M&P with your colleagues?
Which of the above statements drew your attention the most? Were they surprising, shocking, annoying, or in some other way, compelling you to pay more attention?


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