What is a Good Life? #13
Purpose, Part 1
Good day to you all,
Thanks again for your interest in this newsletter.
If this is your first time reading this newsletter, please click here for background information on the project and how it is structured (4 separate sections). Through following this weekly newsletter, I hope it gets easier to navigate one of life’s biggest questions.
The key theme this week is Purpose. I’ve decided to break this theme into two parts. This is to reflect the fact that half of the participants who mentioned it referred to it in terms of having purpose, and the other half in relation to seeking purpose in their lives. This week I’m starting with those who referenced having a sense of purpose.
1. This week’s interview – Purpose
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Gerard*. Gerard began his career at a hedge fund but left due to not feeling fulfilled in his role. He went back to do a Master’s in machine learning and is presently launching his own company. He speaks to the importance of having purpose and a path in life.
*Not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
Many of the things that I'm doing are done with a view to figuring out an answer to this question, so in a sense, a good life is one led by the pursuit of understanding what a good life is (in a meta sort of way).
An example of that is leaving my old job. It was clear that that wasn't a good life for me, and I followed other paths which I thought would lead to a more purposeful life, finding out the purpose piece is a big part of a good life for me.
Can you tell me how you found that purpose?
I worked at a hedge fund consultancy for about five years, but I wasn’t getting much satisfaction from my work. I realised that it’s important to me to use my time well, I wanted to make the 10 hours a day I’m working as enjoyable or meaningful as possible.
That process started with looking at other industries, exploring whether there were things that I was better at, that I enjoy more. I came to the conclusion that in order to feel fulfilled, I needed to build something myself, something that I'm proud of.
Outside of work, in every spare moment I had, I began working on a technology that I wanted to develop. This led to me leaving my job and to doing a one year Master's in machine learning, at the end of which I’ll be launching this new technology. That is the vision for my life at present.
It was daunting leaving a stable industry that paid well but trying to pursue something that I’d love to do or enjoy for a long, long time was very important to me.
How do you enjoy your work now?
To be honest, it's not like I get this immense satisfaction whilst I'm coding away. If anything, I feel quite a lot of pressure to make it work. A lot of the time when I'm coding and something doesn't work, it isn't just, “Oh, this bit of code isn't working”, sometimes it's like, “Oh, my God, do I even know how to build this technology?!”
It's not always as extreme as that, but I do feel this underlying sense of pressure when I'm working on the project, to make something of it, because I've put a lot into this being a success.
Are the stresses and pressure worthwhile when you’ve got a purpose for that work?
Yes, even if I don't get to this finishing point where all the hard work’s paid off – my favourite quote is, “the obstacles are the path” - I think as long as I have something to be working towards, it doesn't matter to some extent if I fully arrive.
It's all about purpose: I find purpose in trying to build this thing out. I didn't have that purpose when I was writing financial reports that I didn't care about. The incremental enjoyment from coding versus writing a report is definitely there, but it's not huge - it's about the path.
Do you see this singular focus evolving over time?
Yes, because what has been important to me so far has already changed a lot. I haven't even mentioned anything about my family, girlfriend or maybe having children, because at the moment, my pursuit is very much career focused.
I certainly anticipate what I think is a good life 20 years down the line will be very different - it's hard to pinpoint one thing for your whole life. It's about having a good understanding at the time of what you should be pursuing and having a clear vision of what it means in that moment.
“To the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favourable wind” – Seneca
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Purpose was suggested by approximately 34% of the participants in this project as being an important part of a good life, with half mentioning having purpose in their lives.
Some participants found purpose through their work or family (e.g. raising children). For others it was in how they lived not what they did. Helping others was a prominent source of purpose for many participants.
Numerous participants referred to purpose as a mechanism through which they filter their decisions, akin to having a North Star to move towards and something which kept them going in the face of adversity.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche
3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
In my old line of work I experienced moments of imposter syndrome. These emerged not because I doubted my ability, but at times when I worked with people who loved what they did. This stirred up a quiet desperation in me as I felt I wasn’t close to delivering on my capabilities.
I sensed that purpose was strongly correlated with reaching my potential and expressing who I am, and I realised I was selling myself short by not finding what I wanted to do.
Whether your purpose comes through work or another area, it doesn’t offer a panacea for all of life’s troubles. It’s required me to put myself in uncomfortable situations and (initially at least) to forgo greater security.
Previously I thought those who found purpose through work had a natural talent or vocation. I now see it having more to do with having the patience and fortitude to handle the turbulence arising from identifying/aligning with a meaningful course of action and seeing it through.
While having purpose hasn’t made life easy, a quiet sense of desperation has been replaced with a strong sense of direction and resilience.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose” – Viktor Frankl
4. This week’s questions for personal reflection
Each week I pose questions to support your own inquiry into what a good life is for you
What areas of life give you a sense meaning and purpose? List them in order of what is most important to you.
How would you like to be remembered?
That’s all for this week. I’d greatly appreciate you sharing this newsletter with your friends. I’d also really like to receive any feedback with suggestions for what you would like to see from these weekly updates. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.
I’m a coach, based in Berlin (via Dublin, Ireland). I formerly had a 15-year career in Capital Markets, and for better or worse, I’ve convinced myself that I’m going to make a discovery around human thought / behaviour.