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What is a Good Life? #14
Purpose, Part 2
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. As mentioned last week, 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 focussing on those who referenced seeking purpose in their lives.
1. This week’s interview – Purpose
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Olivia*. Olivia has previously worked in investment banking, management consulting and private equity, and is now in a leadership role with a healthcare startup. She speaks of her ongoing search for purpose.
*Not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
For me, it's about autonomy, freedom to decide my own day, my future and to drive my own work. It's not having somebody who's in charge of me. I'm in charge of myself - that's important to me. It's having a deep network of family and friends, a core group of people that I care about, and they care about me. Health is also paramount and understanding what my ultimate goal is in my life, my purpose - that is something I think about a lot.
Can you talk to me of the significance of attaining your ultimate goal?
I often say to people close to me, “I don't want to fade into mediocrity, not having made an impact or left a mark in some way.” At the moment, my conception of what that could mean (I'm in the startup world) is starting something myself. I'm so barrelled down this path that I'm thinking, “yeah, that's what I'm gonna do.” But I did start something before in a slightly different context a couple of years ago, and it was really stressful and extremely time-consuming.
It's funny, sometimes I think I almost enjoy putting myself through the stress of a really high intensity role. But not for too long as I can burn out, then I try to find something more manageable - I feel like I've done that in cycles.
How does this pursuit of your purpose feel?
I feel like I've got to do something with my career and I feel the pressure of getting older and thinking, “what have I achieved and what does the future hold?” It definitely weighs on me sometimes.
My fiancé always said to me, “It's like you're collecting brands - you collected the investment bank, the management consulting company, and then you got this private equity role which was really hard to get into.”
I've stopped doing that, because ultimately it wasn’t very fulfilling. But I still don't know where I want to devote all of my time and energy. Not having that spark yet gives me a little bit of anxiety, not crippling anxiety, but it's something I think about on a regular basis.
Is this pursuit internally driven or is it important how others perceive you?
I think it's a bit of both, for example I chose to work for this healthcare company because I thought it would be commercially successful, I'd be part of a great founding team that would eventually be a big company.
But I also wanted to do something that was more for purpose. I definitely have my reasons for being interested in the healthcare space - I tried to enrol my dad in a clinical trial and that’s how I knew about this company. Part of me also wants to be proud to tell people what I do.
This healthcare role is currently a little bit more chilled than past roles. It's still challenging because of emotional reasons, working with founders is always challenging. But I do find myself looking for other projects and things to do and wondering, “what else is there?”
How does this pursuit affect other parts of your life?
I think this ongoing quest is sometimes more stressful for women because you have a biological clock. You’re trying to understand what forever looks like so that you can then fit everything that comes with being a mom into the equation.
It's difficult to think about having a baby and becoming a mom when I’ve little certainty about my future path. Until I figure this out, it’s harder to make other decisions because I need to understand that one piece better and how I'm going to fit everything together. Once I have that in place it will be easier to navigate other life decisions.
“The two most important days in life are the day you born and the day you discover the reason why” – Mark Twain
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 seeking purpose in their lives.
Participants who were seeking purpose most frequently cited it in relation to their careers. Purpose was seen as allowing people to fully be and express themselves, to have more energy and enthusiasm, to feel they were making a difference / doing something meaningful, and to have a direction in their lives.
“You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want” – Margaret Young
3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
I spent most of my 20s and early 30s cursing my lack of purpose but took little to no action to search for it - essentially waiting for a bolt of inspiration to strike. This passivity compounded my frustration as I wasn’t channeling my discomfort in a helpful way.
Now when I talk to clients or friends about purpose, I’ve noticed it can seem like such a radical change is required that we reflexively back away from it - “I can’t just quit what I’m doing and start all over again.”
In reality aligning with purpose can be a series of small steps and the “big” change is simply the next sequential step in the series of actions you’ve already taken.
Even when we discover our purpose, don’t expect ticker tape and balloons to magically fall from the sky. Identifying it merely brings us to the starting line of the next phase of our journey.
The next question will be: are we willing to overcome fear, doubts and risks to fulfil what we have discovered about ourselves?
For me, that is the definition of trust in myself: starting along a path while not knowing how it may end before it begins - simultaneously a daunting and liberating experience.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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
If your life is your message, what is your life currently saying? What would you like it to say?
Write out a short, unrestricted version of what you want to do / be in your life. If you have noted anything that isn’t presently a part of your life, how could you take a small first step towards it? It can be as simple as reading an article, a book or doing a short, free online course.
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.