You Don't Start With Purpose. You Stumble Into It.
One can't live a life with purpose without living one purely for the riches of the world and the opinions of others.
You learn a Maserati doesn't make you happy after buying a Maserati. Similarly, you won't do purposeful work without doing passionate work and you won't do passionate work without doing work for the perception of others.
I'm not saying you literally have to buy a Maserati. But this can be an analogy for many realizations. For me, it would be things like getting a 5-star hotel suite alone, buying a wallet I'm more afraid to lose than it's contents, all kinds of designer fashion and the list of ongoing trinkets made by the hands of some children in Asia but sold with the name of some European dude.
I've also been blessed to meet people on my journey who've had a Maserati or a $40K Rolex who have told me what happens after. Rather, the lack of things that happen after. Though I've learned to embrace the stoicism of other wealthy idols like Buffet and Munger, I believe all who chose the stoic path and even the life of a purposeful one like Ghandi had to go through living a life led by external first.
Passion/Purpose Is The Rage.
Whether it's podcast interviews, books, and/or Youtube videos of iconoclasts in various domains, a repeated theme is in searching for your passion/purpose, passionate purpose, purposeful passion. Find what you love doing, your passion, what you are meant to be doing, your why, your mission, the vision, your ikigai....... lot's of terms and jargons with a similar theme.
You get it. But I don't think it's the starting point. A bit of reflection seems to be required on the journey you've embarked on.
Knowing What You Know Now, Will You Change Things?
Do I wish I had thought about "passion" and "purpose" earlier in my life? Would it have made a difference if I was exposed to such books and people earlier? Maybe.
But at the same time, I believe I had to go on this specific journey myself. With the belief that no time is ever wasted time, each decision point and event led to specific learnings in my own life. When I think about the journeys of the 100s of high performers I got to study and interview , as well as my own, I see a pattern.
An evolution and natural order to things (i.e. learning to walk before running).
Similar to how one doesn't realize that luxury goods with Europeans names don't add any long-term utility to life until after buying it, I think the same is the case for one's career. I believe there are three distinct stages that people must go through in order, but irrespective of time duration.
Three Stages: Perception, Passion, Purpose
The first stage is perception. You are driven to do things because of external factors. It could be to please parents, to be accepted by peers, revered by friends, to appear attractive to a potential mate, and all sorts of factors. It's only natural. The moment we are born, we are infants that scream for attention. Some may disagree because they are independent but as someone who is also hyper-independent I think such independence became a resulting necessity from a rejection for that social acceptance we are pre-wired for.
As social creatures, we desire to fit in, belong to a tribe and also establish ourselves into a tribal hierarchy. Sometimes, societal-cultural factors can also play an overwhelming role in our desire to be perceived a certain way as well.
For example, there is a South Korean saying: "A man will only cry three times in his life. When he is born, when his mother passes and if his country falls." A lot goes into this statement. It shows a culturally conservative society. One that is distinctly paternal. It also is a country that's gone through terrible Japanese colonization, that's gone through large amounts of war in its 3000 year history. These drive incentives. They will influence the amount of 'perception' we seek out in the choices we make.
The idea is that as we go through life and past the stage of puberty, we will do things driven primarily by how it would look to others. I have no scientific facts to back this up but this is what I believe is the case from observation and experience. Even for the independent folks, there are always forms of societal validation we seek out.
I believe most people embark on a path to university, a job etc.. based on how they will be perceived. Most will go to a perceived "top-tier" university not only for the "learning" but rather for what it means to go to that school. The identity of "people like this go to schools like this".
This trend can continue to joining a prestigious company, getting a title, a promotion, driving a nice car, living in a nice house, and all the things you post on social media. All the things about you that you share in a narcissistic belief that other people will care. I am definitely applying that myself by even posting this essay, no matter how pure my intentions may be (or not).
It's not even the people in the skyscrapers working in suits. Entrepreneurs are like this too. Though it may be portrayed that entrepreneurs or people in the startup ecosystem are devoid of caring about perception and are mere people of passion... with the lowered barrier and offloading of career risk to venture money and positive public perception I would say most are merely in it for perception. The difference may come in how long they stay in the arena of "chewing glass".
Most Never Get Past Perception.
It's no easy feat to even do something for the pure perception of others. It's what everyone is fighting for. It's the most competitive realm in regards to sheer number of people. It's the stage I'd say 80% of people fight in and will die in. Most will not move past this stage. After obtaining a position of great public perception they will stay. They've gone through a round of trial and tribulations to get to this place and they don't want to go through it again.
Some realize it's empty. A few decide this is not the stage they want to live in so they leave. These individuals may have natural personality traits that lead to such a decision and/or a growth in mindset that lead to it.
My Three Stages.
Becoming an accountant was this stage of perception for me. I can assure you that I became an arrogant prick hoped up on ego and sky-high self-esteem when I achieved this feat while I wore my suit on the 48th floor overlooking Toronto. Luckily for me, my self-disposition to accelerate my learning and the chance to work with mentors who pushed me to accelerate my learning even faster led to the tipping point of realizing the career field as a whole didn't interest me. I had never asked myself "What do I enjoy doing?" Maybe it's because working 120 hours a week and sleeping 3 hours a day just isn't an environment to ask yourself the question but its as if I had forgotten that doing something you liked was ever an option.
This led to my search for that "passion". I thought I discovered it in value investing after falling in love with Buffet and Munger. Consulting became a pit stop where this passion for investing became a reality. I had conviction. Going from accounting to consulting had it's own obstacles and mountains as it was a feat so few had achieved without a MBA. But going from consulting to investing felt like climbing K2. Put it was for passion. That was the only thing that kept me going through the roller coaster ride of rejections, murdered hopes and external doubt.
But once becoming an investor, a new kind of question came: "Is this all there is?" It was pure enjoyment and contentment. But nothing could fill an emptiness that grew with the realization that this might be it. As always:
Though we live in the world of data-porn and techno-analytical-innovation bullshit, I believe the subconscious human mind is the most advanced form of computer in existence today. Nothing in existence has the kind of custom data processing capability our mind has and although big consulting firms may make fun of "gut instincts", finding the truth behind that gut instinct is the truly difficult task and one that is the irrefutable fact that matters for my life. I had build a system for quantifying my emotions and an extensive journaling and review process aided in this conviction.
With the departure from the institutional investing world started the trials and tribulations into the next stage. Doing work with purpose. This is where I am. I'm not saying I've reached some definitive place to tell you I'm doing purposeful work. What I'm saying is that I'm in the final giant ball of confusion and trials to do purpose-driven work.
The Three Building Blocks.
I know I'm on this journey because I know what a journey of seeking a work driven by perception and one driven by passion feels like. They're all different.
They're all different but they have qualities of building on top of each other. Work of passion incorporated elements of perception. This journey to do work of purpose incorporates elements of passion and perception.
This is why I think there is a natural order to the path one must take to ever consider doing purposeful work. One must go through doing work driven by perception and passion because they form the foundation for purposeful work.
Because of that, one should never feel the need to find purpose or passion so quickly. It's okay to do things to impress other people. That's the start. The decision to jump to the next stage is 100% up to you. You may never want to and that is all up to you. I don't think everyone needs to do work they are passionate in. Nor do they need to live a life of purpose. It would be ideal for the greater good of society and I think it would be great for the individual as well but I'm not that person. Everyone is wired differently and it's not my place to dictate what is right or wrong.
Rather, I wanted to share that there seems to be a natural order to things and everyone is jumping the gun by screaming about passion/purpose when most haven't even gotten to doing work that they think will be perceived well by others.
At this moment in time, my thoughts on purpose driven work is that it's something that requires you to be doing something for others. I'm cheating because it's somewhat of a universal definition. But I also want it to be something I love doing. There's a greed there. There's greed to do what I'm passionate about as well. But also a kind of conviction where I don't know what else I'd be doing. One entrepreneur put it well when he told me it's like breathing. You don't stop to think about the necessity of it.
The big difference is that it's mighty difficult and it almost seems like the world is telling you to stop breathing. You don't want to believe you are crazy so you just decide to storm through the uncertainty and ambiguity in the world around you. This is my recount of what I think it is. Merely based on the experience of the journey. I honestly feel that it will not get any easier going forward. How long it will be, my guess is that from now onward it will be for the rest of my life. Hopefully.
Everything Takes Time. How Much Is Unknown.
I've met some people who went through the journey in their teenage years. I've met some that went through it over a 15 year career. Many are still traversing through stages of passion 10 years into their career.
Some have been critical of my speed and questioned my patience with how fast I change careers. From the outset, four years may be much too quick but I argue that I'm not fast, everyone else is just slow. Besides, such criticism tells me that the ones who bring up such time limitations live in the stage of perception themselves.
But I do believe that everyone has their own pace. My pace may be slow for someone and fast to another. I know that I used every ounce of time needed to have conviction and no doubt of my decision. That's what matters when deciding to move stages.
It's All About How You Perceive It
To some people, what you are doing may appear to be out of perception for another and not a purpose-driven one. It may matter if you are truly doing it for perception. But if you are not, it will slowly stop mattering. This may actually be an indication for you on whether what you are doing has moved onto different stages (i.e. the litmus test being the less you care about others the further along you've gone).
Only you've experienced each obstacle you've had to climb, the pile of shit you had to walk through. Part of the journey is to become accustomed to knowing that you're walking a path meant for you. No one can tell you where you are at. They can merely tell you their observations but they can't dictate where you are. That's is up to you. So where are you in the three stages?