The other day I received an email from someone who recently watched a webinar of mine on Goal-Free Living. He wrote:
“Your message came to me at the right time, as I’ve recently found myself (painfully) closing a chapter of my life—walking away from a business right as it was becoming successful—to embark on a journey of personal discovery which I hope will become a catalyst toward finding my higher purpose.
“I loved the compass vs. map metaphor that you had touched on and can totally see how that relates to my current situation. I’ve been so narrowly focused on this startup of mine that I feel I’ve blinded myself to the gentle nudges the universe will occasionally give me to set out in a new direction.
“I’m going to spend the next few months “meandering with purpose,” with no destination in mind or preconceived expectations; simply experiencing life at its fullest and enjoying each moment as it comes. I was wondering if you had any nuggets of wisdom to share, since you had undergone a similar pilgrimage.”
Indeed I have gone through similar pilgrimages several times. My first major existential crisis was when I realized that my Business Process Reengineering work of the early 90’s resulted in so many lost jobs. I took a 4-month leave of absence and questioned what I was doing with my life.
During that and subsequent reflection periods, I learned several lessons about the process:
1. Be patient with the process.There were times during my sabbatical where I wondered if I would ever discover my “purpose.” I got stressed after a few months when I did not have any insights. However, after several months of patient journaling, meditation, and reflection, my next move became clear. (I vowed to never be involved with work where jobs would be lost; and I started an innovation practice focused on growth)
2. Be patient with others. Once I got clarity, I realized that the world did not see things the way I did. I was shot down many times when I tried to sell my new vision. But eventually I found the perfect person who made my vision a reality…beyond what I even originally conceived. This took time and commitment. It would have been easy to get frustrated and leave before my vision became reality. (With the help of Barry Patmore, a senior Partner, we created a 20,000-person practice that focused on growth and value)
3. Focus on creating value for others. Too often, when thinking about what we want to do, we get too caught up in what WE want, rather than what the world truly wants. Only after I framed my concepts in a way that demonstrated value for others, could I get what I wanted. (No one inside of Accenture cared that I didn’t want to be involved with downsizing, but they were interested in creating a distinctive practice that led to increased sales for the company. Framed in terms or revenue growth, we were able to get funding.)
4. Adjust your vision. Focusing on what you think is the right answer may potentially move you down a less fruitful path in the long run. Although you may never be lost (one of the tips in Goal-Free Living), some paths may be more aligned with your overall beliefs. Keep an open mind. Don’t get too dogmatic. (Throughout my career, I was on the path towards making Partner. However, as I discovered what I really wanted to do, I chose a different path – one focused on deep innovation skills rather than an emphasis on selling and managing projects.)
5. Don’t sell out. Although you need to keep the needs of others in mind, it does not mean that you need to sell out. It might just require some significant creativity in order to fulfill the desires of others while satisfying your own wishes. (Throughout my journey, I’ve used my “passion, skills, value” equation – that is, I only do what I love doing, what I am good at, and what creates value for others. I never myopically work on one dimension at the expense of another.)
I’ve gone through this process several times. For example, in 2001, when I left Accenture to became a professional speaker, I struggled to make ends meet for the first few years, and I debated getting a “real” job. These were times when I questioned my path. But in the end, I always ended up on a better path, even when I lost faith.
Have you ever had a similar experience? If so, please share it.