This past week has tested the resolve of our nation and its people, hitting not just at the American ideological construct – but reaffirming within each of us the inherent transience of life. Our influence and actions are fleeting, standing in stark contrast to the steady march of time; and yet within that moment of life, we each have an opportunity to live a life well lived.
Three years ago as a graduating senior, I had grand visions for that life well lived – a successful career, influence, financial security. These things I used as a benchmark for the successful life.
My aims, though, lacked an animating force. I was planning a life based on an end-game and the fulfillment of my accomplishments. What I lacked was, as Umair Haque referred to as, “reason” or the “why that gives sense to the what.”
The realization uncovered a question that is perhaps harder to answer – how do we create reason, how do we form a meaningful trajectory amidst the uncertainty of the times?
Ask our parent’s generation and they will most likely tell you the answer is a “high salary job that verifies your value.” They prioritized life’s destination. But our generation is different – the circumstances with which we’ve come of age dictate a new norm.
Harvard Business Review puts it well when they describe today’s talent as a group that wants “purposeful work and jobs that fit clearly into the context of [our] career.” We want “jobs that are sensible parts of an ongoing journey through a series of professional endeavors, not a linear path toward success.”
That reality finds context in my own journey, as I work to create a reason – answering the all-encompassing “why?” Over the past several months, I’ve worked to figure out who I am, reflect on what I want and why I have to have it. Along the way, I’ve uncovered six truths:
- Set a destination. Without aim, we are but wanderers. Define your legacy and embark on a journey to realize it.
- Reason is found at the intersection of passion and talent. When we are able to exercise our natural abilities in pursuit of those causes that foster personal meaning and further our legacy, we create our reason.
- Relationships provide context to shape our journey. An inherent sense of community permeates both action and word – a notion aptly described by John B. White in an excerpt from Heracles’ Bow:
“The only way to function rationally is to recognize the radical uncertainty in which we live; to proceed by trial and error; to operate with a constant pressure towards openness; to acknowledge the necessity of community and cooperation both to the definition and attainment of any of our ‘ends.’ Our most practical end is never definable in terms of material results but always and only in terms of a certain kind of community: a way of facing the uncertainties of life together.”
- A life worth living takes work. Rarely is success given to us, rather we must work tirelessly, build, innovate and chase after those things that we value – creating in that journey a reason and a defining purpose.
- Pursue a life of giving. Knowledge@Warton illustrated the impact of putting others first – showing consistently that the “otherish” establish a broader network of contacts, create an overarching sense of good will and attain a higher level of success (read full conversation).
- Realize that our direction changes over time. A friend and mentor summed it up, saying “that while your destination may remain constant, the direction we chart towards it will change over time. The choices we make determine our directional path and, in turn, the length of time it takes to reach our destination.”
In all, our life is a reflection of the cumulative choices we make. Without introspection and self-examination – without as White calls “the integration of all we can perceive, of all that we are into meaningful wholes” – we deprive ourselves of both a meaningful journey and an ultimate destination.
I encourage you to reflect, ask yourself “what do you want your legacy to be,” and work to create your reason in pursuit of a life well lived.