How I Think About My Life’s Purpose
Over the years I have thought a lot about the big picture of life and what we’re supposed to do with it to make it meaningful. I wanted to take the time here to attempt to write down where my perspective has ended up thus far, as an exercise to help solidify my thinking. By no means do I have this nailed — as with many things in life, this is definitely a work in progress.
If you’re looking for a point in space, the answer is going to shock you.medium.com
For whatever reason, whenever I’m contemplating how to live my life, the stark reality of the size of our universe becomes absolutely top of mind. If I am so small compared to what’s around me, what role should I play to live a life that’s truly meaningful?
I love consuming content about astrophysics, and often read the blog Starts With A Bang by Ethan Siegel. Of the many things that I’ve learned from him, one of the most stark is that our observable universe is 92 billion lightyears across.
I’ll say that again, 92 billion light years. Yikes!
That’s simply massive, and we have no indication that it stops there. It keeps on going for who knows how far. If you add to this the crazy math behind things like Fermi’s Paradox that discusses the likelihood of intelligent life existing in our universe (see below article by Tim Urban, that’ll blow your mind if you let it), our own existence is very likely the end-result of simple statistics: i.e. inevitable.
PDF: We made a fancy PDF of this post for printing and offline viewing. Buy it here. (Or see a preview.) __________…waitbutwhy.com
But while the statistics suggests that the existence of intelligent life SOMEWHERE is inevitable, the probability that it would happen in one specific space is ridiculously low. To me, this is mind boggling. Just take a moment and step back from your computer/phone to consider your own existence and how many trillions of events over billions of years needed to happen for you to happen. It’s staggering to consider, isn’t it? Doesn’t it make you feel incredibly lucky to be alive? It sure does for me.
As a result of all this, I believe that this luck of existence means that I am privileged to exist, because I so easily might not have (you can also add the societal privilege of my skin colour, gender and socioeconomic background). This means that I basically have some obligation to myself, my fellow man and my universe to do something meaningful with my life. If I don’t, then what am I even doing here?
Okay, but you’re thinking… all that preamble to state something that’s pretty obvious: you should do something meaningful with your life Brian. Well, I don’t like to make assumptions, so I needed a reason to get there. Now that we’re there, let’s talk about what ‘meaning’ means to me.
To me, living a meaningful life is the result of having a positive impact on the world around you. Right, okay, but now what does ‘positive impact’ mean?
Well, for you, it can mean whatever you want it to mean as long as it drives life satisfaction and happiness for you. Impact can be at a small scale or at a massive scale. For me, it’s important to have both, and therefore I focus on two types of positive impact: (1) impact through my personal relationships, and (2) impact through my life’s work.
My Personal Relationships
The relationships that I have with my partner, my family, my friends and my colleagues are tremendously important to me. Having love, care and respect for those around me is a core part of who I am, and what I believe to be important. I can’t even consider having a broader positive impact on the world unless I have my ducks in a row with these relationships first. It’s about being a fundamentally good person: if I was an asshole to those around me, the impact of my life’s work would be close to meaningless.
This means spending lot of time developing a wonderful relationship with my partner that is absolutely fulfilling for both of us. It means developing close relationships with my family beyond the typical roles of Mother, Father, Sister, Brother-In-Law, Brother (me) and having true friendships that benefit all of our lives. It means deep long-lasting friendships with some amazing people who I truly care for. And it means being an actual human being when it comes to the workplace, and caring about people first and foremost.
This is the core positive impact that I believe I need to always be having on the world immediately around me. It’s what makes the experience of life great and meaningful.
My Life’s Work
To be fair and honest, I’m still near the beginning of defining what my life’s work is. I’m 10 years into my career, and have been using that time to build up my knowledge, skills and perspectives so that I can apply them to creating an impact.
I intend for my life’s work to be about improving people’s day-to-day lives through products that truly provide value that they’re looking for.
Growing up in the marketing world, I have often been challenged to come up with reasons that will help to convince consumers to buy one product over another (or over not buying that category at all). This hasn’t always sat with me well, because sometimes the reasons are just blowing smoke, because the consumers just don’t give a shit. I don’t believe in the drive towards consumerism for consumerism’s sake. I believe in the more altruistic mission of only creating and selling products to consumers that they actually need.
As a result, I have always ended up immensely more engaged in my work when I have been working at or on a mission-driven company. Going even farther with this, driving impact is what has really drawn me to technology, because of its power to shape and progress our world for the better. As such, my current role has been an amazing evolution: by focusing on the pure needs of our end consumers — and nothing else — we can both make people happy and create massive incremental economic value.
It’s surprising how actually providing true, no-BS value to your customers is an honest-to-god differentiator in today’s business environment. Too many companies view the relationship as ‘the customer’s job is to buy the company’s product,’ when instead they should view the relationship as ‘the company’s job is to provide value to the customer.’
I hope that more of us open our minds to this surprising but amazingly impactful competitive advantage, and create products that improve people’s lives each and every day. It’ll create a better world for all.
An example of this notion that I recently came across is Obvious Ventures, a relatively new VC firm that has creating positive impact on the world as the core to their investment thesis, something they call #WorldPositive.
We bring experience, capital, and focus to startups combining profit and purpose for a smarter, healthier, and more…obvious.com
Now, I actually believe that all VC firms that are run by respectable investors create massive amounts of positive impact on the world everyday. It’s part of what fascinates me about the venture world. They do this through partnering with entrepreneurs to create net-new economic value and jobs with products and technology that move the world forward.
That said, Obvious Ventures takes this even farther. I’m seriously impressed with how Ev Williams, Vishal Vasishth, James Joaquin and the rest of the team at OV are truly putting their money (and their LP’s money) where their mouth is, by believing that true returns come specifically when companies have a mission that makes the world and people’s lives better. As such, all of their investments focus on one of three key areas that they believe are important to improving the world around us:
- Sustainable Systems — how to pivot from unsustainably over-using our planet’s resources to new ways to feed, house, clothe and entertain an exponentially growing population.
- People Power — how to empower individuals and small companies to become better, work more efficiently, create more economic value and live more impactful lives themselves.
- Healthy Living — how to shift our society from one that doesn’t consider the health consequences of our habits and focuses on reactive medicine, when we can solve so many of our personal and economic problems by shifting to preventative health.
There are countless other examples of companies who focus on both economic value creation and positive world impact. If you’ve read my last article (see link below), you know I’m a big fan of Elon Musk and his multiple missions to help save the world, and how impressed I am at the incredibly smart business strategies he’s employing to fund those missions (and make a whack of cash for himself and his investors along the way).
A few weeks ago, I got really annoyed while reading an article from The New York Times about the soon-to-be-launched…medium.com
In addition to Musk and Obvious, here are some other companies that are focusing on this balance between societal impact and economic value creation:
- Wunder Capital — which has created a new asset class that are investment funds for solar installations. They make money, while helping to better the world through immensely needed clean tech, all while democratizing access to this economic value creation. BAM!
- Kickstarter — democratizing access to capital for a world full of creators and entrepreneurs, and as such helping to build and grow economies around the world.
- Carbon 3D — working to develop revolutionary new 3D printing techniques that will actually enable 3D printing at manufacturing’s scale. Ultimately with this technology, they will help to make manufacturing cheaper, more reliable, more flexible and more local… which is positive for Carbon, its investors, its customers, the end consumers and the environment. I’m so impressed with these guy’s technology, strategy and business model, that I’ll be doing a separate post on just them.
- The Emerald Cloud Lab by Emerald Therapeutics — attacking the constraints of Eroom’s Law — which states that the cost to produce a new drug doubles every nine years — by creating an AWS for lab experiments. They are helping to drastically reduce the cost of discovering and testing new drugs, and thus will better the world through easier and cheaper access to drugs that have ever greater efficacy.
- Diamond Foundry — (an Obvious Ventures portfolio company, thesis link here) creating technology to grow diamonds and sell them to consumers, which has the potential power to drastically reduce our consumer and enterprise dependence on diamonds from mines around the world that have obvious and widely reported negative social justice and environmental impacts.
- Girls Who Code — empowering the next generation of young women, by teaching them skills and developing their confidence and creativity, so that they can go out and help diversify the workforce and create positive impact in the world themselves.
- Kinnek — a platform and marketplace to automate vendor selection and purchasing for SMBs who don’t have access to professional procurement teams, nor the time to do it themselves. They are helping to fuel growth and profitability of a sector of the economy (SMBs) that fuels most of the growth and job creation.
There are so many more examples available, for sure, but I hope that these 8 give you a solid understanding of what I mean by impact in one’s life’s work. Founding, funding or working at a mission-driven company is what I believe drives true impact on the world. I hope that I continue to have the privilege to do meaningful work like that of the amazing organizations I listed above.
So that’s how I view what I’m here on this planet to do: to create a positive impact through my personal relationships and my life’s work. I’m still young (ish), and have many years to continue to work on increasing the impact that I make… BUT, I’m very happy to now have my views on all of this written down.
There’s nothing like the process of writing and articulating what are often vague thoughts, in order to really crystallize one’s thinking.
Thanks for reading!