Add Meaning and Purpose to Your Life: Become a Service-Based Producer Rather Than a Monetary-Based Consumer
I learned at a young age that life can be unfair and that turning misfortunes around requires a lot of hard work. My original goals were lofty, yet simplistic — work hard and achieve success in both my family and financial endeavors. I was fortunate on both fronts; the product of which are three beautiful children and a high net worth that would place me in the top one percent of all Canadians. In achieving my success however, I felt something was missing. I originally thought that checking off all the boxes like a shopping list at the grocery store would make me happy. Magnificent house, check! Ferrari, check! Private school, check! Fancy vacations, check! These items, which I was loading in my life ‘cart’ — along with money — didn’t fulfill me quite the way I had hoped. I set out wanting to acquire all of the ‘things’ I envisioned bringing me happiness and, in turn, providing them to my children to ensure their happiness. But when I was forced to step back and look at what I truly achieved for myself, and what I was giving my kids in the process, I realized the material possessions I acquired brought me less fulfilment than I believed they would. Above all, I saw that these items added very little value to my home life and weren’t enriching my kids’ lives the way I had originally envisioned.
Looking back to my early childhood, it’s easy for me to see where my goals came from. My single mother lived a paycheque to paycheque existence with no financial security. I felt like I was missing out on so many material things and I wanted them badly — which led to a chip on my shoulder that gave me motivation and a drive to succeed — to acquire and consume all that I saw and wanted around me. While my drive was completely monetary-based, it did give me a strong sense of direction and made me goal oriented — which was useful in guiding me throughout my adolescent and early adult years. Ultimately, I got to experience all the success I had desired. And so there I was, having achieved it all by my early 40s, yet I was not as fulfilled as I thought I would be. I wondered what was still missing from my life formula?
I have met a lot of other unfulfilled adults who have also achieved various levels of financial success. The unifying thread was our focus on mostly monetary based goals because we were led to believe that achieving those goals would make us happy and fulfilled. How did this logic get ingrained in our generation and why? The answer to that question isn’t really that important at all. What is important is that I know, along with so many others, that we are all asking the same question as we come to this mid-life crossroad. Why are we unsatisfied and unfulfilled, and what will it take to change it?
It’s clear that we are all mostly chasing money and possessions in this consumer-driven world: we achieve, consume, then set our sights on even higher financial goals and more expensive consumables without much thought to the ever-increasing vacancy in our souls. To make matters worse, this norm of pursuing financial success to achieve happiness is being passed along to the next generation. Not service or purpose, nor humanitarianism — just consumerism. If we have a purpose at all, it seems as though it is only to make ourselves happy. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 4 years, it’s this: You’re happiest — as well as most beneficial to society — when you’re doing things to help others and make them happy.
I didn’t just wake up one day with an epiphany and decide to sing a new tune. Sometimes one has to stand at the edge of the abyss and be faced with an end-of-life event to have such an awakening– and when I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 42 (4 years ago), that’s exactly what happened. So now, as a person who has looked death in the eye and was lucky enough to survive (so far), I have been forced into an evolution and have come out all the better for it. I have learned what is truly important: doing good for the world. I now believe it is my duty to contribute and make our local and global communities better.
After years of volunteering for my kids’ schools and sports teams and making charitable donations like a good community participant, I began my real mission of giving back by taking my two older kids on a service trip to rural Uganda. It opened my eyes to a world in which too many people are without food, shelter and water access. This in turn fueled my efforts when I returned home to work with a local NGO that helps at-risk children who fall through the cracks in our educational system.
I ended up being invited to their board of directors because I was good at contributing in the best way I knew how — raising money! Through my actions, I showed my kids time and time again what they could achieve. I took it upon myself to use social media to show others the power of service work and am in the fortunate position whereby friends and family are also reaching out to me to find out how they too can become involved in giving back. If everyone just sits around and talks, nothing gets done — but when called to action, people can and will help.
I have good news that I’ll share with those that are skeptical about getting involved due to constraints such as time, money, ability, comfort- It’s not that hard. The main thing you need is the right attitude — toward yourself, your children and your causes. You can start small. Volunteer for one hour in your community. Research an issue that affects your neighborhood or something that you are concerned with or passionate about. There are problems to be solved and likely people who have already begun to champion your cause. It can be as easy as asking your friends, family and parents at your child’s school for books or gently used Lego sets (who among us doesn’t know what to do with these items once your kids are older?). I helped my youngest child Matthew run a Lego drive benefitting a safe-house for abused-mothers, and my oldest run a book drive for children in a rural village in Lesotho, Africa. One random sunny day, I took my family on a walk in our community and picked up trash along the way. All of these acts, especially participating with my family, ‘feeds’ my soul and provides me the satisfaction that I was craving.
My journey was somewhat disjointed to start — and that was ok. I kept doing small projects within local and global communities for a variety of causes. My vision has now solidified, and become a way of life — a way of ‘being’ in the world. Since I frequently travel for work, I decided to contribute to any and all communities in which I visit and/or belong. I strive to volunteer wherever I am in the world and make sure to always set apart some time (as little as an hour, as much as 2 weeks) to fulfill my missions and enrich my life. My initial focus of teaching my own family has evolved into every aspect of my life including friends and business associates.
Over the past 12 months, I have found ways to volunteer in India, Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia and Bulgaria while always remaining involved with local causes in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. One of my family’s favourite local causes is setting up an annual honey-bee colony in our own yard to help support the bee population. Every year, we end up with 100 kg of honey, which I then give to local food charities, as well as family and friends. Everything helps and it’s both informative and fun to do. As an added bonus and result of friends receiving honey, many have inquired and set up their own colonies — the ‘good’ this accomplishes is accretive!
In another example, for the past two years, when travelling to Puerto Vallarta with my family, I arranged visits to a local animal shelter where we would walk the dogs, groom the animals, clean cages, play with cats and get to know the wonderful people that run the shelter. Additionally, on both occasions, I arranged for and brought back rescue dogs to Vancouver for very excited adoptive families who were eagerly waiting for us at the airport upon our return. My kids agree that it’s by far the highlight of the vacations and only took up a mere 4–6 hours of our time!
I am proud to say that along with my own family and friends, I have also been able to inspire my work colleagues. I engender goodwill and bring it with me to the international companies I partner with or invest in. I was surprised to learn how interested people were in hearing of my experiences and how much they wanted to join given the opportunity. Company employees see me as a bridge to their own culture and want to participate when I volunteer in their home communities. They are not only eager to hear about it but want to share the experiences as well.
On a 10-day business trip to Europe in January 2020, I visited a company in Sofia, Bulgaria for 2 days. I ended up lengthening my stay to 3 days, to work with an NGO that provides homeless people with freshly made, healthy food twice per week. This was an incredible day that included sourcing food at the local market by asking vendors for unsellable produce, cutting and peeling away the bruises or damaged portion of the produce collected and preparing a gigantic soup and stew. Along with 25 loaves of day-old bread donated by a local bakery, we were able to feed more than 100 people — all in a 6-hour period. Interestingly, a couple of the volunteers I met worked in the same industry as the company I was visiting and provided me with an insider perspective of the Bulgarian employment landscape and other information I otherwise wouldn’t have learned. Moreover, my colleagues who I went to meet with viewed me with a different lens and were so interested after hearing about my experience that they ended up organizing the same volunteer opportunity for a handful of their employees. It is now a few months later, and they are still at it. The service portion of the trip ended up being a win-win-win-win for me and a lot of other people!
The latest service-based work in which I participated took place during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was able to use some of my local business investments to help others. I donated food from a bakery (http://thepiehole.com) and inspired my friends and family to do the same. This resulted in the creation of 105 food hampers for vulnerable families in the span of one week. Many friends and families also donated money affording us the ability to purchase grocery store gift cards to continue helping during the isolation weeks until government help was put in place.
Through an investment in a cosmetics company named Riversol Skin Care (http://riversol.com), I donated thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer — personally delivering the products to some local front-line care workers at hospitals and other charities. I share this to further reiterate that there are causes everywhere in which to become involved. You just have to pick your area of interest — be it business related or personal — and give some of your time. It is truly that simple. And, an unintended consequence is that these acts of kindness help businesses thrive through positive messaging to employees and customers, increased organizational goals that people can get behind, team building initiatives, possible publicity and social media awareness making the work you do all the more worthwhile, and more! Other than a time commitment, there is no downside in implementing this strategy to your life.
It’s now become part of my lifestyle — I give back and have found passion and purpose that I can also share with my family, friends and colleagues. I thrive not only in the work itself, but also in seeing that my actions are generative and far reaching. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t love making money and the monetary-based traditional work I do in my daily life — I still set lofty financial goals — but I now understand how and where to find purpose and fulfillment on a higher level and how that has led to a truly balanced life.