In my career as a business consultant I’ve partnered with various companies and communicated with different business owners. I’ve consulted large and small companies alike, as young as a few years and as old as a few decades, from accountants to solicitors to retail owners and manufacturing companies.
Whether successful and merely looking for fresh outsider ideas or struggling to survive, I have noticed that most of the managers and entrepreneurs I’ve worked with share one common aspiration. All of them have spoken to me about attracting more clients, increasing sales and making more profits of course; but the vast majority are also seeking something more, something bigger.
Most of them strive to achieve not only business and professional success, but personal success too. They want to impact other people’s lives, to contribute to their society and even to the world. In other words, they are seeking to leave a legacy. A legacy not by simply leaving money to a good cause, but to use their passion and capabilities to make a difference in the lives of others for the better.
Some people realise that desire early on and start a venture that is fuelled by their bigger purpose (one that is beyond financial success), and for others it is not until they’ve achieved some business success and financial stability that they understand that something more fulfilling is missing.
To be honest I can relate to this. I believe there is an innate urge in every one of us to leave something for the generations to come, to pass down experience and knowledge, to leave the world in a better place. And while in the last few decades the focus has been on corporate success and making money, with which many of us might’ve forgotten the bigger picture, the aspirations for something greater are being hugely revived now.
If you know what I’m talking about and you’ve had the same yearning to make a difference, then maybe you’ve also felt a little bit confused as to what to do with that feeling and how to go about contributing to the world.
Unlike building a business where everything follows some sort of a logical sequence, leaving a legacy is much more complex as there are more elements to be taken into account. It is not only facts and figures but emotions and values too. It is hard to know where to start but giving a meaning to your life is a natural impulse that is impossible to neglect so you need to start somewhere.
Finding your own deeper meaning is a personal journey to fulfillment and nobody will know what is right or wrong but you. However, here’s a few steps that have helped me and many of my clients, and that will hopefully get you on the right track at the very least.
- Admit something is missing
It sounds terrible but the lack of life meaning is a huge problem. And just like with any other problem, the very first step to solving it, is admitting its very existence. This step is a hard one because often times when you are generally successful but you feel unsatisfied, there seems to be no logical reason. You might have a successful business, you might make good money and everything in your family might be perfectly fine, and yet you may feel like something is wrong.
I have come across people with this problem time and time and again – since they know how much they have and how hard they’ve worked for it, their natural reaction is to deny something is missing out of the guilt that they don’t appreciate what they already have. What people often forget, however, is that in our struggle to make it and to support our families, we sometimes forget what is most valuable and most important. No reason for guilt here. If you feel something is wrong or you feel there is much more that could be achieved, then you need to fix it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t value all you have achieved. It simply means that you’ve got to a stage where you need something more or something else. Something that will give you a more lasting fulfillment to your life.
- Understand yourself
This is a step even trickier than the previous one since nobody fully knows or understands himself or herself at any given stage of his or her life. There are nonetheless parts of our personality that are integral to who we are and what we stand for. I believe we all have values that stay with us throughout all of our lives – since childhood through adulthood and seniority. Those are the things that matter to you the most, that you find the most important for you, for other people, for the world. So think about it. What are your values? What matters the most to you?
That which you find truly important is the milestone in your soul search so to speak. This is what should give you the direction in terms of how you could contribute and make a difference. This is the part you should play. As you can imagine, there is no right or wrong here – it is anything, anything at all that you value and deem crucial for the development of the world. For some people this could be children’s education. For others it could be raising environmental awareness. For myself, it is enabling people, through sharing my knowledge and experience, to create value for themselves and ultimately for the society on a greater scale.
- Find a fit
Once you’ve figured out what your values and beliefs are, you need to think about your passions, talents and strengths. What flows when you are doing it? What makes time fly? What do you always get praised for? What do you tremendously enjoy doing?
Some of these are not easy questions and I’ve found in my experience that very few people would know the answers with certainty. It takes a good amount of time and effort to figure it out. You also need to have experienced different things to know what is right for you and what not. Often times people around you – your family and closest friends know better than you do. So why not go and ask them i.e. what do you think I do particularly well? What do you see me most passionate about? You will be surprised by some of the answers you will hear. Where your values and views of what is important meet your talents and passions, is where you can make the most of a difference to the world around you.
- Paths to consider
There are as many ways to contribute to humanity as there are people on Earth. Again, there is no right or wrong, it is a matter of you seeing how what you do makes an impact and whom it impacts, and finding it meaningful for yourself. There are, however, a few main ways to go about it.
Some people find it gratifying enough to donate money to a certain charity or to a specific cause. Others feel the need to pass on their knowledge and thus create centres or organisations that benefit particular groups of people, i.e. children, homeless people, etc. Still others would rather build or create something tangible for a specific community such as a hospital, school, etc.
I find that people today are getting away from the idea of simply giving away money. They want to see, feel, and experience the difference they are making. So people prefer the latter two options. Whatever outlet for contributing to the world you choose, it should be aligned with your values and beliefs. For many of my clients it is about joining their business to the cause they feel passionate about. This isn’t just about selecting a charity to support by donating money or volunteers from the business. It’s more about linking the products or service that you provide to the impact that you want to make. The first main example of this many years ago was Toms Shoes, where for every pair of shoes that were sold, another pair was given to those less fortunate. Therefore there was a direct link to the business they were doing commercially, to the good cause they were impacting. I will cover more examples of this in future blogs to spark a few ideas for you.
How do you know you are doing something truly meaningful? It should give you satisfaction, it should make you happy – both doing the work and seeing the results from it.
While some extent of financial success is important for obvious reasons, making your life meaningful so it benefits a wider scope of people, is much more satisfying both short term and long term. It gives you a sense of fulfilment that is not, unlike other successes, ego-driven and is much more real. I’ve noticed a growing trend among the business owners I work with to seek that type of altruistic success and fulfilment. So if you too crave to leave a legacy…you are not alone.