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What Sustains You In Difficult Times?

Written by: Hilary Rowland, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Last week I saw a LinkedIn poll which showed people responding in the following way:

20% – The future looks uncertain but I feel sure that those in my best interests and those of my business will be protected. 27% – Something doesn’t feel quite right about the way things are unfolding but I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. 53% – I feel deep concern at the patterns of human and group behaviour I see and potential impact for the future of society.

Doesn’t look very bright and optimistic, does it? I’m aware that my unease ranges from the global (what about China?) to the local – where and when can I fill up with fuel and should I start my Christmas shopping?

What do we reach for to sustain us at such times? It’s so easy to get sucked into the immediate pressures but we have to resist that and take the long view. What really matters to us? What do we stand for? What are we trying to achieve? What does success mean for us? All of that can be wrapped up in one word: purpose.

These uncertain times have made us all ask questions about what really matters. The UBS Investor Watch June 2021 found that seven in ten investors want to make more of a difference in the world. Six in ten report that the pandemic made them more spiritual. Forty percent say they want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Finding Your Why

One of the biggest influences in this area is Simon Sinek. His TED talk ‘Start with why’, the third most-watched TED talk has probably done more to catalyse thought on this topic than anyone else. His point was that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it, so your why matters to your business and your brand.

Where does this why come from? It’s something that you believe in, a way in which you want to change the world and do good. And where does that come from? It comes from holding up the mirror to yourself. What are the stories you tell yourself about your successes and how you got to where you are now? What you stand for? What’s your story? Who are you? What matters to you? And why does that matter?

We use the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which describes what leads to a life of health, meaning and significance. It consists of four overlapping circles: What you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for. The place where the circles come together is your why.

It's not easy finding your purpose or your why. I recently came across another LinkedIn post from someone who had just exited their business who wrote that he needed to find his purpose and that he had four.

  1. Day trade crypto and equities

  2. Boost investments

  3. Invest in a team with good business prospects

  4. Finish writing business book 2 and philosophy book 1.

Great examples of what's not whys!

Consequences of Lack of Clarity of Purpose and Direction

What we have seen over and over again in our work with business leaders is that purpose is something which has not only led to the setting up of the business, but which also guides them day to day and helps them make decisions. Does having a sense of purpose matter that much? What happens when people don’t have it?

We know of a case of someone who had a senior position in a global telecoms company, something went wrong, and he left, not knowing what to do next. He bought a franchise in a drains company and it wasn’t long before he realised that he had no interest in drains and knew nothing about plumbing. Not only that but the business model of the company left him worse off financially leading to a lot of stress and illness.

Without a sense of purpose, it is easier for pressure to get to us, for us to continue with behaviour or in situations or that are bad for us which increases the chances of our mental health deteriorating or make bad decisions.

Benefits of Finding Personal Purpose

How can finding a sense of your own personal purpose help us at times like this? Here are some of the ways:

  • Helping you stay positive. Viktor Frankl, the concentration camp survivor who wrote the famous book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ believed that life can have meaning in the most miserable of circumstances. Knowing why enables us to put up with much difficulty. Purpose sustains us in difficulty.

  • Getting clarity about your what you stand for, your short-term and long-term aspirations

  • Helping you manage your energy and time

  • Getting focused and stopping you from going off on a side-track, saying no to what is unproductive and stopping you from saying yes to what is not core

  • Achieving your potential, what you are meant to be doing. Someone has described vocation or purpose as what you can’t do, what you keep coming back to. What is that for you?

It can be the case that finding or reconnecting with purpose can lead people into a process of change if their current circumstances are at odds with their purpose. In this situation, if it is impossible for people to be the version of themselves they want, it is a great opportunity to re-examine their lives, reconnect with their purpose and rebuild and perhaps move on.

What is your story and what is your purpose?

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Hilary Rowland, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Hilary Rowland founded Next Chapter Retreats with her business partner Peter Hyson following an accomplished career, with more than 30 years experience in business advice, professional speaking, coaching and HR. She has worked with senior executives across numerous companies including the BBC, PWC, Academy for Chief Executives, and a variety of SMEs.She's passionate about helping individuals find their sense of purpose and then live it.

They have had considerable success with their unique retreats over many years working with senior executives in groups, witnessing how effective the power of people working together can be on their personal development. This approach allows the creation of an environment for true reflection and exploration by taking participants ‘off-grid’, free from the distractions of their professional and personal lives, and with the time to work at real depth.



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