The millennial generation is proselytized to pursue their dreams. But this philosophy no longer works, or at most feels incomplete. And, as the jobless generation grows up, they realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. So what does one do? Let’s look at it with a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion; instead focus on finding big problems. Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor.
People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. Not just financially, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. You stop dwelling. You become less self-absorbed. Ironically, we become happier if we worry less about what makes us happy.
The good thing is that there are a lot of big problems to focus on: climate change, sustainability, poverty, education, healthcare, technology, and urbanization in emerging markets. So, what big problem serves as your compass?
If you’re a young leader and you haven’t articulated this yet, here are some things you can do.
Develop situational awareness. There’s too much focus on knowing the self, balance this with knowing the world. Stay in touch. Be sensitive to the problems faced by the unfortunate and marginalized. Get out of the office and volunteer. It’s been a long time coming, but business schools are finally instituting changes that put the real world at the center of their programs.
Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. We’re more likely to be motivated by problems that we can relate to on a personal level. In Passion & Purpose, Umaimah Mendhro recounts her story of fleeing a war-torn Pakistan with her family. The experience of dodging bullets to escape helped her summon the wherewithal to found thedreamfly.org, an initiative that helps create connections across communities in conflict.
Connect with people working on big problems. In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved. When Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala helped reinvent Manila Water, to better provide for the capital of Philippines, he had to deal not only with the typical issues the public utility was facing, but also with problems related to climate change, technology, and community development.
Take time off and travel. Forget about traveling as a tourist. Instead, structure a trip that takes you off the beaten path. Go to an unconventional place. Backpack and get lost. A broad and rich experience pays dividends down the line. Steve Jobs described his time living in India as one of the most enriching and mind-opening phases of his life. This undoubtedly helped him develop the intuition to solve big problems; in-turn making lives simpler through technology.
So, to truly find happiness find an answer to what big problems you are trying to solve? We don’t find happiness by looking within. We have to go outside and immerse in the world. It’s our daily struggles that define us and bring out the best in us. And this lays down the foundation to continuously find fulfillment in what we do, even when times get tough.
The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes that happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. However, we’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first and formal education system has helped us develop the second. But, it’s time we put more thought on the third.