I always struggled
I always struggled to find something to stick with, always curious, and always helpful (read: pleasing others). But also full of anxiety. Escaping in fiction. Having difficulty confronting the real world.
This frustration with the unfairness and hardship of life led me into my 1st existential crisis at ~15 years old. During in a particular difficult moment in the crisis, I had a realization: Life is meaningless, so I have to give it meaning.
That realization, which truly saved me from throwing myself in front of a speeding train, set myself on the path of finding my purpose.
Over the following years, I cycled through all kinds of ideas and life goals. But every time I gave meaning to something that I wanted to pursue, I procrastinated and stopped with it. (I have an endless list of unfinished projects, so much time wasted.)
I found out that I followed a purpose not of my own volition, but because I thought that others would find it a worthy goal to pursue. Here again the part of me emerged that wants to please others.
The fact that my curiosity led me to so many interests only complicated the matter. I was rapid cycling through interests and Life Goals(TM) almost every quarter.
Pride & Shame
Proud of becoming the father of our lovely son, I was again confronted with reality—big time.
I felt the cloak of responsibility weigh down heavily on my shoulders.
So no wonder that during the first months of being a dad, I went through my 2nd existential crisis. Which only the love for my son made me keep it together.
I quit my job and took a sabbatical for eight months. During which I spent my time as a stay at home dad. There I was trying to figure out my life's purpose while simultaneously easing my never-ending anxiety about how well we were taking care of our son. (I still feel ashamed telling you this, but the first two months I was so afraid of making our son ill, that I didn't dare kiss him on his lips or cheek. At the same time, my hands were raw from continually disinfecting them a bazillion times a day.)
In that period, I did have a lot of time to think about life. Thus I thought I'd found it [my purpose].
I set onto the path to becoming a software engineer. I surmised that "Building things that scale makes it possible to impact more lives positively, no matter what goals I will pursue."
I successfully taught myself to program and went to work a corporate job as an engineer.
Rage against the dying of the light
Fast forward 18 months. My daughter was born.
Things went real bad real fast.
After helping my wife give birth to our daughter (insofar I could help as a man), we barely held her for 5 minutes. Then suddenly, our newborn girl was taken away, not to be held in our arms for another three months...
I can still remember myself in the hospital's car park, screaming the loudest I ever had.
What followed was the worst three months of our family's life.
- Three hospitals.
- Seven life-saving procedures.
- Two ECMO machines.
- 180 injected needles.
- Twenty-three different drugs on continuous IV-drips.
- Four liters of donated blood.
- Two months without our two-year-old son.
- Three months of not being able to hold our baby girl while she was fighting against eternal darkness.
After five weeks of pure torture for our baby girl, the moment came where we had to say goodbye.
Doc: "If you want to hold her while she passes away, now is the time."
What followed after the doc spoke, is both the weirdest and most miraculous event I ever witnessed.
If I believed in a god, I would've called it divine intervention.
Alas, it is too much for this blog post to recount. It is also not the purpose of this post to share that whole story.
(I'm sorry, I really am. If I ever wrote a book about what happened, people would probably say how unrealistic the story was. It's just so dramatic. Plus, I promised my wife that if we were to ever write publicly in detail about this, we would do it together.)
Long story short. Our daughter recovered (not without scratches), and she's now a happy three-year-old.
Honestly, the last three years were not easy. And I found out just how far I am willing to go for my kids (read: I'd cheerfully stroll into hell and back if it'd help them).
It's fair to say that it was expected that this whole experience made me go through another (3rd) crisis.
I feel this is the last one, though. One not as dark, but much longer than the other crises'. One where I gained many more insights.
One where I can finally say what my purpose is.
But more importantly, one where I can say what always bothered me.
What has troubled me was not accepting myself, i.e., loving myself for who I am.
I could go into all the reasons for that being my problem (poor and immigrant parents, not being understood in school, being bullied, too much asking 'why' of the world while not getting answers, etc.). Still, as the specifics of our daughter's story, it is not for this post.
My goal with this personal story is to show you that it's difficult for most people to find their purpose. Many people only discover their purpose through experiencing (and then working through) extremely tough circumstances in life.
The pain of a confrontation with real-life makes you reflect on your life. It enables these breakthroughs.
But it would be depressing if you could only find your purpose by first going through regrettable events in life.
Having gone through these crises and resulting breakthroughs, I believe that with guidance, the right exercises, and a lot of self-reflection, many more people can find their purpose in life, without the hardship.
So, why am I sharing this story about me? Well, because I am pursuing my purpose of course! :)
My purpose is to reduce unnecessary suffering (it is a little more nuanced, but for simplicity's sake, I'm keeping the definition short).
You could also rephrase 'reduce unnecessary suffering' as 'increasing happiness and fulfillment.'
I think the best shot at doing that [increasing happiness and fulfillment] at scale is through people working in technology and media. Many of them founders.
Founders of tech and media businesses have a significant impact on society by the nature of the scalable work.
Thus, I reason that if I can help people working in this industry to find their purpose, they will have the most significant positive impact on my goal.
To help you find your purpose, I created a framework (which is still a work in progress).
I'm not sure what to name it, yet. Although my first idea was "The No-BS Guide to Finding Your Purpose." But another option is "Purpose for Founders." (I'm open to suggestions for a name, haha!)
In any case, let me know what you think.
Also, if you have a personal story on how you found your purpose, or want to share how you struggle in finding it, please do reach out. I'd love to hear from you.