8/5/12

Note to self: Finding purpose

For many people, the stresses and commitments of university doesn't leave much time for anything else. For me, this was no different. Having spent 5 years going through a co-op undergraduate program that forces you not only to focus on school work, but also on where you'll be spending your next 4 months interning hasn't really left a lot of time to reflect on the choices I've made, the experiences I've had, and what this means in the bigger picture.

Needless to say, it felt a bit weird to find myself this summer with close to 6 months off before starting my full-time job. Passing the half way point of my first summer holiday in 5 years, I can appreciate the importance of the (cliche) statement of one taking time to "find themselves". While a popular choice to do this is take time to travel Europe, or Southeast Asia, I decided that I would take time to look a little bit deeper into places that I loved and were familiar—to see if I could draw inspiration from the things what I wasn't mature enough to see 5 years ago sitting in a similar situation before university started.

Taking time to reconnect with old friends, family, appreciating local culture, and learning for the sake of learning has helped me to start piecing together what I—and probably others in my generation—value. A value that I think rings true amongst all of us is the genuine desire to "do good". Things like protecting the environment, integrating social values into business, treating everyone as a stakeholder and not just a shareholder, is intuitive to most young people today. More and more, conversation with friends change from "looking for the next big thing...to get rich", to "looking for purpose".

Though it's hard to pinpoint where this mindset comes from, I think it's something that comes from circumstance. My parents have always maintained that starting their working lives wasn't as complicated as it was today. For them it was very straightforward: get an education, find a job to stay at for 20-30 years, and earn enough to be comfortable. I imagine this was all only possible given that they grew up in a different time period.

Our generation faces a world where the rules have changed. While I'll never truly understand the Great Depression or the cultural revolutions of my parent's time—the events that serve as a backdrop for their generation—I know I'll remember the days from late-2008. This was the first time in my lifetime when the world stood still.

Those days not only brought to attention the cracks in our economic and political system, but also reminded us that value creation starts with balanced growth in the real and financial economy. While our generation wasn't the direct cause the issues affecting society today, we can't plead ignorance either. At the very least, we all must be informed of where we've come from, in order to have an opinion on where to go next.

When my parents said that life today was more complicated for us starting out, I think they've got it right. The world is more globally connected and the old paradigm of only optimizing for wealth is starting to see its limitations.

For us, those newly minted graduates, the economic, political, and natural environments we're inheriting won't allow us to operate under old definitions of value. People in general remember what is most familiar to us—and the events of the past 5 years serves as our generation's benchmark. We need to chart our careers following our intrinsic sense of purpose in order to create the type of value that society needs from us going forward.