The High Road: How to find your purpose and live it out loud

The telephone rang shortly after 6 a.m., brusquely waking me from a deep, dreamless sleep. It was a Tuesday morning in September, and I did not have to be up and out of bed for at least another hour.

“Who the heck is calling me so early?” I thought, as I drowsily cursed the telephone perched on my nightstand.

“Joey, are you awake?”

I was still half-asleep, but recognized the voice immediately. I knew only one person who called me Joey, and that person spoke with a distinctive Galician accent. Iñaki was calling me from his transplanted home in Stockholm. Seeing that I live in Vancouver, ordinarily I might have been alarmed by a 6 a.m. phone call from someone who lives nine time zones away. On this particular morning, however, the call was not entirely unexpected.

The next day I was scheduled to fly to Stockholm for a two-week holiday. I had planned to stay with my old university buddy, and together we were going to check out the city and some of the islands in the Stockholm archipelago. I figured that Iñaki was calling me to sort out some last-minute travel details, and innocently misjudged the time difference between Vancouver and Stockholm. That, or he had mistakenly assumed I was a morning person.

“Hey Iñaki, yeah I’m up. How are you?” I replied, groggily trying out my voice for the first time that day.

“Have you heard the news?” he said, rather abruptly.

“Um, no, what’s up?”

“New York has been bombed. Turn on your television.”

Certain historic events have such gravity that the exact moment you hear about them becomes forever crystalized in your memory: the assassination of President Kennedy; the first manned mission to land on the moon; the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster; the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the death of Princess Diana are some notable examples. Depending on your age, you may be able to recall with astonishing clarity where you were and what you were doing when you first heard about them.

Unquestionably, one of the biggest “where were you when” moments in recent history is the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States that occurred on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. My own memory of that fateful day will be forever linked to an early-morning wake-up call from Stockholm, and those surreal words delivered in a familiar Galician accent: “New York has been bombed. Turn on your television.”

The airspaces of the United States and Canada were closed for three days following 9/11, which grounded my flight. Once air travel resumed, I thought it prudent to postpone my trip for a while. I did not know it then, but a whole year would pass before I made it over to Sweden. And by then, the events of 9/11 had already started a ripple effect that would shape the rest of my life; one that was triggered by a relatively minor inconvenience on that Tuesday morning — I did not have a television to turn on.

Television has never been a big vice of mine. By choice, I went through most of my 20s and 30s without owning a TV. On September 11, 2001, not only did I not have a television at home, I didn’t seek one out either. In fact, two weeks would pass before I watched any television coverage of 9/11. This was unintentional; I wasn’t trying to cocoon myself from the horrific details of that day. It just so happened that I got the news through other means: I listened to the radio and read the newspaper, and shared information with family, friends and colleagues.

Going without television meant that I didn’t see any video broadcasts of the planes crashing into the sides of the twin towers, the plumes of black smoke billowing into the clear blue sky, or the two giant edifices collapsing to the ground in a mountain of ash and rubble. During those two weeks, my only visual experience of these events was through photographs that appeared in newspaper stories and magazine articles. These images made an indelible mark on me — one that quite possibly was amplified by my abstinence from TV.

One photo that I found especially haunting is now considered to be one of the most iconic images from 9/11. Taken by Richard Drew, The Falling Man shows an unidentified man falling from the upper levels of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The photo gives the impression the man is in a rigid headfirst dive, with one leg slightly bent, and his body in near-perfect symmetry with the stark skyscraper behind him (a series of other photos reveals that he is actually tumbling through the air). The photograph is difficult to look at. It is bleak and disturbing. However, it is also somehow cathartic. Its harsh imagery is the very thing that lets you connect, on a purely visceral level, with the horrors of that day.

I was fascinated by the capacity of photographs like The Falling Man to visually communicate the raw human emotions associated with 9/11. Not only were they able to convey emotion to me, but elicit it in me as well. Moreover, if they had evoked such strong emotion in me, then surely they had affected others too. A short time later, these thoughts provided the spark for an idea: why not use the power of photography to evoke more positive emotions in others? I was curious if photography could serve as a force for good by spreading love and kindness outward into the world. I made it my mission to find out.

This is an excerpt from the introduction to The High Road, a series of lessons on how to find your purpose and live it out loud. Download the complete introduction for free here. In it, you will learn what it means to live with purpose – and how doing so can transform your life.

Empowering our future generation of professionals

This is a transcript of my presentation given at the second edition of Les Rendez-Vous de Vientiane conference in Vientiane, Laos, January 27, 2017.

Sabaidee.

For eight years I’ve been teaching courses on sustainability at Capilano University in Vancouver, Canada. Put simply, I help students to understand and take action on environmental and social issues.

I consider myself to be an environmentally concerned person. As much as possible, I try to act in ways that respect the planet. So I was disappointed in myself when I realized a few years ago that I wasn’t living up to my own values.

My Aha moment came while waiting for the elevator to take me up to my third-floor office. I had always cursed low-floor elevator users in the past. Now, despite my values, I had become one of them.

Given my self-professed concern for the environment, I found it troubling that I had failed the simple task of choosing the stairs. It might not sound like much, but it was significant to me. How could I authentically convey the importance of sustainability to my students, if I couldn’t even take a few flights of stairs to get to my office?

My elevator moment made me rethink how I approached the classroom. My past courses on sustainability had focused on cognitive learning, what I call the domain of the head. This isn’t all bad. Cognitive learning lets you expand your knowledge base and enhance your critical thinking skills. In a nutshell, it helps you build book smarts.

While important, book smarts alone are not sufficient for creating positive change in the world – whether it’s a change in your personal life, in an organization, or in society at large.

If you want to make change happen, you also have to develop the skills needed to practice your discipline and, ideally, nurture a passion for your field. All three domains of learning – the head, heart, and hand – should be developed to make a real contribution in the world.

And so I decided to overhaul my course to try to strike a balance between these three domains of learning. The new course is called Project Change. Through an experiential learning process, the course is designed to enable students to become leaders and agents for change. Students still work on building book smarts, but they also develop the mindset and skills to think and act like a change-maker. Let’s have a look at how we cultivate these three learning domains in the course.

The Heart

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

In most traditional educational settings, students focus on developing knowledge and skills in their field of study. Both are important for developing proficiency in a subject. However, there’s a third learning domain that’s often ignored – the domain of the heart. Educating the heart means nurturing a passion for a subject.

The importance of nurturing your passion cannot be overstated. By focusing your efforts on something you care deeply about, you will naturally strive to go higher and further in taking action. To quote Steve Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

The first assignment in the course is designed for students to explore the domain of the heart first-hand. In this assignment, students use their camera to create a photo essay that tells a story about an environmental or social issue happening in their world. One of the main requirements is that they choose a topic that interests them. In doing so, the students are encouraged to nurture a deeper passion for their chosen topic.

In the photo essay, students are encouraged to express their creativity about a topic they care about. Here, a student explored the impacts of mountain biking on trails and mountains around Vancouver (Photo by Thomas Smith).
In the photo essay, students are encouraged to express their creativity about a topic they care about. Here, a student explored the impacts of mountain biking on trails and mountains around Vancouver (Photo by Thomas Smith).

 

One thing I tell students is not to pursue a topic just because other people are doing it. Everyone’s passions are different. In the words of Nick Woodman, founder of GoPro, “Your passions are a bit like your fingerprints. Everybody has them; everybody’s are different.” As I tell my students: focus on whatever lights you up, and if you’re not sure what that is yet try something new for the fun of it.

By the way, there is a reason I use the phrase “nurture your passions” rather than the more common phrase “follow your passions.” Following your passions suggests that your passions somehow pre-exist, and it’s your job to uncover your hidden passions.

I don’t believe this. You aren’t born with passions somehow part of your DNA. Passions don’t pre-exist; you nurture them over time. As you spend time pursuing something new, your interest for it grows. Over time, passion blooms.

The Head

“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins” – Benjamin Franklin

Cultivating passion is important, but passion alone doesn’t make an education. I may be passionate about music, but that doesn’t mean I can play an instrument. To translate your passion into a real-world contribution, you also need to build up a solid foundation of knowledge. This is the learning domain of the head.

One thing I tell students in the very first class is that the course is not about memorizing and regurgitating information. In my opinion, it’s a waste of energy to memorize a bunch of information, since it is readily accessible and always changing. It’s better to know how to obtain information and how to use it to form your own arguments and ideas. That’s why, I believe it’s more important to practice critical thinking. So in the course, we discuss and evaluate ideas and issues, not memorize facts.

Critical thinking is a highly desirable asset in today’s workplace. According to one survey of business leaders conducted in the United States, 93% of employers stated that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” is more important than a student’s major when evaluating new hires (AAC&U, 2013).

The implications for universities are profound. If universities are to add value and thrive in the future, they will need to move beyond the outdated model of rote learning. Since content can be accessed much more efficiently and cheaply online, universities need to look for other ways to position themselves.

To remain relevant in the Internet age, universities should help students develop the skills needed to make sense of all this information. The role of universities should be to develop students as critical thinkers, innovators, effective communicators, and problem solvers.

Not only do businesses value employees who can think critically and solve problems, but students also prefer to learn this way. I like to show my students this quote from Natalie Portman, an Academy Award winning actress and Harvard University graduate: “I don’t love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful.” Most students agree. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and stressed by exams that assess rote learning skills, they feel engaged and empowered by solving practical problems in real-world settings. This enables students to learn and grow as independent, creative thinkers – which better positions them in the job market too.

The Hand

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” – Confucius

As my elevator moment taught me, book smarts alone don’t create change in the world. You also need to acquire all the skills necessary to convert your knowledge into practical accomplishments. This is the third domain of learning: the hand.

This domain includes all the hands-on skills needed to practice a discipline in the real world. Just as a musician needs to be proficient with her instrument, so does a carpenter, lawyer or accountant with the tools of their trades.

Remember that it takes time to develop skills. When it comes to learning and eventually mastering a new skill, your mindset matters a lot. People who achieve highly usually have a growth mindset: they are willing to continually practice in order to get better at what they do.

Even if you’re already good at a skill, there is always room for improvement. That means making time for learning and for deliberate practice. The more you consciously develop your skills, the better you will get – and you’ll realize that you can achieve far more than you once thought possible.

I tell my students to think of the classroom as a gym. Let’s say you wanted to get in better shape, so you read a book on fitness. Now, it would be ludicrous to think you could achieve your health goal by only reading that book. And yet, that’s exactly how many classrooms operate. Now, you and I both know you have to get in the gym and put in the work to get in shape. The information from the book is valuable, but nothing will happen unless you get in the gym!

The same thing goes with my course. If students are to acquire the skills of a change-maker, they have to get out there and put the work in. Reading books alone won’t cut it. This is where the course comes in. It is like a real-life gym to help students develop the skills needed to become an agent for change.

To practice their skills in a real-world setting, the students work on a group project during the semester. This assignment gets students out of the classroom and into their communities to create positive and measurable social or environmental change.

There are only three requirements in this assignment. First, students are asked to link their project to something they care about. This encourages them to nurture their passions. Whether their interests are in fashion or mountain biking doesn’t really matter. Nurturing passion for an issue is much easier if you link it to something you already care about.

Second, students are expected to get out of the classroom to create positive change in a broader community. This is done so they are able to develop the skills needed to make a contribution in the real-world, not just in the classroom.

Third, students are required to measure and report the impacts of their project. The key word here is measurable. By tracking specific metrics, students are able to see the real contribution they make in the world.

One thing I always hear from students early in the semester is “We’re just students. What difference can we really make?” If you look at some of the most important change agents throughout history, one of the key differences between these people is not all were in traditional positions of power when they made their biggest contributions. The moral of the story is this: you do not need authority to move mountains! These people did it and so can you.

To demonstrate this, in the final class of the term, I have the students list all their project impacts and then we aggregate them on the board at the front of the classroom. Since the students have all tracked their impacts using specific metrics, this turns out to be an easy task. But it’s a powerful and gratifying moment to recognize the incredible impacts the students have made and to clearly show they are indeed agents of change.

Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders

So what can the classroom teach us about empowering our next generation of leaders?

First, it’s important for young professionals to nurture passion and an attitude of curiosity for their discipline. By doing so, they will naturally strive to go higher and further in their field. The importance of nurturing passion cannot be overstated – it is the fuel that powers you forward.

If passion fuels your interest in a subject, then knowledge provides the bedrock to create and contribute your own ideas to your field. Young professionals should work on developing strong critical and creative thinking skills to be able to process information, innovate new ideas, and create solutions to applied problems.

Finally, it’s important for emerging professionals to develop all the skills needed to make a contribution in the real world. This includes skills related to: leadership, team work, problem solving, communication, and creativity. These skills will help them to convert their ideas into reality.

One thing I tell my students is that there is a big payoff from learning to think and act like a change-maker. Not only will they make the world a better place for all, but living this way can bring real benefits to their own life too:

  • Nurturing your passions means you will like what you do. This will give your life joy.
  • Building up your knowledge means you will know why the work you do is important. This will give your life meaning.
  • Honing your skills and putting them to work means you will be good at what you do. This will give you a feeling of excellence.
  • Contributing to the world means you will do things that make a difference. This will make your life worthwhile.

Understanding these principles, and incorporating them into your life, is one of the most powerful ways to create positive change in the world and to create a sense of purpose in your life. This is what it means to live like a change-maker.

But what about money? Students always ask me: Is it possible to live a life of purpose and also get paid well?

Yes. You can apply these principles to your professional career. This is what I tell them: If you can develop your career in line with these principles, I guarantee you will have more than a job; you will have found your calling.

Lessons for Industry

“Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.” – Daniel Pink, from his book, Drive

So far, I’ve talked about how educators like me can cultivate these three domains of learning to help students develop as leaders and change-makers. Of course, learning does not stop when students receive their degree and enter the workforce. It’s important for professionals to continue to learn and develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes throughout their career.

Businesses play an important role in providing the right culture for this to happen. Doing so helps a business to develop its human capital to its full potential. Not only is this good for the bottom line, it also ensures employees are engaged and fulfilled.

Increasingly, today’s workers are motivated by more than just a paycheck. They are looking for autonomy, opportunities for growth, and a sense of higher purpose with their work. Let’s briefly look at these three motivators.

Autonomy isn’t about letting your employees do whatever they want on the job. It’s about setting clear goals, and then giving them space to achieve those goals in effective and creative ways. Autonomy means being self-directed, not separated from others. Millennials want to feel connected and be part of a team. Being socially active is important to them. When your employees are given the freedom to direct themselves, and they are supported by clear goals and a great team, they will feel more engaged and ultimately be more productive on the job.

Growth and development is a key source of internal motivation for most workers. People want to feel that they are good at what they do and improving their skills over time. Give your employees lots of opportunities for training and development, so they can develop their skills and reach their full potential. It’s important for businesses to promote a growth-mindset within their organization, where deliberate practice is encouraged and failure is not considered a bad word.

Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees. In one recent survey, six out of 10 millennial workers identified “sense of purpose” as the part of the reason they chose their current employer (Deloitte Millennial Survey, 2015). To attract and retain the best talent, businesses must clearly communicate their core values and purpose – and make sure that their employees understand how their work is contributing to this greater cause.

Head Fake

Before I end my presentation, I’d like to share just one more thing. Some of you may have watched Randy Pausch’s presentation called the Last Lecture. The talk is about achieving your childhood dreams. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you watch it. Pausch uses the analogy of a “head fake” to end his talk. I’m going to borrow this analogy.

In football, the best teams often win by using deception. They will fake a run in one direction, and then hand off the football to a player going the other way. Or, they will fake a pass to one side of the field, and then throw the ball in the other direction. Deception is effective because it keeps the defense guessing. In football language, this is called a “head fake.”

Well, just like a good football team, I have to confess that I used a head fake in my presentation. Did you notice it? I told you at the start that my presentation was about how to empower our future generation of professionals. I hate to tell you, but that was a head fake.

My presentation wasn’t about empowering others. It was about empowering you. Following these principles will help empower you to live a good life. A life that you enjoy. A life that you can be proud of. A life that gives you lasting happiness and fulfillment. That was my true intent.

I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to connect with me and, if you’re interested in reading more, I invite you to follow my blog at www.joe-kelly.com.

Khàwp jai!

How young entrepreneurs can change the world

This is a transcript of my presentation given at the PATA Youth Symposium in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 8, 2016. This event was part of Pacific Asia Travel Association’s 2016 Travel Mart, Asia Pacific’s premier travel trade show.

Salamat Siang.

For seven years I’ve been teaching courses on sustainability at Capilano University in Vancouver, Canada. Put simply, I help students to understand and take action on environmental and social issues.

I consider myself to be an environmentally concerned person. As much as possible, I try to act in ways that respect the planet. So I was disappointed in myself when I realized a few years ago that I wasn’t living up to my own values.

My watershed moment came while waiting for the elevator to take me up to my third-floor office. I had always silently cursed low-floor elevator users in the past. Now, despite my values, I had become one of them.

Given my self-professed concern for the environment, I found it troubling that I had failed the simple task of choosing the stairs. It might not sound like much, but it was significant to me. How could I authentically convey the importance of sustainability to my students, if I couldn’t even take a few flights of stairs to get to my office?

My elevator moment made me rethink how I approached the classroom. My past courses on sustainability had focused solely on cognitive learning. This isn’t all bad. Cognitive learning lets you expand your knowledge base and enhance your critical thinking skills. In a nutshell, it helps you build book smarts. While important, book smarts alone are not sufficient for creating positive change in the world.

And so I decided to overhaul my course. The new course is called Project Change. Through an experiential learning process, the course enables students to become a change maker.

A change maker is someone who endeavors to make a positive change in the world through their personal or professional lives. Students still work on building book smarts, but they also develop the abilities, skills and mindsets to think and act like a change maker.

So, how can you change the world?

In the first part of the course, we focus on developing the inner self. We talk about what it means to live like a change maker. At its foundation, this means living a life that’s grounded on four main principles:

  1. Staying true to your values means making choices and working on things that are meaningful to you.
  2. Nurturing your passions means spending time and working on things that you enjoy.
  3. Putting your skills to work means applying your unique skills to the things you work on.
  4. Contributing to the world means doing things that make a positive impact on the world around you.

Understanding these principles, and incorporating them into your life and work, is one of the most powerful ways to create positive change in the world. This is what it means to live like a change maker.

Let’s look at each of these principles in more detail.

The first principle is to stay true to your values. Values are qualities that guide how you want to carry yourself in life. For example, my own values include qualities like adventure, creativity, and contribution. Collectively, I like to think of my values as providing a character sketch of the best possible version of me. They are like a blueprint for what I want my life to represent.

Your values will be different from mine. That’s okay. Values are highly personal, but here’s the thing: you need to believe in them. You need to feel they are worthwhile qualities that you can aspire to. You need to feel they paint a portrait of the type of person you want to be in the world. You will know your values are true when they make you feel that you’re looking at a reflection of the best possible version of you.

The second principle is to nurture your passions. By focusing your efforts on things you enjoy and that you care about, you will naturally strive to go higher and further in taking action on things that matter to you.

Everyone’s passions are different. Don’t feel you need to pursue something just because other people are passionate about it. Focus on whatever lights you up, and if you’re not sure what that is yet try something new for the pleasure of it.

By the way, there is a reason I use the phrase “nurture your passions” rather than the more common phrase “follow your passions.” Following your passions suggests that your passions somehow pre-exist, and it’s your job to uncover your hidden passions. I don’t believe this. You aren’t born with passions somehow part of your DNA. Passions don’t pre-exist; you nurture them over time. As you spend time pursuing something new, your interest for it grows. Over time, passion blooms.

The third principle is to put your skills to work. We all have our unique talents: perhaps you have a flair for design or an aptitude for numbers, or maybe you possess a gift for communication or the ability to make things by hand. Fostering your own particular skills, and then applying them to something you care about, is a sure-fire way to unleash your true potential and leave your mark on the world.

Remember that it takes time to develop your skills. When it comes to learning and eventually mastering a new skill, your mindset matters a lot. People who achieve highly usually have a growth mindset: they are willing to continually practice in order to get better at what they do.

Even if you’re already good at a skill, there is always room for improvement. That means making time for learning and for deliberate practice. The more you consciously develop your skills, the better you will get – and you’ll realize that you can achieve far more than you once thought possible.

The fourth principle is to contribute to the world. We all want to sense that in some way the world is a better place for our existence in it. We want to feel like our lives matter; that we are helping to make a difference in the world around us.

Contributing to the world doesn’t mean creating a radical sea change that will alter the course of history. It means making consistent positive contributions through the everyday actions in your life and work. Ultimately, doing things that make the world a better place will help you to awaken your sense of purpose and produce positive legacies in all aspects of your life.

Living like a change maker means integrating these four principles into your life and sticking with them over the long haul. It is not an easy path to take, but the rewards are great. Not only will you make the world a better place for all, but living this way can bring real benefits to your own life too.

  • Staying true to your values means you will do what’s truly important to you. This will give your life meaning.
  • Nurturing your passions means you will like what you do. This will give your life joy.
  • Putting your skills to work means you will be good at what you do. This will give you a feeling of excellence.
  • Contributing to the world means you will do things that make a difference. This will make your life worthwhile.

And here’s the best part: you get to choose whether or not to live this way. Living in accordance with these principles is completely in your control. All it takes is a deliberate choice. That choice is yours, and yours alone.

But what about money?  Money is needed to sustain your life and it allows you to get the things that you want. Is it possible to live a life of purpose and also get paid?

Yes. You can apply these principles to your professional career – and it will pay off. Your work will be enjoyable and you will be good at it, which means you’ll be more motivated to get out of bed in the morning and give your all. Your work will be important to you and it will make a difference to others, which means you’ll go to bed at night feeling good about your contribution. And here’s the best part: If you can develop your career in line with these four principles, I guarantee you will have more than a job; you will have found your calling.

So far, we’ve talked about the inner self. Of course, you don’t live in an isolated bubble. You live in a community of people. To make your mark on the world, you need to be able to communicate with and influence others. That’s why, in the second part of the course, we focus on how to better interact with the world around us.

Creating a positive change in the world is hard work. However, you don’t need to do it on your own, nor should you want to. You can usually achieve a lot more by involving other people in your endeavors.

Every day you interact with a wide range of people from different circles. These people can be a tremendous source of support and resources to help you succeed. Getting their help, however, is not always easy. How you communicate with them matters. To get people to join you, you’ll need to effectively engage with them and inspire them to get involved. The good news is that anyone can do this.

To connect with people and inspire them to take action, it helps to have a compelling vision for the better world you want to create. Just like in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech, a well-crafted vision is like a guiding light, which paints a mental picture of the better world you see possible. To change the world – even if it’s just your small part of it – first visualize the better future you want to achieve, and then find a way to articulate your vision so it will connect authentically with the hearts and minds of others.

Change makers realize they have the ability to shape their future. They envision the type of future they want to create, and make choices and take actions in life that will make this vision a reality.

A good metaphor is to think of your life as a canvas. It begins blank and, over the years, you create a work of art that marks your journey through life. The thing is, you only have one canvas. Rather than filling it haphazardly – hoping that something of value will eventually emerge – why not visualize the masterpiece you want to create ahead of time? This is what visionaries do – and you can do it too. Realizing that you are the artist of your own future is a powerful way to live your life. The question is: What will you create?

Realize that you have the ability to shape your future into something special. The formula is really quite simple: 1) dream (big), and 2) take action.

If you want to start a company or a charity, do it. If you want to create beautiful art, make it. If you want to do international aid work in Africa, go for it! Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t let other people’s opinions stop you. Don’t let the risk of failure stop you. These are just temporary blips in the grand scheme of things. So go for it. Follow your heart, pursue your dreams, and create your future legacy!

Once you have visualized the future you wish to achieve, then you need to get to work to bring your vision to life. Let’s say you have set a goal to help move your vision forward. You start by making a plan, and then set off on a clear path towards your goal. Step by step, you complete a series of tasks set out in your plan. Everything goes exactly as expected, and you successfully complete your goal with ample time to spare. The crowd goes wild!

There’s only one problem: this is a fairy tale. Things never go as smoothly as you plan. There’s always going to be unknown and unexpected challenges that will take you off course. That’s just part of life.

In reality, your path towards your goal is more likely going to look like this. You start your project with a surge of energy and make some immediate progress. Then, you hit a small obstacle that sets you back a little bit. You deal with it and continue on towards your goal. Then, a major crisis hits, which drastically sets you back. You have to quickly manage the crisis, and get back on track. With your deadline looming, you make a final mad dash to the finish line, to complete your goal on time. It wasn’t pretty and it was far from perfect, but you got there in the end.

Here’s the thing: You are going to face some obstacles along the path towards your goals. It’s impossible to avoid them, and it can be costly to ignore them, so you might as well deal with them head on.

On the path to success, obstacles are to be expected, and even embraced. Rather than get frustrated by them, celebrate that you have obstacles in your path.  Because if there aren’t any obstacles, then your goals are probably not high enough. Indeed, obstacles are a good indication that you’re stretching yourself.

I think it’s healthy to think of obstacles as opportunities. They give you a chance to grow and develop, as you push forward towards your goals. Now, some of the obstacles you face will be difficult to overcome. They may cause significant set-backs and possibly even result in failure. This is completely natural.

There’s a false ideal in our society that it’s bad to fail. It somehow means we’re personally not a success. On the contrary, set-backs and failure are a natural part of growth. I’ll say it again, if you aren’t experiencing failure from time to time, you aren’t stretching yourself enough, and you probably aren’t growing either.

Failure is not only an indication that you’re growing. It also provides an opportunity to learn. Through failure, we learn what doesn’t work. We can reassess our strategy, and develop new ways for tackling the obstacles we face.

So next time you experience failure, try not to get too down or take it too personally. All the great change makers throughout history have experienced failure – probably a lot of failures. The key is to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, refine your strategy, and move on.

Some of you may have no idea what you want to create yet. Trust me, that is completely natural. There is nothing wrong with you. If you haven’t figured out what you want to create with your life, don’t worry, there is lots of time ahead of you. It might not become apparent until years from now. That’s okay. Everyone is on their own unique life path.

For now, my advice is to try a lot of different things and be open to new opportunities. Treat life as a big, fun experiment. If you keep an open mind, when the time is right, you’ll find something that fits. Something that aligns with your values and becomes one of your biggest passions. You’ll be good at it, and it will feel like you’re making a positive contribution to the world around you. You’ll realize you’ve uncovered your purpose, and you can run with it! Till then, never stop dreaming.

I think there’s a misconception that people who change the world are somehow separate from us. They are special in some way. They are born into greatness. While some people do achieve fame from their good deeds, for the most part, people who change the world are just like you and me. They are ordinary people who have a modest yet measurable impact on the world through the actions of their everyday lives.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this presentation, it’s that you have the power to change the world. What you do with that power is up to you, but realize that power is within you now and forever.

Some of you may have watched Randy Pausch’s presentation called the Last Lecture. The talk is about achieving your childhood dreams. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you watch it. Pausch uses the analogy of a “head fake” to end his talk. I’m going to borrow this analogy.

In football, the best teams often win by using deception. They will fake a run in one direction, and then hand off the football to a player going the other way. Or, they will fake a pass to one side of the field, and then throw the ball in the other direction. Deception is effective because it keeps the defense guessing. In football language, this is called a “head fake.”

Well, just like a good football team, I have to confess that I used a head fake in my presentation. Did you notice it? I told you at the start that my presentation was about how entrepreneurs can change the world. I hate to tell you, but that was a head fake.

This presentation wasn’t about that at all. It was about how to live a good life. A life that you can be proud of. A life that will give you lasting happiness, fulfillment and connection. That was my true intent.

To conclude, I’d like to leave you with this brilliant quote from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I anticipate big things from you, so go forth and make your mark on the world!

Terima Kasih!