This is the second of a four-part article series looking at Measuring Your ROi – The Return on Your Individual Impact Investment. This series is developed by ActionsProve, LLC, a new impact and significance consulting practice.
Our first article focused on the non-profit sector, sharing how its value has been woven throughout our history. Fundamental to this is the power of us – as private individuals and corporate citizens - taking initiative to band together to meet needs not met by established institutions. We are the catalysts for social innovation and advancement, and it is up to us to choose to build a better tomorrow. Whether in connection with a non-profit organization or through an individual or corporate initiative, a desire for Personal Significance is essential for lasting impact.
Personal Significance is beyond personal growth and wellness. It is a choice. It is a narrow road. It can go against established cultural norms for adults – especially high-capacity adults. It takes constant focus and intentional effort to sustain. However, when pursued, it can create tremendous opportunities for impact, especially as our society shifts toward living with greater meaning and purpose.
The Fork in the Road
We all want our lives to matter. As hard as we work to create a better life for ourselves and our families, and be a good person to those and the world around us, that may not be enough. There is a problem with the flow of life today. There comes a fork in the road, and we need to know about it before we arrive. Without taking the time now to map it and without adjusting our mindset and actions as we ascend toward it, we could arrive with burnout and regret. This can also be a season of feeling 'lost in the wilderness'.
When we arrive - likely sometime in our middle decades of life - we ask the questions: Does my life matter? Why does my life matter? To whom does my life matter? For how long will my life matter? The answers to these questions will reveal our significance. How we have achieved our significance is our impact. We have our own choice - either at ‘the fork’ or before we arrive – about the life we want to have and the legacy we want to leave. We all have the capacity to make any changes we desire – no matter our season.
The High-Capacity Problem
High-capacity people, such as business owners, executives and professionals, are particularly susceptible to accelerating toward ‘the fork’ without seeing it ahead or acting on the signs. We are busy and focused.
That was me at the height of my ‘first-half success’. I had no time. I capitalized on all of my work opportunities to achieve and realize more of my goals, as well as provide security for myself and my family while trying to be a good person. As I got more confident with my career and more comfortable in my life, a discontentedness began to creep in - a feeling that there was more to life than my comfort and more that I needed to do to reconcile with an expanded world I was beginning to see and experience. It took years to acknowledge and years to understand. It took a focused and consistent effort to address.
I have spent more than two decades engineering solutions to solve problems. Through experience, I had come to understand that core life elements, and how they work together, had to be understood in order to address the discontent. I have developed and outlined a formula for achieving a life that matters based on my experience and those who have helped me along the way.
The formula for attaining a life that matters has the same elements as one that progresses toward 'the fork' unsuspectingly. The difference in outcome is in how we understand and act on the elements. The elements include our Time, Momentum, Motivation and Fear.
Time is the most valuable commodity that we have to achieve our goals and realize the impact and significance we desire. However, our time is never guaranteed. We need to purposefully manage the time that we do have. A well-designed plan, with disciplined action, is the only way to prioritize the time we have for the people and things that matter the most to us. Choosing to make the time now to create 'margin' is an essential first step. This margin – quiet time and space - must also be consistently maintained for the formula to work.
Momentum is the flow of our past and present life as a result of our upbringing, education, career choice, season of life, skills, talents, networks and experiences – the good and the not-so-good. Unless controlled, momentum takes us forward in the trajectory of our past.
Life is not linear and human phenomena follows the path of the 'Sigmoid Curve.' The Sigmoid Curve is in the shape of an elongated forward slanting 'S.' The path begins with a learning and development phase, followed by a growth phase, and then peaking and declining phases. We follow the Sigmoid Curve as we age. Businesses often use the Sigmoid concept to better understand their product and service cycles. The goal is to know when to refresh or pivot away from one product or service to another in order to sustain growth and push into the future the peaking and decline phases. We can also use the Sigmoid concept in terms of personal growth, career, relationships.
Knowing where we are on our personal life curve is a key aspect to understanding our momentum and being in a position to control it. As important as it is to know where we are on the curve, we need to realize it is scorekeeping – an accounting of our past. Knowing where we want to go from here helps us to assess whether we are on the right path or in need of a refresh or a pivot from our current trajectory.
We need to use the 'margin' we create to confirm our path or target a new destination. This time is often needed to regain self-awareness, and this can be much more difficult than it may appear. The type of self-awareness that leads to impact and significance is a deep-seeded, core-being, foundational self-awareness. This is the type of self-awareness we can lose as we get older and more established in the momentum of life.
An impediment to achieving greater self-awareness and targeting a future destination is our 'doing.' Our culture today conditions us for a 'doing' trap. True self-awareness comes from the practice of 'being' - creating and maintaining quiet time and reflection periods. We often need to relearn who we are and what we stand for, and explore the gifts we have been given. These gifts are often different than the skills and talents we have acquired. We also need to develop an understanding of who we are and how we align in the context of the larger world.
An ideal trajectory blends our past, present and future destination with all of our skills, talents, assets and gifts. A desired refresh or pivot can occur within, along-side, or in place of our current path. The key is to be clear enough about ourselves and the future we desire to begin to target our momentum.
Motivation without going through the ‘being’ process, our ‘doing’ will often drive our identity and be a motivation to continue on our current path. Our true motivations are often internal and may take time and a series of steps to unwind and understand.
Motivations that align with achieving Personal Significance come from a mindset and include actions that serve and empower others to accomplish meaningful things that align with a greater purpose. Our focus must be on our team and mission. We need to be confident, grateful and able to be contented, and ultimately be seeking joy. This contrasts with a focus on ourselves and our goals, being aggressive, controlling and striving, and seeking only happiness.
Motivations that inspire are most often grounded in humility and gratitude. These stem from an appreciation that, although we have limited control over many aspects of our lives, we have much, we have been given much, and we have the capacity to do more and create lasting impact.
Fear is ever present. At times it can be suppressed. At times it can be managed. At times it can stop us in our tracks. For individuals seeking greater impact and significance, fear can manifest in not wanting to act on, or openly and vulnerably share, our desire to refresh or pivot. For business leaders, there can be fear of short-term uncertainty during a needed refresh or pivot period. For professionals, there can be fear that we are ‘handcuffed’ by our own lifestyle. In all cases, succumbing to fear in the short-term will not alter our fate – only action toward controlling our trajectory has that ability.
We need to reverse fear and use it as a motivator. We need to be motivated by ‘the fork’ and by a moral obligation do well with all we have been given. We need to be motivated by the historic platforms and have the courage to use our unique skills, talents, assets, gifts, experiences, motivations and dreams for the good we aspire to affect. We need to have faith that justice will ultimately prevail.
The Path Forward
The acts to nurture our time, target our momentum, and serve through inspiring and even paradoxical motivations can lead to Personal Significance. Once pursued, lasting impact can be created through choosing to strategically deploy our time, resources and influence. This can be a form of strategic philanthropy. Lasting impact can also be created on an organizational basis through the choice of effective corporate social impact.
In our next article we will define the corporate social impact (CSI) movement and how doing good can be good for business. The fourth article in the series will outline approaches to measure impact.
Peter Atherton is the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC. ActionsProve partners with businesses, individuals and non-profits to create impact and significance through vehicles including strategic philanthropy, corporate social impact, social enterprise, and impact tracking. Having served communities through the design and construction of public infrastructure for over 20 years as a professional engineer and business owner, Pete now focuses on serving communities through people and the organizations they lead. Pete also serves in multiple capacities within the non-profit sector focusing on both local and global impact, and is a co-founder of the new 100 Men Who Care chapter for Southern Maine.