This has become a common question people are asking themselves in light of the pandemic, social injustice, economic uncertainty, political division, and so many other topics challenging our world today. It’s also opened the door for so many great conversations and inquiries as past colleagues and acquaintances have asked me how I’ve become so fulfilled after hanging up my business suit for a backpack.
How do I know? I took the leap of faith! Yes, I went from a high-salary corporate job to leading a nonprofit humanitarian organization. I haven’t told many this story. “Why?” On the surface, many saw me as a poster for “success”. Truth be told, I was empty. It wasn’t until I discovered the single most motivating secret for success that my life became fulfilled. Here’s a glimpse into my discovery.
From an early age, my parents instilled in me a notion that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. As long as I had integrity and remained generous, I would be a “success.” This wasn’t just idle talk. My parents were living examples of this idea. They had overcome extensive adversity in their lives, never letting racial, economic, educational, or even physical handicaps become barriers to their advancement; all while using their time, talent, and treasure to benefit others.
As a result, I became a resourceful young entrepreneur. By 15, I had already started a car detailing business, snow removal business, package delivery service, and an evening job as a server at a 5-star restaurant. I learned how to sacrifice and hustle to make a dollar.
Not only was I on a mission to make my parents proud, but to reach the top of the mountain that society defined as “success”… a rare accomplishment for a young black man born in a poor city.
Despite all of the hurdles that came with the territory in a predominately middle-aged, white, male world, I found myself on a rather fast trajectory to the peak of achievement towards the “American Dream”. After joining a leading global performance agency, I ascended quickly. I went from an apprenticeship-like role to the most seasoned sales professional, managing prestigious Fortune 500 clients.
As the narrative would have it, I was “killing it.” I had overcome hurdles and generally found myself as the sole black man changing the ratio of the company’s top sales club. I was making a statement for myself, but also for the world to see. I had something to prove and I was making my point. A corner office, luxury cars, first-class business travel, a prestigious title, and a network of c-level executive acquaintances were the measure of success by most standards.
But, here’s the thing… it was lonely at the top. The irony of my predicament was that I was responsible for improving the performance of employees using the science of motivation. I had all of the knowledge, background, and tools to motivate hundreds of thousands of employees, but I could no longer motivate myself in my role. I was no longer being fulfilled. I was burning out and my family life was suffering. I was in the hamster wheel; a robotic sales employee always chasing profit for my clients and my employers.
The secret realization… genuine motivation comes from one thing and one thing only: PURPOSE. With purpose motivation is endless and every action results in greater fulfillment.
I could no longer fake it. Customers could see through my outer garment and into my hypocritical heart. I lost the drive to sell “Trophies, TVs, and Trips” that were designed to drive employees to perform at their best. In my heart, I knew that these strategies were short-term substitutions for genuine motivation, and I was no longer getting the natural dopamine release from these pseudo-motivation replacements.
Far too often I hear people say, “I want to change the world”. Then they walk away and do nothing about it. I didn’t want to live my life being one of those people. I had to DO something to change the world. I had to stop living TO dream, and start living THE dream.
With the intent of helping to add business strategy to a heart-driven organization, I accepted a board member role with the nonprofit, Generosity.org. While on the board, I had a chance to travel to a few developing countries to see the work firsthand. This wrecked me and gave me a Godly perspective.
Seeing a child’s face on a charity website or flyer is one thing; Meeting a child who walks for hours every day to collect water that’s contaminated and could lead to disease and death, was a revelation. For the price of a grande caffè latte, safe water could be provided for years. These children, created by the same God, with the same potential, the same age as my kids, were spending their days and lives in survival mode. Sacrificing a cup of coffee could give them hope and a future.
The death rate among children in an East African village where we had installed a clean-water well had declined dramatically. This was a typical and expected outcome. However, the root cause was anything from typical. Crocodile attacks were a regular occurrence when collecting water from the local river, which was the only available water source. Lives were being changed in unimaginable ways.
The euphoria of witnessing an entire community overflowing with joy and gratitude by receiving the most fundamental human need, clean water, was life-changing; for them and me. For months I feared stepping out of my comfortable place to follow the desire of my heart and put purpose over profit. Honestly, I felt stuck in the corporate hamster wheel.
The books I was devouring started to resonate. And…
Eureka! I discovered my purpose.
The airline trip home from Africa was over 20 hours… plenty of time to consider these critical questions:
- How would I live on a fraction of my salary?
- How would I tell my wife I was quitting my job?
- What would people say if I failed?
I recently heard a leading motivational author explain that every act in life is done out of fear, result, or love. I was a prisoner to fear.
When circumstances with my employer changed, I realized that was the spiritual push I needed to take the “leap of faith.” I left the corporate hamster wheel to pursue my purpose, serving the underserved; leading a non-profit, building water wells in developing countries around the world. The sense of accomplishment and fulfillment was exceedingly greater than any I had experienced in any project with my corporate clients.
Now I’m on a mission to share my journey and help people searching for their “eureka”.
“Do I need to drop out of the corporate world to impact the world and find fulfillment?” That’s for you to answer.
But, more importantly, find YOUR Purpose.
What’s holding you back?
Take a risk today! Leave a comment with your answer to this question:
“Do I act out of FEAR, RESULT, or LOVE?”
…Stay tuned for more stories on my journey.