We operate at a fraction of our possible energy level. To a degree this is because of a lack of physical wellness, but there is something else at work as well. We live at partial energy because we fail to consistently tap into our deepest sources of emotional renewal.

In an insightful interview, psychologist Todd Kashdan explained a potential shortcoming of current, positive psychology. We focus on building happiness and energy when these are the results–not the causes–of lasting well-being. Sustained positivity comes from meaning-making: our ability to find purpose and value within and across our daily activities.


In purpose, we find energy. In energy, we find creativity, productivity, and engagement. Meaning-making makes meaningful lives. We don’t have to push ourselves to get things done when purpose pulls us toward valued outcomes.

Having worked with traders and portfolio managers for many years, I’ve noticed that the ones who have sustained productive careers are those who have found meaning and value in their work above and beyond the profitability of their investing. Sometimes that meaning lies in the intellectual challenge of solving market puzzles; sometimes it is found in building teams and fostering talent; sometimes it comes from the competitive challenge of being all that one can be as a performance professional. In every case of success that I have found, there has been a source of motivation built on meaning-making, grounded in deep, fundamental values.


Conversely, when traders and business managers I’ve worked with have been all about the money and the next promotion, there has been nothing to sustain them during times of setback. If you’re powered by successful outcomes, you can’t sustain power in the face of failure. An important component of resilience is the ability to tap reservoirs of meaning and purpose when life events don’t provide happiness. Consider Emilia Lahti’s 1500 mile run: There can be no sisu, no persistence of drive, unless the driving itself speaks to a sense of mission.

I recall an occasion in which I was exhausted from a long day working with money managers. Starting with hours in Asia and London and working through the U.S. trading day, I could barely summon the energy to fix a meal. Scanning my email, I noticed a message from a rescue organization trying to place a young cat in need. Taken from a shelter shortly before she was about to be put down, this shy and sickly little girl could not find a home. Immediately, I sprang to life, determined to visit the rescue group and see the cat. My energy was entirely renewed.


How can this be?

Each of our little ones (above) began life as a sick, abused or neglected cat. Building a happy and healthy home for them–and seeing them bond to us and to one another–has been deeply meaningful and rewarding. Every day with them is an affirmation of transformation: what is possible in the face of adversity. Though I was exhausted beyond belief at the end of my day, I found no lack of energy once I could tap into an opportunity for transformation. Meaning-making takes us beyond the ordinary; it taps hidden reservoirs of drive.

When we focus on tasks to be accomplished and routines to be checked off, we operate on a normal plane of energy. When we perceive broader vistas and the opportunities to actualize them, we find energy renewed. Seeking happiness, fun, profits, and accomplishments gives us positive experience, but Kashdan’s insight is that positive experience is not the source of our deepest fulfillment and energy. Rather, we derive fresh positive experience by realizing our most fundamental values.

Perhaps our greatest mistake in managing our lives is to treat energy and willpower as finite resources. With that assumption, each day becomes a zero-sum game: how we can allot our time and energy to accomplish the most pressing outcomes. Once we recognize that meaning-making renews energy, daily life priorities change radically. The important question becomes: How can we consistently tap into–and express–the values that animate our lives?

Self-renewal, the ability to transcend the normal plane of energy and make the most of who we are : this is the purpose of purpose.



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