The most powerful predictor of happiness is having a good job surrounded by people we care about. This was one of the statistics cited at the Sum + Substance event last night, the goal of which was to share the journey to fulfilling work of 6 individuals and to inspire others to ask the important questions that could lead to increased happiness in all areas of life.
There were so many things I loved about this event. The thing that stood out to me the most was how much the crowd was embracing positivity and our own agency, and responsibility, to do good work in the world.
There was no room for fear. There was no room for excuses.
In a lot of talks and conversations on entrepreneurship, there is talk of fear - mostly how to overcome it, or move through it. It's an important discussion to have, and it's certainly one I've engaged in many a time, but I can't deny that there is a solipsistic element to this discussion.
In contrast, the talks last night were focused on the world outside of us, and the fact that rising up to our own responsibility to make the world a better place is what really leads to fulfilling work.
My mother-in-law loves to quote Mahatma Gandhi: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others". This thread ran through all of the discussions last night. Whether it was establishing a transparent supply chain for locally made t-shirts, starting a beat-making lab for black youth, or being a leader at a large but mission-driven tech company, the message was clear: the journey to fulfilling work begins when we look outside of ourselves and find ways to contribute our gifts to the betterment of our world.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that these entrepreneurs faced fear. But the thing that happens when you are mission-driven is that the fear simply doesn't matter. The motivation is bigger than your own insecurities. Being driven to enact positive change, as all of the entrepreneurs who spoke last night seem to be, means that the focus is not inward, but outward.
We are lucky to have this life, and for those of us in a position to make choices and determine the direction of our lives, there in an inherent obligation to make choices that can open up those same opportunities for other people. I love that this event embraced that responsibility, and furthermore, recognized the immense joy that comes from developing this kind of work.
The other thing that I need to celebrate about this event was its commitment to diversity. Out of the 6 individuals that spoke, only 2 were white. That is pretty spectacular.
In addition to the cultural and ethnic diversity, there was a diversity in their life stories. Some dropped out of college, others went to graduate school, some grew up in a traditional nuclear family, others were raised by a single mom. Half of the speakers talked about their own family's economic struggles during their childhoods. If we are going to celebrate success and entrepreneurship, it is essential that we celebrate the diversity of the people that experience this success, and I applaud Sum + Substance for doing this.
To close, I'm going to share one of the challenges that was offered last night: pay attention to the common threads that run through your life and the signs your past may be sending you. Look for evidence of your gifts - the things that have consistently been a point of interest for you and have gotten you excited. Then find a way to tap into those gifts every day - maybe at work, maybe at home. Finding the path to fulfilling work means utilizing your gifts and making them available to the world around you.