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BW Businessworld

Book Extract: ‘P’ Is For Purpose

Purpose in life and career is a significant force. It represents the driving vigour in the individual. It provides life-giving power to each individual, just like the engine of an automobile gives power to the wheels through the gear box and other parts of the car.

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Purpose in life and career is a significant force. It represents the driving vigour in the individual. It provides life-giving power to each individual, just like the engine of an automobile gives power to the wheels through the gear box and other parts of the car.

…My colleague the late Russi Lala used to say, ‘If your search for a purpose is with yourself in the centre, you may run around in circles for a long time, but if it is focused on other people or a cause beneficial to your fellowmen, you may find your destiny sooner… you will never find a higher purpose until you look beyond yourself to the needs of others.’

Thanks to my close association with two wonderful companies, Unilever and Tata, over the decades, I developed a deep interest in the subject of corporate purpose. Why does the corporation exist? What is its purpose? Where lies the balance between the focus on owner enrichment versus societal good? How can an organisation be run so that it is long-lived?

Allocating your time, talent and energy: When you view events, options and people through the lens of your purpose in life, your brain processes the theory of your life, what you really want to do. You then allocate the only three resources you have to fulfil that purpose — your time, your talent and your energy. In short, every person has enough time, talent and energy to do what he or she really wants to do in life. This is the manner in which you create a strategy for your life.

The truth is that almost everybody is potentially a greatly accomplished person. In the course of accomplishing the chosen purpose, that person may end up as a happy person or a troubled soul. The examples below suggest how two very accomplished people who may have become very troubled souls...

Vincent van Gogh: Vincent van Gogh was a creative genius, a post-impressionist painter whose work was notable for its beauty, emotion and colour. During the second half of the nineteenth century, van Gogh made an enormous impact on the world of art through his paintings. ...Van Gogh’s personal life appears to have been far from wonderful. During his growing-up years his family struggled to earn enough money, and young Vincent had to start working at the age of fifteen at his uncle’s art gallery. When he grew up, he had a catastrophic love life, being constantly attracted to women in trouble, first a widowed cousin who felt repulsed by him and, later, an alcoholic prostitute who became his mistress. It was his art that helped van Gogh stay emotionally balanced. If you view van Gogh’s life story through the eye of his works and his accomplishments, he led a glorious life of great influence. If you view it with the eye of his relationships and his enjoyment of life, you may form a different opinion. It is not necessary for us to pass judgement on van Gogh’s life, but we do so with regard to the people we encounter in our daily lives. That judgement may or may not be fair, but it is what influences your perception of that person.

Kawas Nanavati: The second example is from a story that captured the hearts and minds of Indians during my school days. It pertains to a dashing and handsome naval officer called Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati. Born in 1925, Kawas joined the Indian Navy and worked as defence attaché to the Indian High Commissioner in London, V.K. Krishna Menon.

...Kawas had married an English lady by the name Sylvia. They had two sons and a daughter. The good-looking couple and their family had settled in Mumbai in a building opposite to where my parents lived.

Kawas had to travel frequently for his work, leaving Sylvia and the children at home. In April 1959, upon return from one of his assignments, he found Sylvia aloof and distant. Sylvia confessed to an affair with a friend of fifteen years, Prem Ahuja. ...When Kawas asked him whether he intended to marry Sylvia, Ahuja apparently responded, ‘Do you think I will marry every woman I sleep with?’ This presumably infuriated Kawas, who used his pistol to settle the issue. ...What appeared from the outside like a dream family in the mid-1950s had a very difficult time for the rest of their lives.

It is quite stimulating to think that there is not just one fact for each event. Yet we lead our lives as though that is so. For example, if a person has been convicted of murder, we are accustomed to think that he must pay for it. We feel that way because he is seen to have exercised free choice in performing the act of murder. But was his really a free choice or were there other contextual influences which restricted that choice. The Nanavati case threw up such questions.

INDIVIDUAL purpose is a blend of five aspects. The important feature of individual purpose is that it is designed by that individual from conscious choices that he or she exercises. Purpose is not something that just happens to a person; it is what the individual designs (albeit unconsciously) to represent who he or she is, and what that person wants to achieve in life. It can be to change the world with intellectual contributions. It can be to influence the world through humanities and art. It can be to create wealth. It may be to uplift society. It can be to achieve harmony within the self.

Humanistic: I want to influence for the good the affairs of people and society. It may be through music, art, entertainment, social service or even spirituality. I stand for certain principles in the way I live and those are important to me.

Honorific: I want to earn respect by pushing the intellectual frontiers of human consciousness. It may be by creating new knowledge and insights. It may be through science, technology or new inventions.

Historic: I must leave an impact on the times I live in. It may be by doing things that will be remembered in the future. It may be by winning sports records, by ruling long, by being seen as bold. It matters a lot to me how others think of me.

Hedonistic: I want to create a great life for myself and those whom I care for. It can be through acquiring wealth, power, influence and a pleasurable life. It involves a hint of being focused on self.

Holistic: I am not trying to change the whole world. I want to be a great human being, a good citizen and try to do the right things all through my life. I must be a balanced and responsible member of my society and community.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2016)