The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. —Mark Twain
"Over the past few years, there’s been an explosion of interest in purpose-driven leadership. Academics argue that an executive’s most important role is to be a steward of the organization’s purpose. Business experts make the case that purpose is a key to exceptional performance, while psychologists describe it as the pathway to greater well-being. Doctors have even found that people with purpose in their lives are less prone to disease. Purpose is increasingly being touted as the key to navigating the complex, volatile, ambiguous world we face today. Despite this growing understanding, however, a big challenge remains. Fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement." (Source: HBR)
Rainy summer days, June 2014. Demanding job, an 18-month old baby, a life I find interesting and inspiring. My third year in Zurich, somewhere in the background the knowledge of the different life I would have had, had I stayed in London. Or gone back to Milan.
Better, worse? Neither.
My passion for finding, driving and enabling positive societal change was born in part due to some of my personal experiences of those years. They made me become aware of my purpose, and care about the future of leadership. Pushed me to find ways to make an impact, raise awareness on topics that are key for society and that I am passionate about. They shaped who I am and the fulfilling projects I run today.
"Your leadership purpose is who you are and what makes you distinctive. Your purpose is your brand, what you’re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do your job and why—the strengths and passions you bring to the table no matter where you’re seated. Although you may express your purpose in different ways in different contexts, it’s what everyone close to you recognizes as uniquely you and would miss most if you were gone." (Source: HBR)
Back in 2014, Lisa and I had agreed to meet in a cafè near the city centre. We had been in touch over emails, introduced by common local friends. Her friendly and inspiring smile, her drive and a strength you could just feel before any words were spoken is what I still clearly remember as my very first impression. They say you decide whether you like a person within the first few seconds from shaking hands. Right there and then, I had no doubts.
The #FearLess Fridays series that launched last Friday, December 1st had been on my mind for a few months. During that time I had quickly mentioned the idea to a few inspiring people in my circles. In two weeks l had a solid schedule of outstanding stories that filled my pipeline every other Friday for the following 10 months. The first post on "Republik" had an incredibly high amount of organic traffic, shares and related. It was followed by an overflowing inbox too. And that, I believe, is not due to my blogging skills in a non-native language, but to the fact that we are increasingly craving inspiring stories from the bravest of us. We seek authentic leadership and strong purpose. The definition of "courage", "purpose" and "leadership" varies, people interpret them in different ways, the desired impact on lives and society at large however is the same. My personal definition draws on the many diverse stories of wonderful talented minds I have the pleasure to know.
Lisa is one. Hers is a greatly inspiring story that defines and frames the meaning of courage, purpose and leadership.
"Marrying my Swiss husband was the reason I quit my corporate job in the first place. My dad’s heart attack was the reason I never went back.
When my now-husband proposed, he also inadvertently asked me to give up my career, my friends, my family, and my entire life in America to permanently move to Switzerland.
I was confident I would arrive in Zurich and quickly settle in with a new career and a new set of friends (as I had done when I’d previously moved to different cities) so the idea excited me rather than scared me.
But just two weeks before our wedding day, as I was packing up my cubicle and leaving my corporate job for the day, I noticed a missed call on my mobile phone from a number I didn’t know -- a number with the area code from my parents’ hometown. It was my mom, calling from the hospital with the news that my dad had been rushed to the emergency room. He’d had a serious heart attack and was going in for major surgery.
It was the first moment anyone in my family had been sick; it was the first moment I’d ever really recognized that health was not infallible. Sitting by my dad’s bedside with my mom and three siblings was one of the most disorienting moments in my life.
In just a few short weeks, I was scheduled to get on a one-way plane ride and permanently move away from them, half way across the globe. Did I really still have the nerve to do that now?
We all spent a lot of time that week reflecting on life. My family, and particularly my dad, convinced me I still needed to go out and live the life I needed to live. Health was health, family was family, but life is life; you need to go out and make your impact in the way only you can. After some deep soul-searching, I decided to follow my family’s great advice and added one condition: I would dedicate my life to making it one worth living.
Upon arriving in Switzerland, with my newfound quest for living a meaningful and fulfilling life, I undertook my biggest task to date: figure out who I really am, what I really want out of life, and what impact I want to have on the world. That is, of course, a lifelong search so I simply started with discovery steps towards figuring out my values and interests. For example, I knew I wanted to prioritize family. I wanted a career that would also provide me the flexibility to visit the United States regularly and stay home with my (future) children. Additionally, I knew I wanted to prioritize doing meaningful work that would have a lasting positive impact on the society. I certainly didn’t want to just be doing a job to earn money.
Keeping values like these in mind, I began designing my career. Because entrepreneurship had always fascinated me, I decided to start my own small consultancy working with startups. Entrepreneurship had always seemed so sexy when it was covered in the news. Be your own boss. Create your own vision for the world. Follow your dreams. In reality, I discovered, 90% of being an entrepreneur is disheartening, hard work that includes lots of failures, rejections, uncertainties, mistakes, and people telling you repeatedly why your ideas definitely won’t work. Despite all those stressful aspects, working with entrepreneurs was fun, and I enjoyed it immensely. I loved consulting because I loved the strategy discussions, the digging into the psychology of the customers, the creative problem solving that was inevitably required.
But I truly loved one aspect more than all the others: witnessing the transformation of the entrepreneurs themselves. To be the kind of person who can handle this level of instability, uncertainty, criticism, and public failure is mesmerizing. To courageously stand by your vision and continue making progress towards your goals in spite of all these hurdles is the embodiment of living a life worth living.
I turned this admiration into my dream job: serving as a leadership coach, consultant, and corporate trainer. I work with a range of leaders (from large multi-national corporations to solopreneurs) on personal and professional development, focusing on what holds these leaders back from performing at their full potential and achieving their goals. This often includes growth in areas like emotional intelligence, how to be more effective in influencing and communications, and how to be flexible and agile with uncertainty to avoid undue stress. I also enjoy working with people who are looking to inject more meaning into their lives and who want to design a new career (and life) they find more fulfilling.
I can’t say enough how inspiring and motivating I find my job. No two clients are the same, no two days are the same. I love helping people work through their struggles in the pursuit of something great. I love that I get to tap into my insatiable curiosity and interest in connecting with people in a deeper, more significant way. I love that my days are filled with clients telling me how their lives have transformed because of the work we’ve done together.
As odd (or clichéd) as it may sound, my dad’s heart attack really helped me to find new importance in living a life aligned with my values and it helped me to develop an entirely new career outlook. Having a meaningful, impactful career balanced with great family and friends confirm that I’ve been successful in my pursuit: every day I feel like I’m leading a life worth living."
Lisa Christen is a leadership coach, trainer, consultant, and thought leader at her firm Christen Coaching and Consulting. She is fascinated by the hidden potential in people and works tirelessly to help people discover that they already have all the ability, answers, and courage they need to live a happy and fulfilling life. Lisa has years of experience working across Fortune 100 companies and the US Government and holds an MBA, a PMP® Project Management Professional certification, and an International Coach Federation (ICF) certification. Lisa enjoys balancing her work life with her personal life, including coming home to a loving husband, two adorable young daughters and an overflowing bookshelf.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching