Yes but WHY?


A resilience-building strategy from Kamal Sarma*. Find out how to create more meaning in your life and be better equipped to face life’s challenges.

"He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how’.” Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.

When you started your career as a financial advice professional, you probably set yourself some goals like the sort of clients you wanted to work with and the standard of service you wanted to provide to them. This was important to help give you direction. As you gained experience, maybe you refined those goals and set new ones. This is important too, to help maintain the momentum.

For some of you though, at some stage, achieving those sorts of goals may have stopped giving you the same sense of fulfilment it once did. Setting new goals may have become more of a chore than a motivator. Maybe you’ve even started to question what’s the point of it all anyway.

What we’ve found is that to be resilient to these sorts of doubts and challenges, and to thrive as a result, we need to move to a higher stage of psychological development. We need to search for meaning, purpose and, ultimately, our calling. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, our most basic needs are food, water, sleep, protection, and safety. Once those are met, the next thing we need is a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.

Internationally renowned psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl endured years of unspeakable horror in Nazi concentration camps during WWII. This first-hand experience with one of the darkest chapters of human history taught him that man’s primary motivational force is the search for meaning. In ‘Man's Search for Meaning’, he says, “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the 'why' for his existence and will be able to bear almost any 'how.'”

While in the concentration camps, Frankl realised he could survive, despite tremendous grief, by finding meaning in his work as a psychologist and in the memories of his wife. He also observed that the prisoners who were most resilient were the ones who also felt a purpose for their lives.

So is there a strategy that you can use to help you with your own search?

Strategy: Search for your purpose

Instead of starting with a big existential question like, “What’s my purpose in life?” and being overwhelmed by where to begin, ask yourself the following questions and break your search down into bite-sized chunks that you’re more able to manage.

  1. What would you do even if you didn't get paid to do it?

    We can sometimes become very transactional in our lives, especially when we have limited time. We risk pursuing profits rather than purpose. So if you didn’t get paid for what you’re doing now, would you still do it?

  2. When does space and time stand still?

    There are times when we do things and we get so absorbed we forget to eat or go to the bathroom. We finish the day and instead of feeling depleted, we’re invigorated. We look up at the clock and wonder where the hours have gone. What sort of activity gives you that buzz?

  3. What are you willing to fail at but would keep on trying?

    People who are resilient tend to enjoy the process, not just the payoff. When we strive just for the payoff, we may feel depleted if we don’t achieve it. Yet if we really enjoy the process, we’re less likely to be defeated by failure.

  4. What is your gift (to the world, the community, your family)?

    Everybody has a gift to offer the world. It could be leadership or compassion or insight or any number of other things. If we can look at our lives as an opportunity to leave the world with a gift, we are likely to be more resilient to set backs and thrive as a result.

    For Nelson Mandela, it was the gift of forgiveness. For you, it’s probably something much closer to home. For example, the founder of my son’s local soccer club ran it for 25 years as a volunteer. He was the backbone, there every weekend setting up the goals and running the sausage sizzle and, behind the scenes, looking after the club’s finances and administration. The joy of sport he brought to generations of kids, not to mention personal qualities like teamwork, perseverance and leadership, will be part of his gift to the world. And most of the kids wouldn’t even know his name.

  5. What causes you pain when you see it, but you feel compelled to help?

    The world seems to be facing so many challenges today at both the macro and micro level. The opportunity is there for all of us to adopt a cause and play a role, no matter how small. Whether it’s big - like plastic pollution or climate change - or small, take it and research it. See what happens to your world view. Don’t be surprised if, by investigating it, you’re spurred on to bigger things. 

Now I’m not suggesting you obsessively search for ‘the’ answer then abandon your job, family and community to join a not-for-profit on the other side of the world. I am suggesting though that devoting some time to finding out more about what creates meaning in your life will likely unleash not just a sense of well-being but also help build resilience in the face of your life's greatest challenges.

Find out more

For more strategies, insights and information from Kamal Sarma on building resilience, read his ‘Five to thrive’, brought to you by BT.

* About Kamal Sarma. Living in a monastery, Kamal Sarma trained as a monk for 6 years before gaining postgraduate qualifications and excelling in senior corporate positions in organisations such as McKinsey & Company. He is the founder and CEO of Rezilium, a strategic leadership firm that delivers customised resilience programs to a range of organisations including Google, Facebook and PWC. He is currently Chairman of the R U OK Conversations think tank, which takes research and turns it into practical tools. Kamal is also the co-founder of a not-for-profit venture, Captivate the Future, which aims to build confidence, resilience and self-esteem in high school students through public speaking, and is the author of 3 books. 

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Important Information

The content for this article is prepared by Kamal Sarma, CEO Rezilium. Information is current as at 20 March 2020. The views expressed in this article are those of Kamal Sarma alone unless otherwise quoted, and do not reflect the views or policy of any company in the Westpac Group. This article is for adviser use only. Any case study or example contained in this article is for illustrative purposes only, and is not to be construed as an indication or prediction of future performance or results. While the information contained in this article may contain or be based on information obtained from sources believed to be reliable, it may not have been independently verified. Where information contained in this article contains material provided directly by third parties it is given in good faith and has been derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material. This article may also contain links to websites operated by third parties (‘Third Parties’) who are not related to the Westpac Group (‘Third Party Web Sites’). These links are provided for convenience only and do not represent any endorsement or approval by the Westpac Group of those Third Parties or the information, products or services displayed or offered on the Third Party Web Sites.