What I wanted was to have an interesting, diverse life filled with lots of learning – and especially meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I feel that I have gotten these in abundance and I am happy.
Ray Dalio, Principles
While listening to Ray Dalio’s audiobook on Principles this week, I heard him say something that really struck me. When I heard it, I clicked pause then skipped back to listen to it again to really let it soak in.
He described meaningful work as having a mission to share with others and the intense desire to pursue that mission. I’ll paraphrase in this formula:
Meaningful Work = Mission + Motivation
It is great to hear one of the richest men in the world point out how meaningless it is to pursue work for the purpose of money. A focus on mission, on the other hand, leads to a meaningful life.
When Dalio talks about mission in his book he almost always mentions it in connection with others. He hires people that work for mission rather than money. He seeks to learn from other people on the same mission that he is on who have different opinions from his so he can understand their reasoning and learn from them.
A meaningful mission, therefore, is something you can share with others. It is something that can motivate others, too.
Elon Musk, for example, wants to colonize Mars. That’s his mission. It’s bigger than “build the best car company in the world” or “build a profitable rocket company.” He has a mission that he is deeply motivated to pursue. Others get excited about that mission, too. That is the secret to his success.
How do you know if you are pursuing a mission or a goal?
As I think about the difference between mission and goals, this distinction might help:
A shared mission might start with “let’s” while a personal, less-fulfilling goal might begin with “I want.”
As an author:
- “I want to sell 1,000,000 copies of my book” is a meaningless goal.
- “Let’s come up with an idea that will inspire a million people” is a mission.
Goals work well as benchmarks on the way to a mission. You can measure progress with a specific goal or target, but a goal is not a mission. The excitement around pursuing a number or amount of money can only last so long and once you get there, it is always a let down.
A mission, on the other hand, is something you can share. You can bond together in a common journey that benefits all.
From Goals to Missions
I have a list of goals that I check and read every morning. I just went through and added “Let’s” in front of each one and rephrased each “I” as “we.”
I can’t tell you how much more excited I am about pursuing these missions. When I read them to myself, I immediately start to think about who I can help achieve these missions as well. Becoming a bestselling author felt like a default, meaningless goal. I wasn’t intensely motivated to get there. Figuring out system to become a bestselling author that I could share with others, on the other hand, gets me really excited. The thought of building a community of authors on a mission to get there gets me excited and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn along the way.