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Stop Sprinting: Find Purpose and Meaning, Take Downtime

Ask yourself: Why am I pushing myself so hard? It's time for you to look at the big picture of your life and get some perspective.
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I watched an amazing documentary the other night called When I Walk by a guy named Jason DeSilva, who filmed himself going from a total able-bodied person who traveled the world--to getting Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 25. I watched him go from running to walking, to using a cane, a walker, a wheelchair. He filmed his deterioration from 2006 until now and his film aired at Sundance this past year.

It got me thinking a lot about my purpose here on earth. What am I here for? Why am I pushing myself so hard? Why am I putting these self-imposed deadlines on myself when it could all end tomorrow or go downhill fast when it’s entirely out of my control, like it did for Jason?

You're on this planet for a short time, consider that.

But then I thought about all the good that I wanted to do on this planet while I am here for only a short period of time. I’ve always wanted to do something productive and have an impact. I want to help people. I want to help girls. I want to help girls and women. I want to help girls and women around the world go to school and go to work and have opportunities they don’t currently have. I know I can help the most number of people if I push myself and build my business that helps girls and women. This way, I can help people on my own terms.

Sometimes I forget why I am working so hard. But then I remember.

I also want to travel and see as much of the world that I can before who knows what happens. I don’t want to feel guilty about that. There is pressure to work, work, work 24/7--but for what? Money?

I also realized that of course it’s not about the money. It’s about what money can do to create the most impact. Look at Bill Gates and The Gates Foundation.

I keep going back and forth. I want to be as productive as I possibly could be and have the most impact but at what cost? Look at Steve Jobs. Yes, he will live on as an absolute visionary but I don’t think he wanted to leave at age 50.

Step back and think hard about what you want to be doing.

Then I thought about the word "meaning." What does this all mean? I feel like the only way we can decipher the true meaning of what we're doing is to stop, take a step back, and look at what we’re working on from a different or new lens or with more perspective. It's a strange paradox, right, to stop in order to keep going?  

You know when you actually stop working and all of a sudden your best ideas come? You’re able to look outside of the bubble when you are in a different environment, in a different country, or in a different culture. Traveling is key! Getting away is key. Or you can simply put yourself in a new/different environment to spark something new and to access a different meaning inside you.

Living a purposeful, meaningful life can be had using this technique: intense work sprints then total downtime, followed by intense work sprints and total downtime. And so on. You can be most productive and most fulfilled this way.

Purpose and meaning equals intense work sprints, followed by total downtime.

So you achieve purpose in your life by sprinting toward a self-imposed finish line, trying to build the most impactful, lasting business you can. (I’m thinking about my close friend Ben Rattray who founded Change.org as I write this.) And you achieve meaning through the downtime you create for yourself, via traveling, weekend getaways, etc.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is how my life is already. Perhaps it's why I feel like I’ve been able to be as productive as I could be in my years, and launch WILD, co-launch THINX, help launch Super Sprowtz with my twin sis, and write my book (having an identical twin sister who is equally motivated helps).

I think about my dear friends Matt Brimer, Jonathan Swerdlin, Graham Hill, Zach Iscol, and Daniel Husserl, who all founded/co-founded great companies (General Assembly, Constellation Care, LifeEdited, Hire Purpose, Event CRU and Aellon, respectively). Same thing! Intense work sprints to fulfill their purpose and then total downtime to find meaning and get inspired. There is no such thing as 9 to 5. It’s balls to the wall for 2, 3, 4, 5 weeks straight and then no phones/computers allowed for 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 days straight. This is the time for stuff to sink in and evaluate. And find meaning in all of it.   

Wow, it’s all making sense now.

Do you feel the same way? Think about your life and how you are finding purpose and meaning. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

Last updated: Nov 21, 2013

MIKI AGRAWAL | Columnist | serial entrepreneur

Miki Agrawal is a serial social entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and television personality. She founded the farm-to-table alternative pizza concept called Wild in New York City and partnered with Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh to open the concept in Las Vegas. She was a recipient of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival's Disruptive Innovation Award. Agrawal is also a partner in Super Sprowtz, a children's media company. Her book, Do Cool Sh*t: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business, and Live Happily Ever After, came out in August 2013.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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