Vision and Purpose

Avthar’s Weekly Wisdom #20 (9/12/2020)

“I always shoot for the top because I always feel like, if you have a great vision, and if you think big, then you also gonna end up big. You think little, by accident no one ever has gotten big.

You have to have a very clear vision of where you want to go in your career. 

You cannot get into bodybuilding. And think that just by exercising every day, that by accident, you're just going to be a world champion. 

As I said earlier, you have to have a very clear vision and you have to see it in front of you. And then you've got to go and shoot for the stars. The bigger you shoot the further you go.”

- Arnold Schwarzenegger

This week: Vision and Purpose

Hello from New York City!

🎉 To celebrate 20 editions of this weekly newsletter, I want to go deep and talk about two important topics that aren’t talked about enough: PURPOSE and VISION.

In the world today, there’s massive amounts of anxiety, unhappiness and fear around work and life. Many people feel trapped in the rat race: chasing one thing after another in the hopes of finding lasting fulfillment.

I’m no expert, but my hypothesis is that many of us are living by society’s standards of success and happiness, rather than living with an internal scorecard: defining what’s important and meaningful to us and living life according to those values.

It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s something we were never taught to do. In school, we learned maths, science and english, but we never learned to think about the purpose of our life here on Earth, or imagine a vision we want to realize through our life’s work.

Today, I want to share some short ideas on Purpose and Vision in the hope that they help you come to a greater sense of clarity and centeredness in your life. Do share it with people young and old who you think would benefit from it.

With love and gratitude 🙏,



When I talk about purpose, I’m not talking about goals.

Goals answer the question, “WHAT?”.

Purpose answers the question, “WHY?”.

Your highest purpose is why you live your life. It’s the answer to the question, “Why am I on this Earth?”.

You might have minor purposes which feed into your overarching life purpose, such as why you work (career purpose), why you participate in family life (family purpose) and why you live in society (societal purpose).

1. Purpose as a filter

In order for anything to become successful in life, whether it's a marriage, a business venture, a friendship, it must have a purpose.

As Simon Sinek says, in the title of his brilliant book, “Start with WHY”

The reason why purpose is essential is because it acts as a filter, showing you which actions are aligned with your purpose (“good actions”) and which actions are outside your purpose (“bad actions”).

You can ask yourself, “Does doing this help me live my purpose?”. If the answer is “No”, then discard the action, but if the answer is “Hell yes!”, then you know that action is for you.

2. Elements of a purpose: Other-centric, Internal, Positive

In “The Power of Full Engagement”, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz find that purpose becomes a powerful and enduring source of energy when it has 3 characteristics:

  1. Positive

  2. Internal

  3. Other-centric

Positive, not negative

A negative purpose is a reaction to something in the world. It’s fueled by scarcity, fear and avoiding a threat. Having a negative purpose is like aiming to filling a hole in a boat. You’ll spend all your time patching the hole, but when you’re done, you won’t have sailed anywhere.

The antidote is a positive, proactive purpose. It’s a purpose that’s centered about what is important and meaningful to us. Using the boat analogy, it’s setting sail in search of adventure, discovery and charting new territory.

Internal, not external

Extrinsic purposes often come from the desire to find fulfillment in things outside ourselves: money, status or validation from others.

Internal motives come from the desire to find fulfillment within ourselves. When we act with internal purpose, we do things for their own sake, for the inherent value actions bring to our lives.

Other-centric, not self-centric

Self-centric purposes tend to start and end with ourselves and the satisfaction of our selfish desires. 

Other-centric purposes are centered around something bigger than ourselves. This could be God, the universe, or humanity as a whole. When we move beyond self to other, we find purpose in serving, giving and contributing.

3. Purpose as fuel for life

“For what am I on this Earth?”

It’s a scary question. But the good news is that the sooner you start contemplating it, the sooner your life becomes magical. The magic comes from purpose providing you with fuel for life.

I asked myself this question in my final year of college at Princeton University:

I was searching for jobs at the time and felt behind, as many of my friends had full time offers while I was still interviewing. I felt exhausted, as my life has become centered around avoiding the embarrassment and pain of not having a job after graduation.

Taking time to reflect on my purpose in life and in my career gave me renewed energy. It helped position my job search in the wider context of what I believe my purpose on earth to be and the role of my career in that. In addition to leaving me more calm and centered, it led me to start my first startup, just months later.

Purpose is spiritual energy. It quite literally makes life worth living. It gives you a reason to wake up every day and weather the storm of trials and tribulations, as you live each day with your WHY in mind.

👓 Vision

“As humans, we have something that no other animal has… IMAGINATION.

And what imagination allows you to do is to see it, before it actually happens.

- Eric Thomas

A more common word for a vision is a ‘dream’.

A vision is a picture of the world that you want to paint. It’s the impact you want to have. It’s the change you want to make. It’s the problem you want to solve and the success you want to achieve.

1. Clarity of vision

While I’m not sure about the power of “the Secret” and “the law of attraction”, I have experienced the benefits of having a clear vision for what you want to achieve in life and in business. After all, if you don’t know where you want to go, how will you ever get there?

Arnold Schwartzenegger credits having a clear vision for his success as a bodybuilding world champion, movie star and rise to Governor of California in the USA. His speech about growing up in post-World War II Austria and coming to the USA to fulfill his vision is one that I often return to because it demonstrates the power of having a clear vision.

INTERVIEWER: In one word. One word only. How did a small-town boy from Austria become one of the most famous people on Earth?

ARNOLD: Dream!

I was poor because I didn’t have anything (growing up). We had no money, no things, no TV, no refrigerator as kids. But I was rich, because I had a dream. A dream of becoming the greatest bodybuilder. A dream to use bodybuilding as a means to get into film. But I had no idea that it would go as far as it did.

Author and motivational speaker, Eric Thomas, credits clarity of vision for his rise from homelessness and looking in trash cans for food, to his career as one of the top motivational speakers in the world. He challenges his audience to imagine what their dream “looks like, smells like, tastes like”.

He goes on to say:

“I want your dream to be so clear that when you wake up in the morning, all you gotta do is step in your dream.

Every day you wake up, if you’re gonna have passion, energy and drive, you've got to start with that vision.”

2. Vision and Purpose: How do they relate?

Vision and purpose are intricately related. 

The way I think about it is that vision is external, it’s about the impact you want to make in the world and what success looks like for you. 

Your purpose, on the other hand, is internal, it’s about why you’re living, why you’re working and what you were put on this earth to do.

You realize your vision by living your purpose.

For example, right now I consider my purpose in life to express myself fully and serve others selflessly. In contrast, my vision is to live a peaceful life of contribution.

3. My vision: From small-town South Africa, to the Ivy League and New York tech startups

I’ve learned that having a vision is a part of my DNA. In college when I took a test to determine my entrepreneurial personality, my results came back as “Visionary - someone focused on the big picture and the impact that they and their company will have on the world”.

Along with luck, having a clear vision played a big role in helping me achieve the “success” I have today. It’s taken me from growing up in a small town in post-apartheid South Africa, to the upper echelons of academic world at Princeton University and now to pursuing mastery and contributing in the world of technology companies in New York City, USA.

Here’s more insight into my vision at each stage:

Growing up: Scientist

I grew up as a kid in post-apartheid South Africa, I had a vision to study abroad in the US or UK from a very young age. I loved maths and science in school and so I thought studying abroad would give me the best shot at becoming a scientist. It led me to work as hard as I could in school in the hopes of one day achieving that vision. That vision led me to represent South Africa at international science olympiads and meet other young, ambitious kids from around the world who were actually going to study at the places that I wanted to in the USA and UK. It made me believe that my vision was possible and that I was on the right path.

Coming of age: Engineering and Africa

With a lot of luck, I ended up at an international school, UWC Costa Rica. Following my curiosity and getting exposed to entrepreneurship, led me to want to pivot my vision toward that. When applying to college in the USA, my essays centered around that vision: How I wanted to use my engineering education to empower people through technology in my home country South Africa and other developing countries around the world. It turned out that the vision was compelling and I was off to Princeton University, where I studied Computer Science.

Graduating college: Technology Entrepreneur

My propensity to focus on vision and talk about the world not as it is, but as it could be, became clear in college. It helped me win the Princeton startup pitch competition on two separate occasions, and helped me found and raise capital for my first technology startup, Afari.

The key takeaway here is to show you that your vision might change as you experience the world and learn more about yourself, but the important thing is to recalibrate and keep moving toward your vision.

4.The Destination and The Journey

There’s a popular saying that I’ve seen on motivational posters on Instagram: 

“It’s about the journey and not about the destination.” 

While that’s true in a certain context, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t define a vision for your life and your work.

Having a vision that’s worthy of realizing actually helps you enjoy the process.

Arnold Schwarzenegger explains why:

“You got to have a clear vision, and then go after that vision. Why is that important? Because it brings joy to you. 

Every set that I did, every rep that I did, every 500 pounds, I lifted, every thousand sit ups that it did, brought me joy, because it took me one step closer to turning that vision into reality

📚Resources to help you

How can you better define your purpose and vision? Here are the some resources to help you get a better understanding of your purpose and vision:

Personally, I found exercises in the following books by Stanford design professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans to be extremely helpful in defining my purpose and vision for both my life and work:

  • “Designing Your Life” [Book] - See chapter 3 on “Work view and Life view”

  • “Designing Your Work Life” [Book]

I also synthesized my experiences and lessons on vision and purpose as they relate to your work and your strengths in the following articles:

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I hope you have a week full of success, happiness and peace. 

Once again, thank you so much for reading!

With gratitude and love,