You Too Can Be More Mission-Driven in Your Career!
In December 2019, I quit my job at Pinterest.
I’d had a great run. I spent 12 years building, marketing, and selling products to help advertisers spend their money as efficiently as possible. I got my MBA while working full-time. I built a very comfortable life.
I really loved online advertising, at first. I was building the primary monetization model for the internet. And I loved the internet. I felt the internet was an incredible force for good in the world. I still think it is.
But over time, the internet just got bigger and bigger, and internet advertising grew to become the largest part of advertising. And it actually ate the internet. It became the only game in town.
I (and a lot of other people) started to see some really big downsides of unregulated, unrestrained online advertising. We were a big part of getting Donald Trump elected.
I’d had enough. I began to feel this deep sense of dread about the work I was doing.
I began to question myself more, and I started to feel like a different person. In my mind, I was a problem.
That’s when I knew I needed to make a change. I felt like my sanity required it. Much of my material existence was built on it, but this didn’t matter to me anymore. I’d figure it out.
Fast forward a few months…I have gotten myself back in balance.
(I wrote about some of this recently — the ways I’ve found to live a more fulfilling life.)
While going through this fairly painful process, I came across a very interesting interview where a man described a recent life experience:
- He got to a place where he felt out of balance.
- He noticed that something in his life was out of whack and started to feel insecure and beat himself up. The root cause of all bad decisions, he explained, is one’s sense of self-worth, which comes from how you‘re raised and what was validated by your friends and family.
- He projected his pain onto people he loved to make himself feel better.
- He listened to his instincts, made some changes, and got himself back in balance.
Understanding this alignment and balance, he described, is what put him in a position to be excellent.
This was an incredibly emotional moment. It felt like he was speaking to me.
What Chamath was describing was my experience.
The way he responded at first, was how I responded, at first.
The consequences he received from this automatic response and the subsequent adjustment he made to listen… that he did not dismiss his own reaction, this time, and instead interpreted the chain of events as a huge wake up call to get his life back in balance. We had this in common.
I felt this enormous sense of relief, of validation. I felt like I was on the right path, that I was doing the right thing, that I was facing my fears and pushing forward.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, this new path I’d chosen, but that was never my goal. I just needed a sign that I was headed in the right direction. And that’s what Chamath’s story delivered for me in this moment.
(To be honest, I’m not done cleaning up the pieces from this, but I’m happy to say I’m already more engaged than ever in creating a richer life.)
I’d like to share more with you about the person who said this.
Though I don’t know him personally so I don’t know whether this is 100% true, I will take Chamath’s public statements at face value and explore his thoughts and actions. Let’s explore for a bit the life of a man who discovered how to live a very big, high pressure life that is fully aligned with his values.
Enter Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire investor
Chamath Palihapitiya, is the CEO of Social Capital. He made a fortune as an early Facebook executive running the team responsible for user growth. Since he left in 2011, he has become an outspoken critic of Facebook and its disruptive role in the world. He is also a critic of our economic system, sharing his views in conferences, on Twitter, and through frequent TV appearances.
I rediscovered Chamath from a recent CNBC interview, which has since been viewed more than 10 million times. He was standing up for Main Street over Wall Street in a debate over whether we should let US airlines go bankrupt.
His argument was economic. He said letting the airlines go bankrupt would allow the system to work as intended. With bankruptcy, the wealthy investors and hedge funds would pay a heavy price, as he described, and that is exactly what should happen.
The interviewer countered that “no one deserves to get wiped out” but Chamath maintained that the costs of the airlines not going bankrupt would be far, far worse. After all, they had siphoned virtually all of their profits into buybacks to enrich their executives and shareholders.
If there were no consequences for such behavior, Chamath argued convincingly, this trend would only grow the next time. This would lead to much, much larger bubbles, more inequality, and worse outcomes for society. I was intrigued, and I couldn’t agree more with his point of view. I needed to learn more about him.
From Facebook to moonshot investment firm
Chamath Palihapitiya did not grow up rich, he actually grew up in poverty as an immigrant from Sri Lanka to Canada.
He became rich the way most “self-made” people do — through hard work and being in the right place at the right time.
His day job is now running an investment firm he founded, Social Capital, which funds moonshots like curing cancer, fixing climate change, and exploring space. Social Capital is mission and financially driven — it drives long term economic and social returns on its capital. With this focus, the firm has done incredibly well, outperforming the market significantly (33% Gross IRR from 2011–2019 vs 15% for the S&P 500) while building transformational companies.
Looking deeper at motivations
His focus on the long term and on social returns fly in the face of current trends, and this may lead to sustainable competitive advantages, but this doesn’t seem to be what’s driving Mr. Palihapitiya. What appears to be driving him is the mission. Doing the right thing, at scale, and staying aligned with his values.
His 2019 annual letter contains a section titled “Living a life of purpose and forgiveness” where he says:
“Today, it’s not just the stock market but also the fragmentation, polarization and judgement that are at all time highs. Is this really the hallmark of a society that is progressive? No. It’s the remnants of unhappiness, resentment and anger that personify the Gilded Age.”
He addresses these problems on a number of levels — business, psychological, societal. The letter also provides the following, very human-centric advice:
“Be emotionally rich and available — It’s worthwhile and teaches you to have the patience to be compassionate versus harsh. Then observe what happens when you follow this advice.
Be coherent and honest with other people — It makes life much fairer for both yourself and the person in front of you. When you practice honesty with compassion, amazing relationships will be born.
Take the advice of others but carefully consider how it applies to you — What works for others may not work for you.”
You could argue that it’s much easier to be this way when you’re already rich, and this is true. But most people who are rich do not act this way — they do not approach the world with his generous worldview. There is a reason it’s getting a lot of attention. Is it possible his success is coming because of his focus on values?
Chamath Palihapitiya is incredibly rich and incredibly fortunate, not just in money but in his life because he is focused on maintaining alignment between his values and his goals.
Further, he is where he is not because he was always this way, but because he did the work to continue to reinvent himself.
It was a choice that he made through making mistakes and struggling. He kept in touch with his values, where he came from, and continues to learn and grow from his mistakes.
To summarize, Chamath inspires me because:
- He thinks and acts very, very big. He uses his considerable resources to create a better world, with a clear vision for the way it should be.
- He sees and accepts the world as it is. He does not wear rose-colored glasses, he is open about his conflicts and distorted worldview.
- He is winning. He unabashedly uses his wealth, his unique skills, and his advantages to win the game while making it better at the same time.
Over time, he’s learned that your greatest fulfillment comes from living a life that is aligned with your values.
He invites me, you, and all of us to find ways to live our own lives from a similar place of alignment. I’m listening and learning.
I’m sharing my thoughts, my journey, and my inspiration, in real-time with you as I work toward building a more mission-driven career.
I’m publishing regularly now to connect with people like you who feel like the world is sick, are re-examining your role in it, and are taking steps to find a better way. I’m right there with you.
On Tuesday, I wrote about our responsibility to think bigger and what we can learn from the Black Lives Matter movement.
I’m on a mission to find the wiser way to live my life. The wiser version of me. And to help you to do the same.
Are you on a similar journey? Please subscribe, connect on LinkedIn, and reach out. I’d love to hear from you.