Author’s Note #1: Why I wrote this book
In February of 2012, I completed my initial purpose discovery journey, left my career in Silicon Valley and began to live a markedly different life, one driven and enchanted by my soul’s purpose. Over the next few years, it led me to write books, guide others on their journey, help build a global community of purpose practitioners, travel internationally giving keynotes, and deliver purpose programs for large organizations like LinkedIn, Johnson & Johnson, Google and the United States Marine Corps. I was living proof of the power of purpose. I had meaning, love, impact, success and a deep sense of fulfillment.
However, a persistent unanswered question remained in my heart. Where is home? I thought my soul should have that answer. I was in regular dialogue with it about how to live and serve and it was typically generous with guidance. But on this question, it was curiously quiet, resulting in me being unable to feel fully at home and at peace.
At the end of 2013, I had just moved to Berkeley, California and had gone through three rough romantic breakups in as many years. I was living in a town where I knew virtually no one and so the question loomed large. Where is my soil? Who are my people? I was from Illinois and had lived in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but none of these places felt like home. And here I was again, starting over in a new town feeling adrift and disconnected.
In retrospect, I was newly encountering the collective aspects of purpose. Purpose isn’t just about me and my gifts, but it also shows up in how I relate to my family, my community and my soil. Soul and soil share an etymological root in the way human and humus do. To be human is to be of the earth, of the humus, of the rich biota that is living soil. And yet, I was a human without soil. An airplant of sorts, miraculous pulling in what I needed from the air and sun, but alone and longing for a shared history and belonging.
To inhabit one’s soul or one’s purpose is to inhabit one’s place on the planet and one’s role in community, society and the economy, in the way other species inhabit an ecological niche. They thrive in certain climates and altitudes and perish in others. In this way, to be a human and not feel at home is disturbing and unsettling. Indigenous tribes, such as the Maori and Dine (Navajo), bury their placenta ceremonially to mark this sacred connection. There is a tribe in Mexico whose phrase for “where are you from?” translates to “where is your placenta buried?” The Welsh offer a word that illuminated my uneasiness - hiraeth, a spiritual longing tinged with soulful grief, an unspecific homesickness, a nostalgia for ancient times and places to which we can never return. Perhaps these are times and places that never were. (BBC, 2021)
At first, I tried to distract myself from this question with my work, dating, hiking, and festivals. I thought I would eventually learn to love living in the Bay Area and believed it would be where I would marry and start a family.
In 2016, Stephanie, my then girlfriend and now wife, and I started receiving upsetting news - our closest friends we’re leaving the Bay. They had little ones and elected to move closer to nature and family and not be buried under the Bay’s notoriously high housing costs. As the majority of our work could be done virtually and a good portion of our community had flown the coup, we found ourselves asking the question together, “Where is home?”
We wanted a place where we could put down roots, build community and start a family. We wanted a place where Steph could be warm and surf. We wanted a place that felt real, connected, permanent and less of a bubble of inequality, disconnection and transience. We considered the Southeast, Southern California, Spain and Central America.
When I sat with the option of leaving the United States, I just couldn’t picture myself doing it. For all of our nation’s problems, and as much as I like sangria in a plaza and fish tacos on the beach, I couldn’t leave. There is something of my soul in this soil. Midwestern lakes, corn festivals, street fairs, baseball, barbecue, the blues, Jeeps, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Each had claimed a piece of my soul.
This much I knew. However, it seemed like at least once a week, I learned something about how my home was falling apart. As it turns out most of our national family is struggling:
And we’re not just sad, lonely and broke, but increasingly find ourselves at odds with each other. We have beefs between conservatives and liberals, Boomers and Millenials, Whites and BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and cis-gendered heterosexuals, rural and urban. The list goes on and on, and points to a clear lack of integrity. Our twin purpose “E Pluribus Unum” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are increasingly not the reality for the people who live here. We are not free, healthy, happy or connected. And we’re pissed. One in three American believe violence may be necessary for our political goals (NPR, 2020). Beyond being pissed about our politics and differences, we're pissed at the system. We're pissed at the lie.
We were all sold the lie - that in the United States, with hard work, anyone can carve out a middle class life of comfort and security. With income mobility at historic lows (WEF, 2020), each day more of us are waking up to the betrayal.
In light of this, how could I leave? Leaving is what cowards do. Our shared purpose means something to me and it enrages me that we aren’t living it, when we all know it’s possible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I jumped ship. So we decided to stay, and also experiment with a new part of the country.
After we married in the summer of 2018, we moved to San Diego, a diverse, but segregated 2nd tier purple city (about equal parts conservative and liberal). Steph would be warm and close to the beach, and we’d have our chance of building a life, family and community in a place with unspeakable natural beauty and rich diversity.
We moved to a working class neighborhood near the ocean, enjoyed the beach, margaritas, yoga, and burritos. As I started to connect with my neighbors, I saw good people working their butts off, just about every damn minute of the week. One neighbor drove a cab at all hours and struggled to fit in an hour or two a week to kick the soccer ball around with his sons in the alley. I talked to another who worked at Home Depot. He had been there 5 years and made $12/hour. When interviewing cleaning services, I asked how much the cleaners made. Rarely was it higher than $15/hr.
Now outside of the affluent bubble of the Bay Area, I was face-to-face with what it meant to live and work in a regular city. My heart broke. Almost everyone was hand to mouth. The living wage required to support a family of 4 was $40/hr (MIT, 2021), yet few jobs paid more than $15/hr. This meant most households had extended families and multiple incomes.
For those who weren’t part of a solid family or community, there was the street. With plenty of cheap crack, meth and oxycontin and warm weather, San Diego was brimming with folks who had opted out of the struggle/subsistence wage cycle.
Although we certainly had plenty of inequality and poverty in the Bay, it hit me differently in San Diego. Perhaps I had found our nation’s pain in San Diego. Perhaps it was because something had opened up in my heart. It’s hard to say, but the effect was shame and betrayal. Each struggling parent and street kid felt like a personal failure to me.
San Diego gave me a unique view into our hourglass-shaped economy (Salon, 2011), with my San Francisco and New York white collar friends making $200k/yr+ and posting photos of vacations in Vail and Bali and my San Diego community scraping by and barbecuing in the park.
How could I call myself an adult, a citizen, and be ok with this? I certainly couldn’t ignore it. So I let it in. Throughout 2019, our collective suffering began to teach me. It showed me how the vast majority of us (even the wealthy ones) were living lives of quiet desperation. It showed me that I was not alone in feeling betrayed by our nation’s promise.
As 2020 began, I thought I was through the worst of my heartbreak. After all, I was working with great clients building cultures of belonging and purpose. Steph and I moved to an awesome home in a walkable community. We were making friends and were excited about starting a family. Ha! Enter COVID-19.
Like most folks, we masked up, sequestered, and helped keep our local businesses alive. The transition to work-from-home was harder on me than Steph, as I love being in the office with my colleagues, giving keynotes and mixing it up at conferences, karaoke bars, street fairs and festivals. With these normal social outlets closed down, all of my attention poured into our nation’s crisis of soul.
For me and I reckon many of you, early 2020 was a cascade of soul-piercing heartbreaks. The impeachment, chaotic pandemic response and Democratic primaries revealed how much hatred was in my house. We were falling apart. My family and friends either avoided the topic of politics or avoided each other. When we did engage, we talked past each other, each inhabiting wildly different worlds, each with different facts, beliefs, conclusions and visions for the path forward. As if that wasn’t enough...
On Tuesday, May 26, 2020, I watched the last 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life. I spent the next couple days horizontal, on the couch and in disbelief. It felt like 1995, the year my brother, Carson, died in a car accident. I remember multiple times a day I’d ask myself if that really just happened. Was he really gone? Is this real? Am I awake?
George’s death hit me in a similar fashion. Did I just witness a white man calmly kill a black man? When a grown man calls out for his dead mother, does that not signal something is wrong? Did his body going limp not suggest he should stop? Did seeing him evacuate his bowels not signal a change to the restraint approach?
Derek Chauvin’s facial expression is burned on my heart. My wife and I were frequent protesters in the Bay, and were well read on our nation’s twin genocides, slavery, apartheid and the mechanics of systemic racism. We had engaged in inclusion and diversity trainings. And on the surface, George Floyd's was the latest name added the long list of unarmed BIPOC people murdered by police, such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Auhmad Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
What was new to me was Derek’s face, and its unflinching steady commitment to murder. His face is white and middle-aged, just like mine. It is the face of a man who most of the time believed he was serving the common good, just like mine.
How many times have I hardened my heart and turned away from the suffering of my Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian friends? How many times did I tolerate racism, sexism and homophobia? How many times did I join in by telling jokes and poking fun? How many times did I let the love drain from my face like Derek’s, as I justified the suffering of others as natural, normal and just the way things are?
And then it hit me. Now I know why I don’t feel at home in the U.S. and why I can’t live in another country - the fulfillment of our purpose is my responsibility. As an adult, as a citizen, I can’t just take the blue pill, put blinders on and try to live a normal life in Illinois or New York or the West Coast. I can’t feel at home or at peace when this bullshit is happening in any room in my house. I can’t feel at home or at peace until we activate our sacred purpose and fix these problems.
Our Twin Purpose
E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) - to honor the value of every life, no matter what they look like, how able they are, what they do, how much money they make, who they worship or love or who their daddy is; to perform the sacred task of activating unity in this diverse nation; to actively and continually transform pluribus into unum; to no longer be content as a mixed salad or melting pot, but to weave a diverse tapestry of belonging and celebration, where our open hearts value and love every life and culture; to celebrate this diversity as we bind ourselves together "...indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - to ensure everyone has ready and affordable access to the basic building blocks of life - healthy food, clean soil, air and water, healthcare, education and housing (life); to ensure each of us is free and liberated from the constraints of systemic oppression, limiting circumstances and beliefs (liberty); to ensure each of us is fulfilled by discovering and activating our purpose in our career and life (the pursuit of happiness).
That’s the heart of this book. This book is the declaration: “not in our house”. I do not have the right to call myself an adult or a citizen, if I am not in action bringing healing, justice and flourishing to my people.
This book is also a book for leaders. You. We live in a multicultural society that requires new leadership skills. To be a leader in almost any organization is to be one who leads diverse teams effectively. And to lead diverse teams effectively is to play a critical role in activating the purpose of the United States. This book presents a vision for what it means to be a leader in the 21st century.
Luckily, as the fates have it, we have at our fingertips a proven pathway to do all of this. Yes, there are many things our governments, religions and schools have done, are doing and can do to fulfill on our sacred purpose and heal the soul of our nation. This book is not about any of that. It is about what each of us can do to activate purpose and belonging and fulfill our sacred national purpose at work.
It’s a guidebook for leaders who want to harvest the rich meaning in their careers, activate their purpose, and enjoy soulful connection, kinship and belonging at work. It’s a resource for leaders who want to fulfill their legacy, activate the higher purpose of their organization and play a critical role fulfilling the purpose of these United States.
Author’s Note #2: Reasons Not to Read This Book
If you're someone who wants to read a regular business book by written by a pedigreed expert who pours old ideas into Venn diagrams and overly simplified Monday morning quarterbacked case studies, you're going to be disappointed. As my wife will tell you, my sensibilities are more aligned with vagrants and outlaws than your typical businessperson.
I don't like restaurants, sitcoms, business books, watching sports, gossip or car culture. I like it when I get holes in my clothes. Fine dining to me is sitting on a curb eating a burrito. I like napping in parks and bringing a tumbler full of scotch to places it doesn't belong. Nuanced opinions on "hot brunch spots" and wineries cause my teeth to grind and fists to clench.
My idea of a good time is norm violation. I like blasting hip-hop in rich, white neighborhoods, slow dancing with strangers in dive bars, faking lover's quarrels in parties, cross-dressing at weddings and running through concerts on all fours like a wolverine. Sometimes the law gets involved. If this doesn't sound like someone you want to guide you into the sacred heart of our nation or inform your thinking about business and society, I don't blame you.
Although I write books, I have trouble writing normal ones. Planet on Purpose (2018) was equal parts memoir, research review, leadership pathway, philosophical musing on the purpose of the cosmos and political treatise. This book is no different in that regard - it's part leadership book, part national renewal, part memoir, and part white walk of shame. If that's a little too out there for you, I don't blame you. Feel free to give this book to someone else.
If you saw the subtitle of this book and wondered, “Wait, what? We have a sacred purpose? I don't have time for this nonsense.”
Especially if you’re just trying to keep your organization alive, or experiencing grief or confusion watching the world being remade each minute by viruses, politicians, technology and market forces. Or maybe you’ve had it with the U.S. Maybe you are sick and tired of it bullying, drone-striking and occupying other nations to secure cheap labor and resources. Maybe you’ve had it with our preaching democracy and freedom abroad, while leaving two genocides (5-15M Natives and 35M Africans) unacknowledged and unhealed, while enacting a de facto apartheid at home, such that African American families have $.01 of wealth for every dollar of wealth European American families have (Northwestern, 2020), and are regularly murdered by police. I get it. You have every reason to tune this idea out.
But something tells me that deep down you actually do love this country, or at minimum its ideals. I think you would have left already if you didn’t.
I believe that you know that we do indeed have a powerful and noble purpose. I believe you’re reading this because you know we can transcend our differences and make our purpose real. I believe you know that our national purpose is not just words, but something worth fighting and dying for. And yet, the country we live in is marred by suffering, mired in hate, and has drifted far from its ideals.
Extremism and authoritarianism are not just on the rise in our nation - they are global (New York Times, 2021). We may be tempted to say that the rise of autocratic and right wing regimes in the UK, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, Turkey, North Korea or Sweden are not our concerns. We may say that our founders’ words mean nothing to the rest of the world. But rest assured they do, even if they don’t recognize it. The United States is a proving ground for what is possible.
It is on us to live our purpose, to solve for unity, prosperity and belonging. We can show ourselves that we have the medal and grit to deliver on our founders’ words. We can show the world what is possible. I know that in your heart, you want to see our national purpose fulfilled - to liberate human potential, to create a prosperous and equitable multicultural democratic society, and to show all of humanity that, yes, such things exist and are possible.
Once we fulfill on this sacred purpose as a nation, we pave the way for planetary unity. Alliances and coalitions, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, NATO, the United Nations, OECD, etc. are merely the beginning steps of ensuring that the Earth’s human population, diverse ecology and interdependent economy thrive. When we harness our collective potential, imagine how much more goodness, truth and beauty we can enjoy.
Unfortunately, 85% of the world’s workforce is disengaged, phoning it in, and resulting in $7T loss in productivity (Gallup, 2017). Now consider all the amazing things the 15% of us who are engaged have created. Now multiply that by 6. That’s what’s possible when we ignite purpose, belonging and flourishing worldwide. Imagine 8B fully activated souls making their highest contribution, exploring the unknown, celebrating the wonders of nature, mining the depths of our wisdom and unleashing our unlimited fount of creativity. But first, we have to get our shit together as a nation. Then we can show the way. It begins with us.
E Pluribus Unum (From many, one). Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
If these words do not inspire you, if you don’t see the good and sacred in these words, if you don’t recognize that there is a place in every human heart that is rooting for the United States to make it and light the path, give this book to someone else. You won’t find anything here of use to you.
“...one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
"In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be..."
Martin Luther King Jr.
"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Table of Contents:
Author's Note #1: Why I Wrote This Book
Author's Note #2: Reasons Not to Read This Book
Ch. 1: Only Business Can Save Our Nation
Ch. 2: The Bison Coda
Ch. 3: The Three Omens of the Bison
Ch. 4: A Dieable Why
Ch. 5: Culture is a Matter of Life and Death
Ch. 6: The Science of Culture Change
Ch. 7: Principles and Emergence
Ch. 8: The Fifth Estate: Purpose Work Nation
Appendix A: Our National Covenant and Contract
Appendix B: Social Learning Programs
Appendix C: Purpose Activation Resources
Chapters will be published each week. Subscribe below to receive an email notification of newly available chapters.