Author’s Note #1: Who this book is for
This book is for the evolutionary leader who knows that business as usual is broken and that they have a bigger role to play in the world. If you know that chaos of climate change, inequality and polarization and the knowledge that Black people are regularly murdered by police during traffic stops, mean that something new must happen, both inside of you and the world, you're in the right place.
As such, this book is a bridge. It spans two worlds, one that is oppressive, exploitative and violent, where wealth, power and freedom are concentrated in the hands of the few, to a world that is purposeful, connected, just, creative, peaceful and prosperous. If recent events in our nation have made you more curious about who you are in the face of this chaos and the great chasm between it and a flourishing future, you are in the right place. This book for leaders who want to sleep well at night, who want to be proud of how they are showing up newly to remake the world.
Also, as I am a white man, and white men are over indexed in leadership positions, you will notice that I often speak directly to the explicit and implicit whiteness and maleness of leadership, capitalism and our nation as a whole. This is not to say a leader who identifies as a woman, or is from the BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ communities will find nothing of value here, just that I won't always be speaking inclusively of all leaders. My goal is not to exclude anyone, but rather to call in those who currently have the most power and influence.
Author's Note #2: 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 organizations like LinkedIn, Johnson & Johnson, Stanford and the United States Marine Corps. I was living proof of the power of purpose. I had meaning, romance, 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, and natal, nation and nature do. To be human is to be ensouled, born of the earth, of the humus, to belong to the 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 were 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, employees and employers, rural and urban. The list goes on and on, and points to a clear lack of integrity. Our purpose - "all [people] are created equal", “E Pluribus Unum” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” - is increasingly not the reality for the people who live here. We are not free, equal, 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, hiking 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 in a nation with two unacknowledged and unhealed genocides (5-15M Natives and 35M Africans). I can't feel at home in a place that calls us to to kill, oppress, rape and then forget any of it happened and continues to happen. I can’t feel at home or at peace until we activate our sacred purpose and fix our problems.
We are a nation of ideas and laws, constituted by the world's peoples, not a singular people, faith or nation. At the heart of this constitution is framework for cooperation, a set of principles by which a country of immense beauty, wealth, diversity and imagination may find guidance and refuge.
Our sacred purpose: equality for all, unity in our diversity, flourishing
All [people] are created equal - We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all people belong here, have dignity, rights and a clear path to fulfill their potential regardless of their gender, skin color, sexuality, what they look like, how able they are, what they do, how much money they make, how they worship or love or who their daddy is.
E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) - We perform the sacred task of activating unity in this diverse nation; to actively and continually transform pluribus into unum; not to be a melting pot, nor a mixed salad, but a weave, a diverse tapestry of belonging and celebration, where our open hearts value and love every life, contribution 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 - We build institutions 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).
However articulate, our nation's purpose has yet to be consecrated, made sacred, enduring and real. It must be ministered, shaped into form, function and experience. It has to be seen, felt and measured. If we are to live it, to call ourselves citizens, we must also atone for our failure to consecrate our purpose, heal the impacts of this gross negligence, and ensure our purpose becomes real for all citizens. This consecration will require baptism, atonement, ongoing ritual and an entirely new way of conducting ourselves as a society, government and economy.
That’s the heart of this book. This book is the declaration: “not in our house”. We do not have the right to call ourselves adults or citizens, much less leaders, if we are not consecrating our purpose and bringing healing, justice and flourishing to all our people.
Further, we live in a multicultural society that requires new leadership skills. To be a leader in any organization is to be one who meets the world as it is, warts and all, plants a flag in the future and declaring what it must be. They then lead a diverse team to achieve it. As such, this book is a resource for leaders who want to do just that, to fulfill their legacy, activate the higher purpose of their organization and play a critical role fulfilling the purpose of these United States.
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 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.
Author’s Note #3: 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 new data over old ideas, you're going to be disappointed. I hate business books as a rule. I find them to be largely a collection of capitalist fan fiction written by folks who never really understood capitalism's central narrative, or own and take responsibility for its history. Thus, a basic business book cannot address capitalism's deep flaws, nor see the power and possibility of capitalism done right. If you'd prefer to stay away from capitalism's troubled past and present, this book won't serve you.
I do want you to read this book, but only if you are ready to examine every single assumption about your life, career, capitalism, citizenship, worth and legacy. Do I have your permission to question your most deeply held beliefs? If not, then put this book down.
But something tells me you're here for it. Something tells me that playing someone else's game isn't enough for you anymore, and at least some piece of you is ready to find out what that is. Some piece of you is no longer content with your 401k, respectable market share and good enough culture. Some piece of you is ready to bet the pot. That's the piece of you that I'm speaking to. If you don't like that piece to be spoken to so plainly and directly, there is a sea of mediocre fan fiction awaiting you elsewhere.
Although I write books, I have trouble writing normal ones. Planet on Purpose (2018) was equal parts memoir, research review, leadership pathway, political treatise, and philosophical musing on the purpose of the cosmos. This book is no different in that regard - it's part memoir, part leadership book, part white reckoning and part battle for national redemption. If that's a little too out there, I don't blame you.
Especially, if you’re just trying to hang onto your job, keep your organization alive, or are experiencing grief or confusion watching the world being remade each minute by viruses, politicians, technology and market forces, diving into a book like this might not be a good use of your time.
Or maybe you’ve had it with our nation. Maybe you are sick and tired of our settler colonialism at home and our resource imperialism abroad - our bullying, drone-striking and occupying other nations to secure cheap labor and resources. Maybe you’ve had it with our preaching democracy and freedom to the world, while leaving two genocides unacknowledged and unhealed, and enforcing 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. However, we can't love something if we don't know it, feel it's pain and see its possibilities. Loving something is not just about celebrating what is great, but critically examining what is unhealed, hurting and standing in the way of its destiny. It's adopting the posture of Aretha Franklin, U2, or Johnny Cash celebrating her richness, glory and freedom, while remaining critical of her failures and advocating for healing, justice and restitution.
Although this is primarily a book for leaders in the United States, it is for the world. What ails us, ails the world. 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 regimes and right wing factions in the UK, Brazil, India, 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. Some part of every heart believes the United States is a proving ground for what is possible.
It is on us to live our purpose, to solve for unity, equity, prosperity and belonging. We can show ourselves that we have the medal and grit to deliver on our founders’ words. 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 do more than prove we're not full of shit, but regain the right to co-lead the world and pave the way for planetary unity. Alliances and coalitions, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, NATO, the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, OECD, etc. are merely the beginning of what is possible for planetary thriving. While our influence is not what it was after WWII, Americanism, as quasi-democratic, capitalist idea of liberty and self-expression has become very much a mainstay in many cultures throughout the world. We still have global influence, and can show the world that we are no longer selfish adolescents, but adults who care for one another while remaining free and self-expressed. When we harness our collective potential, imagine how much more goodness, truth and beauty will be possible.
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.
There is a reason Bruce Springsteen sold twice as many albums internationally as he did in the States. There is a reason President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the first year of his Presidency, despite having accomplished very little. He wasn't a notable humanitarian, nor an accomplished legislator.
President Obama won the Presidency and Nobel Peace Prize, because, deep down, there is a place in each person that wants the United States to live up to its purpose and promise. President Obama is the embodiment of the American promise. He is living proof that a nation of immigrants, descendants of the formerly enslaved, and the survivors of genocide, of people from all corners of the globe, can constitute themselves according to ideas, a sacred archetypal idea, to become a place where anyone, no matter their skin color, who they love, how they worship or who their daddy is can fulfill their destiny and belong. Truly belong.
President Obama re-ignited our desire to belong. Through his words, he transmuted pluribus into unum, which he began 4 years before his Presidency in his now famous 2004 DNC Convention speech:
"...there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq...
"It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a mill worker's son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too. Hope! Hope in the face of difficulty! Hope in the face of uncertainty! The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead."
And continued in his 2008 victory speech:
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios... our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared... Tonight, we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.
"For that is the true genius of America — that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow...
"...that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can."
All people are created equal. E Pluribus Unum. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
If these words do not inspire you, if you don’t see the good, true and beautiful in these sacred words, give this book to someone else. You won’t find anything here of use to you.
Chapters will be published each week. Subscribe below to receive an email notification of newly available chapters.