When I speak with most founders about their life goals, their responses often sound the same to me: "Build something, sell it, get rich, invest, and give back," these founders will say. But this “means-to-an-end" mentality has never sat right with me.
It trivializes the hard work we’re doing today. I'd rather look at life goals through Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Central to the Hierarchy are the concepts of "self-actualization" and “self-transcendence." Back when I first encountered these concepts, at university, they sounded like pseudoscientific New Age nonsense to me. And one reason may have been that, at the time, I saw no examples of what self-actualization looked like.
I read no case studies highlighting how someone might achieve such a state. I hadn't yet realized that self-actualization is achieved progressively throughout life.
In fact, along with the rest of my college classmates, I was dumbfounded to even imagine what life might look like with complete physiological security, fulfillment from family and friends, impregnable self-esteem and the ability to eventually fulfill one's full potential. Yet, now, nine years later, I have come to believe that the most traversed path to self-actualization entails:
1) Creating enduring value, and building a generational business in the process
2) Achieving liquidity on that original piece of work
3) Investing in people and organizations, and maybe starting another company (or five).
4) Becoming a philanthropist and joining the board of a nonprofit.
Consider someone like Peter Thiel. After selling PayPal, he began to build a dazzling investment portfolio that included Facebook. Eventually, he committed himself to accelerating the trajectory of young people, changing the world through his Thiel Fellowship.
The next person in line, who benefited the most from PayPal’s liquidity, is Elon Musk, another great example. His life’s work and passion have so far culminated with his being CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity.
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Jeff Bezos built a generational business by dropping a cool $250 million to acquire The Washington Post -- in a bid to wield more influence on America’s national narrative.
Now, while these men are all great entrepreneurs, they still leave the impression that to achieve self-actualization, we must leave behind a fragmented body of work, each piece serving as a means to an end. I used to believe this was the only path, until Alphabet.
Alphabet, of course, is the umbrella of separate companies, Google being the largest, that the search engine's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, announced this summer. Along with Google, Alphabet's companies focus on projects "afield" of Google's Internet focus -- from robots and artificial intelligence to media immortality. The projects include a Life Sciences team focusing on a glucose contacts lens, and a longevity exploration team, at Calico. Alphabet's core business, AdWords, subsidizes the other initiatives.
With Alphabet, Page/Brin continue to infuse their aspirations and larger vision for the future into what otherwise might have been a boring media company. In a giant win for corporate innovation, those two luminary founders are furthering the evolution of a huge body of work that maintains their vision and commitment.
Rather than imposing the limitation of viewing Google as a means to an end, they have leveraged its success to build a broader platform that helps them achieve self-actualization. For (what I regard as) the first time ever, we have a living example of what an alternative path to self-actualization looks like. To my knowledge, we’ve never seen a founder’s lifetime output embodied in a singular vehicle that brings to fruition his or her vision of the future across multiple domains.
A bet on Alphabet is a bet on the progressive future that its leadership is working to create. While the company's restructuring creates greater organizational transparency and liquidity, this centralized division of work also encourages subsidiaries to operate in such a way that its employees can reach their individual full potential more quickly.
By creating upward mobility for people like Sundar Pichai, Google’s new CEO, Alphabet’s leadership is fostering an environment where top talent doesn’t feel limited. In helping others to achieve self-actualization, Page, Brin and Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt are transcending personal growth, and pushing into the realm of self-transcendence.
Consciousness and intention are critical in all things. And these goals hit close to to home: That's why my team and I actively discuss our life goals and intention with one another. Why? Because we believe that our employees must be aware of, and respect, the aspirations of their peers, whatever they might be.
Ultimately, I’ve come to learn that most of the discomfort I’ve felt with what I earlier referred to as a “means- to-an-end" mentality has been self-imposed. When it comes to life goals, there’s no need to trivialize the work we’re doing today. Instead, these efforts may be the very thing which allow us to move forward to achieve our wildest dreams.