Finding Purpose, Passion, & Meaning

QUESTION:  Okay, so per your last column, people, as they age, want more passion, purpose and joy in their lives and a few are finding it. I’d like that, too. You can make mine with a cherry on top. But it’s hard to imagine “how”. I’m retired and supposedly living “the good life”, but it feels emptier and more boring than I thought it would feel.  Can you give me an example of how someone else has found it locally?

Sure. Let me tell you about Jonathan Gartner.

Jonathan is a wiry, fast-talking, smart, highly competent man with the human desire to do good. After growing up on the East Coast, he started his career working for a US Congressman as his chief legislative aide in Washington, DC.  He realized from this work that business and government need to work with each other to make a healthy economy and society. So, he found his way into business school and then into the world of finance.

His career took him to Chicago where he first worked in municipal finance, providing financing for cities, schools, toll-roads, hospitals and universities. Then he was offered a job with a Dutch firm in international banking. He spent the next 12 years working in wholesale banking and living with his family in Prague, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. He then took a job with a private equity firm based in Malaysia. He loved the investment side of the business. The people were smart; the environment was intense, fast-paced and the work was very interesting.  Every day presented exciting business school-type cases, but the grades were measured in profits instead of letters.

Then, after 18 years abroad, he and his wife decided to return to the US.

What happens to a man like this when his primary goal is no longer earning money for his family?

What does he do with himself?

He loves the stimulation of business. How does he find it without a ‘job’?

His heart says it’s time to give back, but how should he best do that?

In Jonathan’s case, he first took a job with a non-profit in his former home town of Chicago, but soon realized that the job didn’t satisfy his inner needs.  He says that he and his wife, Pam, take forever to make a small decision, like which cellular provider to use, but they make big decisions pretty quickly.  So, one snowy March morning three years ago, they decided in the span of a couple of minutes to quit their jobs, become teenagers again, and travel around America to look for their next life step.

While traveling, they also looked for a more permanent place to live. They discovered Santa Barbara and went no further. “It was physically beautiful, culturally rich, and we liked the feeling that people had for other people in town.”

One of the things that Jonathan discovered in his travels and in Santa Barbara is that “the transition out of the working world can be challenging not only from a financial perspective but also from a personal relationships and satisfaction perspective.  It is important to find connections and activities that fulfill you.” 

This need to find fulfillment is true at all stages of life.  For Jonathan, one of the ways he has ultimately built that sense of fulfillment is through impact investing. 

Impact investing is the idea that you can address important social and environmental needs not only through philanthropy and governmental aid, but also by investing in companies that are seeking to provide a positive social outcome as well as a financial return.  It is the ultimate example of doing well and doing good.

Earlier this year, Jonathan took over leadership of the Sustainable Change Alliance ( SCA was formed in 2015 by a team of professionals bringing together their financial, educational, leadership and business skills to promote local impact investment opportunities.

“As far as Sustainable Change Alliance goes, I love it,” Jonathan said. “Impact investing and Sustainable Change Alliance scratches all of my itches.  I love to meet entrepreneurs and learn about their businesses, help them to grow, and consider making an investment in their success.  I get to learn from world-class subject matter experts about topics like health, housing, and the environment.  Also, I wanted to leave the world a better place, to give back. However, I’ve learned that, personally, I’m not suited for working in a non-profit. The work our non-profit community does is amazing but as a business model, they face the incredible challenge of having to seek financial support each year.  I still support the philanthropic causes I believe in, but through impact investing, by coupling the genius of the entrepreneur with my and other’s investment dollars, one can make an impact and a profit.  Everybody wins! I also find that the people involved with Sustainable Change Alliance and impact investing, in general, are using their heads and their hearts. They want to do good.  They want to make money.  They want to engage with others.  What’s not to like about that?

I enjoy building an organization, doing good work, and collaborating with people with common desires. What I really find interesting about Sustainable Change Alliance is that everyone comes from different backgrounds. Some become involved because of a religious or spiritual perspective; there’s also a psychiatrist, people out of traditional investing, lawyers, and former CEOs.  From my point of view, it doesn’t matter why you’re at the table; all that matters is that you are there.

I also wanted to do something where I could see and touch the results of my efforts. By working at the community level, I’m able to do that. I get to meet with the people that I invest in on a regular basis and I can see the fruits of their labor. Their success is my success and we can celebrate that together.

Think about how you traditionally meet people: it’s either at work or at school. When you retire, you don’t have either of those supports. Sustainable Change Alliance, and other groups I’m involved with, have allowed me to have a whole array of new relationships. I spent 18 years of my life abroad, and while I loved the experience, I am aware that I was a ‘stranger in a strange land’.  Now, I finally feel at home.”
Is it any wonder Jonathan is satisfied?  He’s found ‘work’ that he loves.  He’s using his knowledge and abilities for good purpose.  He feels effective making a difference as part of a group that is built on trust and shared values and is focused on benefitting its members and its community.

Originally published in The Montecito Journal,  November 2018 Vol 24 Issue 46


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