The quest for purpose… these are words we hear more and more and which are often associated with the younger generations (in which we still dare to include ourselves… I don’t know if we should lol). This idea has always existed, but it has certainly taken another dimension in recent years with climate change or Covid. Yet, when you think about it, we are all looking for some way to put more meaning in our lives. I don’t know anyone who deliberately tries to do things that don’t make any sense all day long 😉
Nevertheless, the notion of “quest for purpose” does not have the same meaning for everyone. Imagine if you were born in a poorer country in Africa, Asia or the Middle East (or even 80 years ago in Europe or the US), what would make sense for you would certainly be to make sure that you provide for your basic needs and those of your family every day.
But in our modern western society, for many of us, we are lucky enough not to have such worries (or at least not as restrictive). We benefit from a greater freedom that allows us to listen to our desires and to act according to our ideals. This is obviously an incredible chance but it can also lead to sometimes difficult questioning.
But what exactly is the “quest for purpose”?
After thinking about it, I wondered what this famous “quest for purpose” is in a more practical sense. When you think about it, it’s a rather subjective notion that can depend on a lot of things… let’s take the example of work, because after all, we spend a good part of our lives working. To have purpose in one’s work is in my opinion:
- having more positive than negative emotions when performing daily tasks at work
- feeling like you are doing something useful for society and/or the planet
- have freedom and flexibility (better work/life balance)
- to value one’s skills and have an impact on the projects we work on
- have the opportunity to learn new things and grow
- work with nice and inspiring people
- earn well enough to have a decent living
I think that all of these different points together define the outlines of the quest for purpose at work quite well. Obviously, each person will give more or less importance to these points depending on his situation and values… but personally it helps me to write down these points to evaluate my own situation.
The importance of the quest for a more meaningful life
In my eyes, there are many things that don’t make much sense in our modern western societies (I’m thinking in particular about the issues of climate change, finance, overconsumption etc…) but I won’t go into details again since we have already talked about these issues here, here or in our yearly reviews). I think that more and more people are frustrated by so many contradictions and feel sometimes powerless.
Yet I think that part of the solution to these many problems is to create more meaning in our lives! In this way, we will all participate in our own way and at our own level to the creation of a fairer society while inspiring each other (I know it sounds a bit simplistic and optimistic, but for me it’s better to be positive and take a step in the right direction than to be pessimistic and not do anything at all).
But instead of making great theories, I thought I would share with you some examples of people I met this winter who inspired me by the way they create purpose in their lives:
People who create more purpose into their lives
Olalla, the woman who whispers in the ears of animals
Olalla is a dog educator and trainer that we met at Anceu coliving. She came once a week to Anceu to help Africa and Agustin with the education of the 2 dogs they had adopted from a shelter not far from the coliving.
Without Olalla (and Africa), I think we would never have adopted Winchy. She is the one who convinced us that he was the ideal dog for us (an athletic dog, not too big for the van, calm) when he was absolutely terrified after our first walk around the shelter. She was also the one who drove 1h30 every week, almost voluntarily, to help us educate Winchy and give him back his confidence. Her passion for animals is incredible and we will never thank her enough for everything she did for us.
As part of her association ADA (her instagram), she also works on different projects to improve the quality of life of people in need through animals. For example:
- She helps homeless people find foster homes for their dogs at night so that they can sleep in a warm place themselves. She noticed that some homeless people were sleeping outside because they didn’t want to abandon their dogs for the night. This way, people who want to can leave their dog in a foster home at night, go sleep in a warm center and come back the next day to get their dog.
- She trains certain dogs to become “therapy dogs”. They are then integrated for example in the treatment of elderly people with Alzheimer’s or young people with some serious diseases.
- She has a project where she tries to socialize shelter dogs. She also helps people who want to adopt by pointing them towards dogs that will be more adapted to their needs (this is what she did for us). The goal is to reduce the number of dogs that are returned to the shelter after being adopted.
In short, Olalla is a magnificent example of a person who knows how to create meaning in her work.
Agustin: the developer who wanted to create a community in the Galician countryside
Agustin is a developer from Galicia but also the founder and owner of Anceu coliving. Agustin was already a digital nomad before they were even called that. But after 15 years spent abroad traveling and working from his laptop, he decided to come back to his homeland Galicia to open a coliving.
What made him come back? He actually saw several news about the Galician countryside which was slowly being emptied of its inhabitants, villages which were being abandoned etc… And he immediately thought that a way to have a positive impact in his native region would be to open a rural coliving that could eventually have an impact on the local economy and bring one of these villages back to life. So after months of searching, he found a suitable property in the small village of Anceu, which has a population of barely a hundred people.
The coliving has not been open for 1 year yet and the first real impacts are already visible, for example:
- at the coliving you have the possibility to order local products from a local ecological group
- the bread we have for breakfast every morning comes from a small ecological bakery in the next village
- Augstin has also hired Rosa as a housekeeper at the coliving. Rosa lives in Anceu and knows everyone in the village. So besides being the nicest and most caring housekeeper in the world, she has helped Agustin to get integrated in the village.
- It often happens that we go out to eat in a local restaurant between colivers or that Augstin hires someone from the area to cook for everyone at the coliving on weekends
But for me, the impact of a rural coliving like Anceu will go far beyond in the future. We’ve already had a lot of interesting discussions about these topics over a few drinks. We talked about buying the village pub (which is currently closed) with several colivers… with the idea to create connections in a place where the nomads living in the coliving could also meet the people from the village (and drink without disturbing the people who want to sleep in the coliving 😉 ). But also many nomads are considering buying a house in the village to have a base in the countryside in a place where they know they will have a nice community… There is no shortage of ideas and there are really interesting and meaningful things to create in the future.
For geographically independent people like us, these places ( which are still too rare) are invaluable (community, nature, work facilities etc…). So Agustin, by creating a coliving in his small village in the Galician countryside, has a double positive impact: he is already doing a great service to nomads like us but maybe he will also manage to bring some life into a small rural village… and that is really cool!
And I’m only giving you here two examples of people I met this winter who are trying to create more meaning in their lives in their way… I could also have told you about Africa, this former lawyer who left everything to create a coworking space in Galicia (such a positive and creative person, who has a real gift to create interactions between people) or Maria aka Dr. Livinghome who now helps people to decorate their apartment so that they can feel better at home after having been an art director in big companies… That’s also the beauty of colivings which allow us to meet all these people from very different backgrounds that we would certainly not have known otherwise.
And where do we stand in all this?
If I’m writing this blog post today, it’s precisely because we often try to question ourselves and reflect on the purpose of what we do. For the last 10 years, this has been our compass that has guided us when making decisions.
When we came back from our round the world trip, I remember that Fabienne had immediately found a job in a nice company in Zürich (I had then been hired in the same company as a developer after some drinks with the CTO lol). However, even if the atmosphere was quite good, it turned out that some of the company’s views were quite far from our values. As a result, she quickly found herself having to do things for work that she would never have done on her own, putting customers in trouble. Add to that a lot of hours working 100% Monday to Friday with no flexibility and you got a Fabienne at the end of her rope after just 18 months.
At that moment, our way to bring some meaning in all this was to quit our jobs and to start our own business so we wouldn’t have a boss anymore. We also chose to develop our activities on the web in order to be able to work from anywhere and to recover this freedom/flexibility that we had loved so much during our world tour (and also because we are geeks at heart and we are passionate about the web).
This was followed by a period from 2016 to 2019 where we worked while traveling (first in Thailand so as not to put too much financial pressure on ourselves but then in Europe). We developed a variety of activities (2 blogs: novo-monde and novo-media, web development, book/ebook author, photo sales, consulting, conferences), but I think we remain bloggers above all.
It is also at this moment (2015-2016) that we took the reality of climate change in our face. We had already experienced a few things that struck us like the air pollution in Chiang Mai during the “burning season” or being stuck on the island of Langkawi because of the “Haze”, this toxic fog caused by the fires in Indonesia for palm oil. There was also this huge focus on all these issues that was the COP21, the climate walks… All this pushed us to learn more about climate change.
At our personal level, we have since implemented changes in our lives that were meaningful for us regarding this new reality. We eat local and seasonal food as much as possible, we drastically decreased our meat consumption, we try to cook more things ourselves, we are careful with plastic waste, we changed our bank, we buy second hand when we can, we only fly if we have no other choice etc…
From the blog’s point of view, it was also at this moment we felt the need to be more coherent with all this. We started to share more often thoughts about these topics, we also try to address common issues related to bivouac or vanlife in our posts, we share every year our carbon footprint… the goal is to modestly raise awareness of our readers, to open the discussion and to move forward together in the right direction.
As you also know, our main source of income on the blog is affiliate marketing. For the sake of coherence, we have also removed all our Amazon links since we don’t support the policy of this company. When possible, we also try to add links towards sites like ebay which sell second hand products.
Then 2020 and the Covid came and we found ourselves like everyone else stuck at home (we were already lucky to find our home just before the Covid hit lol ). This Covid period was and still is very strange… drastic but sometimes incoherent measures, gestures of mutual support but also of selfishness, the least valued professions that turn out to be the most essential… Like many people I guess, we questioned ourselves a lot during the Covid. Well, I have to say that writing a travel blog is not really “essential” during a world pandemic 😉 .
Which brings me to the last point of this article (yes I promise)
the dangers of the quest for purpose
In my opinion, the danger of the quest for purpose (if pushed to the extreme) is that we end up questioning everything, which can lead to difficult situations. This great freedom that we are lucky to have and that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, can also be double-edged. Since we have the choice to do what is important to us, to act according to our ideals, we can find ourselves in situations where we feel we are missing the essential and maybe not doing enough.
Personally, I think I have been in this situation at least once when I became aware of the tremendous stakes of global warming and environmental preservation. It’s true! Scientists are talking about the destruction of our ecosystems, the hundreds of millions of people who will be living in unbearable areas of the world in 30 years, the 6th mass extinction… With such stakes, I had (and still have) the impression that I was not doing enough, I also felt guilty about my own contradictions and I even made Fabienne feel guilty about hers! I found myself in a situation where I was obsessed with these issues and I had lost the desire to write, blog, develop websites… things that I had spent years building up and that suddenly felt meaningless… and I sometimes felt like throwing it all away.
However, I think I was going about it the wrong way!
Of course I have the freedom to give up everything if I want to… But living means choosing a path and in a way giving up on the infinite possibilities. I think it’s better to explore the possibilities of the path we’ve built over the last few years and to make small adjustments when we feel the need. In fact, when I look at how I defined the quest for meaning at work above, I think that our way of life already ticks a lot of boxes. It would certainly be a shame to be too radical and take a 180 degree turn, right? Instead I prefer to take it step by step, do things that inspire me (like taking 3 days to write down my thoughts lol) and work on new projects that make sense while improving what we already have.
To conclude this thought, obviously I think that the search for purpose is important for each of us and that it can help us face the challenges of tomorrow. As I said, I see it as a compass that guides us when we make choices and decisions. But I think it’s also essential not to let yourself be completely overwhelmed by your ideals and to keep some room for pleasure (by pleasure I mean any hobby, activity or whatever makes you feel good… for example for me it would be hiking, drinking a craft beer at sunset with Fabienne, going on an adventure in a place we don’t know yet, a cool bivouac, playing Mario Kart ahah etc…). Because the road is long and it is important to find the right balance. It would be a shame to run out of steam too quickly when all we are trying to do is to do the right thing?
It is already over 😉 … congratulations if you made it this far! I don’t know what you think of all this or even if you found it interesting. But I just wanted to share with you what was going through my mind. So if you feel like reacting, don’t hesitate to leave me your opinion in the comments below. I’d be really interested to hear your feedback on these topics: How important is the quest for purpose for you? Do you think about it often? What impact does it have on your daily life?
In your blog “a quest for purpose,” you stated some very interesting points that are worth considering. However, my approach to your “quest for purpose” is a bit different.
As I was in my 20ties, I too, was looking for a purpose in my life. My question was; “Is working, family and friends, and travelling all there is to life and when we are old we die?” Really!? That thought sounded sobering to me. I was earnestly searching for meaning in my life, a real purpose.
I noticed that a coworker was reading the Bible and found it very odd as I didn’t go to church anymore. I became interested as she always seemed so happy and inspiring. I started learning more what the New Testament in particular was teaching and who Jesus was. What surprised me was that the New Testament is so up to the point and speaks into our lives, just as if it was written today. Eventually I recognized that I was a sinner, and I needed Jesus. After a couple of years, analyzing, questioning, and scrutinizing everything, I knew I needed to give my life to Christ.
Since then, my life started changing. I became much happier, less anxious/fearful, and overall I got peace. I cannot describe this peace, it passes all understanding. Most important, I am not afraid anymore of dying. I now know that life doesn’t stop at death, but it goes on. Death is basically just a transition to a better life, a life with Jesus.
This must sound as strange to you as it sounded to me over 30 years ago. But by no means I would like to live the life I lived before. My life has now a real purpose. Taking care of the environment God has trusted into our hands, helping the poor, and being compassionate with others are just a few things that became important to me.