To work with purpose, reunite your youthful self with your skilled adult
It is easy to feel confined to the path you are on. A profession is a stack of blocks one works very hard to assemble: education, hard work, perseverance, risks taken. And one can feel adrift lacking purpose in one’s career, wondering what happened to that youthful self who wanted to change the world.
I know. I was that person.
Professional accomplishment led me away from what felt like my life’s mission, and I had to put it back together with the help of friends and purposeful self-discovery. I have not shared this story publicly before, but with the encouragement of Arianna, I was able to explore how I got to where I am and appreciate both the journey and the destination.
From Social Impact to Social Media
As a college sophomore in the 1990s, I deeply sought purpose in the very navel-gazing world of academic and single life. Through beautiful happenstance, I stumbled one evening upon the writings of Muhammad Yunus, who would 10 years later win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microcredit banking. His words resonated with me. I could feel from deep within that I needed to work with this man. So that week I quit my job, dropped my classes, moved to Washington D.C., slept in someone’s hallway, and became the first intern at Grameen Foundation. I found in this beautiful culture a place where my bright-eyed youthfulness was embraced and never scoffed. With the energy of youth and the accompanying naiveté, I set at the task of cofounding the first academic journal on microfinance, establishing the most-attended conference on the subject, and giving of my time to Grameen Bank, the Tibetan government in exile, and various microcredit organizations through Central America and South Asia.
But life has many chapters. As I enthusiastically approached the all-important chapter of becoming a father, I made real changes to my career that were still driven by passion, but far less steeped in purpose. As part of that change I swapped my vocation in microfinance and my avocation as a musician and technologist to join the innovative team at the Rhapsody music service. Following that time, a series of successive startups including book social network Shelfari (acquired by Amazon) and social media agency Banyan Branch (acquired by Deloitte) taught me how to found, build, and grow a technology company, something I found I had a knack for. I was good at this, and loved the people and the speed with which we could work. I felt inspired and adored those with whom I labored.
Uniting Skill and Purpose
In 2012 I was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, which thrust me once again into a world of inspired peers whose tremendous work had impact at a global level. I saw in them glimpses of what my life might have been had I stayed on my previous path. And yet here I was in my thirties with a lot to give. I understood how to build a movement, how to sculpt and share a message, how to scale, how to build a business, and how to attract the best partners. I was a skills player on a team that was changing the world. I could dabble in issues related to refugees, the environment, and economic development, then go back to my day job. In my companies, I loved recruiting incredible people to join me on these adventures and treasured the relationships with cofounders and those with whom I built the ventures; but in the end, we were mostly helping consumers buy more widgets or consume more media.
As I began with a blank slate for my next venture, I knew I wanted something else. I wanted to unite my decade of digital and startup experience with my decade of social impact. I wanted to live a more integrated life, where my day job was also my impact work.
I found what I wanted to tackle right in front of me. As a father and an employer of young professionals, I often ended up in conversations with new parents and the newly married:
Have you set up a will yet? No. Well let’s fill this out and get that cute kid some guardians.
Have you heard of term life insurance? It’s very cheap. Let’s get you some.
Then when I turned my attention to society as a whole, I learned that 75% of Americans lack life insurance, and 66% don’t have a will. If you’re under 40, that number is 78%. This lack of planning was the direct cause of these GoFundMe requests showing up every day on my social feeds, attached to a sad note sharing that “my brother-in-law suddenly passed away, and we are raising money to support the family while they sell the house and begin to move on.” I would often click on those requests only to see a man who, just like me, has the wife, the children, the job, the house; and yet never got around to doing any estate planning or buying life insurance.
So I did what any entrepreneur would do. I created Tomorrow, built a team, designed a unique, beautiful and social way to create a will and trust completely for free using an app on your phone, legal nationwide. And then made it incredibly easy to buy just the right amount of life insurance in 3 minutes or less. And the results have been incredible. Families of all kinds, and individuals across the country, have installed the app and in as little as 15 minutes have acquired all needed legal documents and insurance to protect their families.
There is still much to do. The app has thousands of users, but tens of millions have needs.
But every day I wake up proud of what I do. I feel the resonance of having chosen a path that brings my two passions together, and the personal fulfillment I feel is real and powerful. Through stepping off my linear career path, and finding a home for both my skills and my purpose, I have found joy as well as business success. It has brought me great peace.
Dave Hanley is the founder and CEO of Tomorrow. Dave is a contributor to Thrive Global, Huffington Post and the World Economic Forum, where he writes on the disconnected topics of finance, spirituality and entrepreneurship. He is the founder of Banyan Branch and Tomorrow, is a Fulbright Scholar, and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.