The Thrive Questionnaire//

The Energizing Power of Having A Mission

Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan on how she stays focused on the big picture

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global:    What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Meghan O’Sullivan: Even before I get out of bed, I have a little ritual. I am told it is a Jesuit tradition, so perhaps I picked it up along the way as I studied at Georgetown, a Jesuit university. I begin by thinking of the day ahead, what my responsibilities are and what I hope to achieve. I set one or two goals for the day, and try to make them realistic or manageable. This only takes two minutes max. I also take a moment to reflect on my dreams that night – which I always remember! They usually give me some insight into how I am feeling – a sort of gut check before I begin the day or a reminder of something or someone important I need to focus on.

TG:    What gives you energy?

MO: There is nothing more energizing than having a mission, than being connected to something that is bigger than yourself. It was one of the reasons I loved serving in government – and working on Iraq and Afghanistan in particular — so much. For years, although I was sleeping far less than what was optimal, I never once hit the snooze button because I woke up knowing exactly what I was supposed to be trying to do.

TG:    What’s your secret life hack?

MO: Trying not to focus on regrets and keeping the big picture in mind.

TG:  Name a book that changed your life.

MO: The children’s encyclopedia set that my parents bought for my sisters and I when I was in first grade. I read though it A-Z and developed a fascination for faraway countries – many, many years before I ever left the United States. It was my main (probably sole?) source for lots of self-assigned reports I wrote for teachers when I was in grades 1-4 on places like Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Paraguay (I had a fixation on landlocked countries for a while).

TG:    Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?MO: Unfortunately, it does sleep next to me. But I can at least honestly claim that I generally ignore it from when I go to bed until I get up, even when I am restless and unable to sleep.

TG:    How do you deal with email? 

MO:  Very badly. I am one of those people who feel they constantly have a backlog of emails (and do), yet I always feel like I am answering them! I have multiple, completely unruly email inboxes – each with thousands of unopened and unanswered emails, many of them flagged as urgent. I regrettably often find myself delaying writing a response because I want to write something thoughtful and personal – and then never getting back to it. Help!

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

MO: I don’t generally get burned out, but do feel overwhelmed from time to time – and perhaps that is the same thing. The last time is probably, well, now! I am almost nine months pregnant and just finishing a short but intense tour to promote my new book: Windfall: How the New Energy Abundance Upends Global Politics and Strengthens America’s Power. While enjoying standing in front of a crowd speaking, I am now becoming more of a fan of sitting at my kitchen table taping a podcast.

TG:    Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

MO: “The purpose of life, after all, is to love it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for richer and newer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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