On December 11, Time magazine named Greta Thunberg its 2019 Person of the Year. When I read the TIME article about her, I was deeply moved, and as a career happiness coach and a happiness expert, I couldn’t help reflecting on what Greta teaches us each about life & career. Here’s how we could learn from her to create our own Effect on earth.
1. Uncover and Own Our Life Purpose
My stomach twisted when I read about her cause. At the age of 32, I had no clue about my life purpose. Greta, at the age of 15, had found hers and I’d put it as this: To inspire and mobilize young people around the world to demand world leaders to take real action on climate change in order to reserve our planet earth.
Your life purpose gives you… life! In the case of Greta, she suffered from depression when she was 11. “Learning about climate change triggered my depression in the first place,” she said. “But it was also what got me out of my depression, because there were things I could do to improve the situation. I don’t have time to be depressed anymore.” She came back to life after the strike, according to her father.
So what is your life purpose? Often, one of the most powerful questions that helps guide people find their purpose are: Why do you think you were born? For some, they know that calling as if it was printed on their forehead the moment they were born, even though they don’t know why. However, I often see people will recognize their calling after having gone through a lot of severe suffering, thrived from it and reflected deeply on the experience.
For those who can’t articulate their life purposes, we can ask ourselves a different question: Which problem in the world makes me feel so uncomfortable that I have to take action on? It could be advancing women and girls (Tiffany Dufu’s), the connection between well-being and performance (Ariana Huffington’s – after her collapse), uplevelling mothers’ personal and professional happiness (my own). etc. Our life purposes may be different but they all about making this world a better place.
For me, since I was asked that question about my purpose in life a few years ago, my brain had been on and off searching for it for me. And one day, it came. Deeply. Profoundly. Unexpectedly. It was the moment I sat down to write an article for an interview and faced with the question, “Why do you choose to be a career happiness coach?” Then I relived the previous episodes of my life and started to connect the dots: the emotional challenges I have gone through as well as the matters that made me feel uncomfortable and inspired me to take voluntary action. My life purpose had been waiting for me to discover it all that while.
The next time you are in the train, or in a queue, or in a quiet cafe, muse over those questions. Gradually, your purpose will take shape. And once it takes shape, you will feel truly alive and its effect will come in full force.
[More detailed guidance on defining one’s life purpose can be found in my article on Forbes here.]
2. Arm Our Life Purpose with Expertise
Greta read a lot about climate change and the more she read about it, the more she understood. The more she understood, she couldn’t walk away, as she said. Her strike, her movement, her action all started with that deep knowledge about the topic she really cares about and meaningfully connects with. Watching Trevor Noah interview her in his The Daily Show, I was amazed at the numbers and statistics she shared. I also felt embarrassed. Although I have read here and there about pollution and similar topics and I apply the 3 R’s in my home, I am not aware of those seemingly basic information.
Greta, at the age of 15, is an expert. Despite her simple and straightforward language, she was able to move millions’ heart to the point they took action because she armed herself with so much understanding about climate change and she walks the talks by deliberate action like stop flying or going vegan.
The moment I could touch and feel my life purpose, I took on one of the best training programs (Brain-based Coaching by the NeuroLeadership Institute) and read tons of books about the neuroscience of happiness. There are too many books out there about “How to Be Happy” or of similar sort, nothing convinced me fully when I started to understand about how the human brain works and how we can reprogram it for positivity, and religiously practice powerful brain-based happiness habits myself every single day.
Only when we arm our life purpose with internalized and hardwired expertise, can we truly influence others and bring impact.
3. Take Consistent Small Action
“A thousand miles begin with a single step,” said a famous Chinese proverb. And for Greta, her one voice led to 11 million people going on strike around the globe. It started with that one small action of sitting in front of her school with a hand-written banner and her insistence presence led to thousands of people swearing off air travel and using more train services and many other positive changes at structural level by worldwide governments.
If you have had your purpose, built your knowledge and experience, and want to create your own voice, remember that it all starts with that one blog entry, that one social media post, that one article, that one video, that one podcast, that one speaking engagement, that one first line on a blank paper, that one first stroke on the canvas, etc. And do it consistently. Don’t be overwhelmed by existing authorities or experts who have thousands and millions of followers or who are invited to speak everywhere or who are featured on media, as they have been working on it for years. They also never give up as they know if a podcast doesn’t click, they learn from it to make a better one. If their manuscripts are rejected, they use the feedback to improve their work.
When I started to create my platform the purpose of which is to share about real life brain-based happiness stories to mothers, who will then spread it to their families and communities to make our world a happier place, I had a few followers and after 2 years, the page now has over 4,000 followers organically with many thanking me for helping them feel happier and become better parents. Yes, it all started with that one entry and consistently posted ones every week. This inspired me to create another called Diary of a Happier Mom Brain about 2 months ago for a broader audience: I post every Friday, whether rain or shine.
Take one consistent action that aligns with your purpose, you will be surprised how much you’ve contributed to the world one soon day.
4. Turn Your Weakness into Your Superpower
Greta suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and one of its symptoms is she speaks in direct, flat and simple language and shows few emotions. However, it’s these traits that help her effectively push her message through.
Often, we feel ashamed about our weaknesses. When we experience such emotions, we are not in a good place to learn, to grow and to develop as a human being. The next time you worry about them, reverse that statement that I am not good enough in your head by asking yourself, “This is my superpower in disguise. How do I want to make use of it?” This will surely help you live your purpose and bring impact to the world in the most powerful way.
Practice these four principles and you will be thanked for The [your name] Effect one day.