I often hear people longing for some cause or purpose that is “bigger than them.”
I know how this feels, partly because I’m lucky enough to have work like that. My company’s work may have effects reaching far beyond what I could imagine. My company’s work could dramatically improve the lives of billions of people living and not yet born.
It’s a heavy thing, but it’s also deeply meaningful. When you’re working to improve the world with such a cause, you get the super-power of perspective. Compared to what you are accomplishing, a lot of things become insignificant: lost time, lost money, bad days, snippy coworkers, snippy bosses, traffic, angry customers, even your own need for ego validation.
If your cause or goal is true and is truly good, it’s good and healthy to make these tradeoffs to push your goal forward. In this sense, it’s helpful to imagine your cause (or company, or what have you) as “bigger than you.”
But there are limits to this line of thinking.
A company or cause can’t feel, experience, see, think, adventure, or love. A company or cause does not have anything like a soul or a conscience. A company or cause doesn’t have a story, or a future, or a past, or memories. A company or cause does not have an inner life, unrealized potential, or the ability to self-transform. A company or cause does not even exist apart from you – except as a concept in your mind, or as a way of organizing your behavior.
So while they may seem bigger than you in size or impact, your causes are not ultimately “bigger than you” in importance. Causes gain their meaning because of human beings, and causes don’t exist apart from the human beings who start them.
You must value your own wholeness – your joy and integrity and imagination and curiosity and efficacy – more than anything you might use your own wholeness to do in the world. Otherwise, how are you supposed to choose causes to give yourself to in the first place?
So serve a cause if you will. Build a company. You can indeed have outsized impacts through these things. But remember that you should never pawn off your self-ownership to any cause or company. Remember that you can and should leave if your cause starts eating away at your wholeness. Remember that it’s not worth it to gain (or even improve) the whole world and lose your soul.
You can find another cause. You can’t find another self.