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Existential or Operational?

That moment when you start living on purpose

· Brett Cowell,life lessons,transformation

It's Friday afternoon again (which of course means nothing in the timeless, stateless world of the interweb) but to me, this Friday, it means that I'm finally getting some time to administer some much needed love to this blog.

Today I want to talk a little bit more about a phrase I've been using a lot in recent weeks as I present to groups, and tell my story, which is "my problems have moved from being existential to being operational". I also want to talk a little bit about how you can get the most out of all of the content across my various platforms.

My journey, well catalogued in The Good Life Book and elsewhere, has been to leave a long term corporate management consulting job in search of a greater level of meaning, freedom and contribution.

For the first 10 months of that journey (and the three years prior, while thinking about next steps) that meant sitting for long periods alone in deep contemplation, and/or trying to distill those thoughts into words (ha, perhaps not much freedom or contribution evident at that stage)!

As with all great journeys of personal transformation we often get to where we're going by first understanding where and who we are right now.

What I just described above was the existential phase of the journey. It was time to ask all of the big questions like "Who am I?" and "What is a good life?" except, this time, with the intention and yearning to find an answer.

I have to say asking these questions and trying to find an answer is a whole lot different than asking them in a rhetorical way, on a beach somewhere. I've done that lots of times, I think we all have.

Trying to find an answer involves painful self-examination and a degree of angst since the answers are not written in books or in "5 steps" articles on the Internet. The answers are shown to you through your history, challenges, and how you express yourself today.

The problem is that many of us don't express ourselves honestly and by that I mean we don't let our true values and intentions shine out from inside us. A lot of the time we kid ourselves, try to be what we think others expect of us, or get stuck playing a caricature role of ourselves or our job e.g. work hard/play hard, or successful professional or whatever.

For me the experience of writing The Good Life Book felt like writing it at least 10 times! Like many things, when you try to explain something to someone else, you learn at the same time. And writing a book is trying to explain something on a big scale.

I felt like the sands of my ego were shifting as I developed deeper self-insight, and that meant that the voice and perspective of the storyteller in the book changed too (and I had to rewrite). That existential angst persisted even as the first copies of the book began to sell.

Perhaps if nobody bought or reacted to the book, then it would prove that all I could be was a consultant? It is never true for any of us, that our potential is limited to the job we do, but that's the thought I had at the time.

The change in how I felt, and how I saw myself, came when I started to talk about the book to others, then even more so when I began to teach and coach others on the messages and tools in the book.

Existential questions like "could I be a writer / teacher / coach?" evolved into "how do I be a better writer / teacher / coach", and "how do I get this message out to many more people?" and even the very practical question of "how can I make sure that I can make this life a living too?".

My thoughts and imperatives have moved from answering existential questions, to problem-solving operational tasks. Today, my life looks and feels noticeably different than it did even only a few weeks back. I've crossed over some invisible threshold / through a door / started a new chapter, however you like to term it.

It can be really hard, if not impossible, to make the mental leap from your life operating as it does today to thinking about your life operating in a totally different (but better) way. That can stop you from doing the things you need to in order to change your life.

Knowing this, there are two complementary approaches that can help you to move forward.

Firstly being forewarned is being forearmed. Set your expectations that the path to a better new you will be via a period of soul-searching and patchiness, but you will emerge from the other side so long as you find out what really motivates you (core values, and passions) and that you act honestly in accordance with those.

Secondly, you can act as-if. Put yourself in the shoes of the future you. If you woke up tomorrow and were magically on Day 1 of doing what you really want to do, what would your 100 day plan be?

Let me give you a clue, your focus should probably be to meet and learn from others that are already doing what you want to do, but on a larger scale or with more experience.

The key lesson: meet and learn from those people now, don't put a load of pressure on yourself to "quit your job" or "wait for the perfect time" before doing anything.

This morning I met a Dallas social entrepreneur for breakfast, who I hadn't previously met. I organised the meeting because I HAD TO, meaning that it was important in achieving my overall mission - scaling up a socially-principled organisation (i.e. Total Life Complete). The meeting was set up quickly and in a businesslike fashion, identifying our shared objectives and identifying the mutual benefits of sharing that time together.

He has been in Dallas his whole life, and has been doing what he does since before I moved here, just under four years ago. That makes more than 1000 previous opportunities in which I could have organised the meet.


But I didn't. My own mind held me back from even finding out who all of the players really were (which sometimes takes a tiny bit of effort). But if you can't research a person, what they do, and the current state of affairs in a field to the point of being able to get a meeting that is mutually beneficial, then how serious are you about changing your life anyway?


I'n my experience most successful people enjoy sharing their experience with others who prove themselves to have genuine motivations, are willing to work for what they want, and come prepared.


This preparation includes the implicit commitment to share your knowledge with someone else, or to further your shared areas of interest together, should the opportunity arise. I knew this already, but yet I still sit here with a bittersweet feeling. I'm doing what I really want to do, but I could have done it sooner and more efficiently if I'd networked more throughly rather than just spending more time thinking about what I wanted to do (often going over the same ground again and again in a hope-like state).


In short, if you want to accelerate you path to a new life then understand yourself (e.g. by doing Chapter 2 of The Good Life Book, free if you sign up for the mailing list) and start acting operationally as-if you are already living that life. Network now. Blog about what you are learning, since you're already steps ahead of someone that hasn't done anything, and perhaps never will.


Different sites and blogs

My operational focus means that I now must try to carve out individual identities and objectives for my three current projects/platforms:, and - this makes it easier for you to find the content that is valuable to you and it makes it easier for me to allow each to develop organically and reach its full potential, so:

  1. On I will try to keep up a more regular schedule of posting tales and learnings related to my journey from corporate career, to scaling a business that seeks to help people live better lives, and makes the world a better place. There will be a mix of conversational blog posts, and practical ideas and advice on specific topics. Hearing honestly what others are going through, I've found, is always helpful, and I'll try to also identify a couple of takeaways or conclusions too, as I have in this article
  2. At I really want to focus on building a community and additional content that helps readers and my coaching clients through the good life journey and the related ideas and tools in the book
  3. will focus on experiential events and content - having fun, meeting others, learning, growing and giving back...and the stories and storytellers at the intersection of Art, Business and Community appearing on the Total Life Complete podcast.

The best way to stay across the best of this content is to subscribe to my newsletter at:

OK, hope you all have a good one!