Insights From a Recovering Overachiever: Replacing Success With Purpose in Life and Work

Artwork credit: Arlene Kim Suda

Five years ago, could you have predicted what your life would look like now?

If you had told me five years ago that I would be leaving a stable career in education to venture into the wild frontier of tech startups, I would have thought you were crazy or confusing me with some other overachieving Asian American person.

For most of my life, I looked outward for external measures and benchmarks of success: money, title, influence and impact (the things that would make my friends envious and my parents proud). I made decisions by asking myself questions like:
  • What kind of impact did I want to have?
  • Where could I have the most power and influence in my work?
  • How much money could I make (if I worked really, really hard)?

Something strange happened five years ago when I turned thirty. Success stopped serving me. It was like a motor on a speedboat that suddenly stopped working or a bird that lost its homing device. It was completely terrifying. All of a sudden, I didn't know where I was speeding to and where home was. I was LOST. When I had those moments of self-doubt and uncertainty in my twenties, I simply filled the void by doing more and more. I achieved and achieved until it started to feel empty and meaningless.

Not knowing where to go, I stopped and took a deeper look at myself (with the help of travel, self-help blogs and spiritual retreats). I realized what I was seeking in external success was really a quest for inner purpose. Different kinds of questions started to bubble up:
  • What am I most passionate about?
  • What is my unique area of genius?
  • What would I choose to do with my time and energy if money wasn't an issue?

I knew I wanted to work with people and make the world better. In my adult life, I felt the most joy in creating awesome experiences for people, like organizing birthday celebrations, hosting group wellness retreats and leading professional trainings. But, I also had an insatiable hunger to make a deeper, greater impact in the world.

To the shock of many friends and loved ones (whom lovingly and accurately nicknamed me "the techno-peasant"), I (ignorantly) chose technology as my medium. I was intrigued by the promise of technology to elevate human potential, as eloquently described by Umair Haque in an excerpt from his post,"The Servitude Bubble."

At it's best, techne, the Greek root of the word "technology", which means "skill", is a miraculous, magical, enchanted thing. Technology, the enlargement and extension of man's skillfulness, is the closest humanity has come to discovering the sacred amongst the earthly profane: for it gives mankind the power to transfigure the very world. From a place of stasis, into a place of freedom. Through it, man can ascend beyond his natural birthright, and give himself rebirth  - - from a foul, stinking, starving, powerless beast, to a civilized, enlightened, powerful being. All that is contained in the magic of techne. Techne, skill, endows man with the proficiency, the dexterity, the advantage, the shining chance, to become what he truly is. Not merely a servant of himself, or a servant of another. But himself. Human. Homo sapiens. The mindful being.

To build on Haque's thesis, I believe that we must find our collective purpose in order to fully unleash our humanly power and potential. This means more companies talking about their higher purpose and creating spaces for people to explore and discuss their personal purpose and make connections with their team and company's purpose. Dr. Robert Quinn, Professor of Management and Organizations at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, asserts that leaders can dramatically transform organizations to perform at their highest potential by imbuing the organization with a higher purpose.

We have built layers upon layers of connective tissue in our personal and work lives through technologies like Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Slack and Yammer. Yet, we often overlook the most potent ingredient: taking these connections deeper through human interaction and conversation, so people can truly see the humanity in each other. What's required is the work of guiding individuals, teams and companies to discover, articulate and continually act upon their higher purpose.

It can start with just one simple question: Why are you here?

Join me for this tiny human experiment: Ask yourself and 3 other people this question today and notice what emerges! Share your findings at #tinyhumanexperiment. You can find me at @hivequest.

Belinda Liu is a teacher, connector, creator and explorer. She is the co-founder and CEO of HiveQuest, a startup on a mission to catalyze self-transformation and community-building through the intentional use of technology. Want to learn more about her tiny human experiments or share your personal story? Connect with Belinda at or on Twitter @hivequest.