Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » What is the Power of Purpose?

September 16, 2015

What is the Power of Purpose?

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I think about this idea of purpose a lot, and have for a long time. To spare you the journey back to my childhood, let me start by taking you back to my time at Goldman Sachs. Towards the end of my fourteen year career at the firm my passion, women’s inclusion and advancement, became the main purpose of my work.  It went from something I did on the side, in my “extra” time, to my actual job. I remember thinking back then, “how did that happen?”

“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” – Bishop TD Jakes

“Who really knows?” is the answer, but I think it had a lot to do with me being in the right place, at the right time, where there was a need, and a belief by the powers that be that I had the right stuff to make good things happen. To this day  I am so grateful for that opportunity.

Being able to take on a professional role which was so purpose driven was transformative, and there was no going back. I can honestly say that I have lived in that purpose space every since.  I left Goldman in 2002, and since then my journey has primarily been a philanthropic one, meaning I give my time, talents and treasure (the three T’s) with the hope of helping to create a more gender balanced world. My primary role to that end is to serve as President and Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions. As of today we are a community of 240 women (and a few great men) who prioritize girls and women in our funding, or otherwise put, employ a gender lens. Knowing most of the people personally, I would say confidently that this is a very purpose driven group, and that is why The Power of Purpose emerged as the perfect theme for our upcoming gathering this week in New York City.

So what is purpose?  First let’s start with a definition.

Purpose (noun): The reason why something is done or used: the aim or intention of something: the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something : the aim or goal of a person : what a person is trying to do, become, etc. 

Intense, right? What we do, or don’t do, the choices we make, all come from that place of purpose whether we acknowledge it or not. The more we acknowledge it, the better, but it is not with out a warning sign. I am having flash backs to my best, and worst, parenting moments. “Matthew did you hit your sister in the head with your train on purpose?”  Looking for the purpose illuminates motivation, and will bring focus to what we really care about, and what we don’t. Sometimes it is pretty, sometimes, not so much.

Early on in my career my purpose was to survive, then to thrive, and then at some point, perhaps it was when I felt safe and secure, it became more about ensuring others, and particularly other women, would survive and thrive too.  I can’t say that from day one on the job what I cared about was other people succeeding, but I can say that by the end, that is what mattered. At some point in my professional journey the focus shifted from self to others.   So what was key to my purpose being less about me, and more about others?

Clearly it is easy to point to the fact that I made partner and thus had the professional clout and money to do what I cared most about. But my efforts started way before I ever made partner, and leading the charge for diversity is rarely the surest route to becoming CEO.  What I think was the critical influence was being the beneficiary of someone else caring more about me and my career, then about themselves and theirs. People like Mike Mortara, Tom Lasershohn and Ann Kaplan all come to mind. They invested in me which made me want to invest in others. The whole Pay It Forward thing.  So what makes you want to do the right thing, the nice thing, the kind thing, the “for others” thing? I give that part over to my parents, my faith, and my husband, who is a constant source of inspiration and example on how to live a meaningful life. In fact the question of “what is goodness?” is one he has been thinking about and researching for some time. (Greg was also a Goldman Partner who entered the ministry) Stay tuned…

So what is the power of purpose? Do you think the purpose in life is to find your life’s purpose? How do you make work, any work, positively purposeful? How do you raise children to be anchored in a purpose to not just serve themselves, but to try to serve others too?  I certainly don’t have the answers, and invite you to provide your own, but in trying to come up with something simple I landed here.

Purpose, shared purpose, and especially a higher purpose, binds us together. 

Years ago in the offices and halls of Goldman Sachs, I had people who shared my commitment to try to make Goldman Sachs a true meritocracy. What kept me going was being able to tap in to the passion of others when I felt discouraged, and I hope vice versa.  Now, over a decade later I will take the stage on Thursday night and look in to the faces of hundreds of people who share a commitment to work (and give) to end gender based inequalities. It is their commitment that fuels mine, and I hope vice versa. That is the power of purpose.

To  join the conversation on twitter please use the hashtags #powerofpurpose #wmmsummit .

Below please find our line-up for Thursday night, celebrating the POWER OF PURPOSE.  My purpose in sharing their names is in acknowledgement of the incredible work that each one of them does to serve a higher purpose. (in order of appearance)

Pat Mitchell – Pat Mitchell was one of the first women to hold major roles in network and cable television as a news reporter, anchor, talk show host, White House correspondent, producer and executive. Her programs have been honored with 37 Emmy’s, five Peabody’s and two Academy Award nominations. Mitchell currently curates and hosts the annual TEDWomen conference. Pat has always been about lifting up the stories of incredible women, and in so doing, inspiring each one of us to be our best. (Picture above with yours truly at last years event) Twitter: @PatMitchell_POW

Christy Turlington Burns – Christy Turlington Burns is a mother, social entrepreneur, model, and founder of Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. As a result of her global advocacy work she was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014, Glamour Magazine’s Woman of The Year in 2013, and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative Minds in 2013. Christy has leveraged her incredible platform and celebrity to be a champion for this important issue. Amazing. Twitter: @CTurlington @everymomcounts

Sarah Colamarino – Sarah Colamarino is Vice President of Corporate Communication, with responsibility for equity communication and strategic publications at Johnson & Johnson.  In this role, Sarah develops and executes broad-scale initiatives and strategic partnerships that reflect aspects of the company’s long-standing commitment to corporate citizenship, specifically advocating for the needs of women and children. J and J gives hundreds of millions away every single year in an incredibly thoughtful and high impact manner. I dare say one of the BEST in corporate philanthropy today. Twitter: @SarahColamarino @JNJCares

Stephen Lewis – Stephen Lewis is Co-Founder and Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, an international AIDS advocacy organization, based in the United States.  He is Chair of the board of the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Canada and he is a Professor in Global Health in the Faculty of Social Sciences at McMaster University.  He is the author of the best-selling book, Race Against Time. Hearing Stephen talking about violence against women changed my life. If ever I need inspiration to keep going, I think of this man. Twitter: @AIDS_Free_World @stephenlewisfdn

Yang Lan – Yang Lan, the Chairperson of Sun Media Group and Sun Culture Foundation, is a leading broadcast journalist and media entrepreneur. Since 1999, her signature show Yang Lan One on One has become China’s longest-running talk show. In 2005, Yang created Her Village, a TV talk show geared towards the Chinese urban female audience, which was developed into a multimedia community to empower women. Yang Lan is ranked #100 on the list of the World’s Most Powerful Women in Forbes. What does and will Chinese philanthropy look like? Watch this woman to find out.

Meryl Streep – For almost 40 years, Meryl Streep has portrayed an astonishing array of characters in a career that has cut its own unique path from the theater through film and television. She has won three Academy Awards and in 2015, in a record that is unsurpassed, she earned a 19th Academy Award nomination for her role as The Witch in Into the Woods. Ms. Streep has pursued her interest in the environment through her work with Mothers and Others, a consumer advocacy group that she co-founded in 1989. Ms. Streep also lends her efforts to Women for Women International, Equality Now, Women in the World Foundation, and Partners in Health. Are you kidding me? She is Meryl Streep. But check out her most recent efforts to support women’s stories through a female writers initiative. That is pretty darn cool. More about Ms. Streep’s film initiative can be found in this article by Variety.

Cathy Schulman– Cathy Schulman is a veteran producer and film executive. She is currently Head of Production at STX Entertainment. Prior to STX, Schulman was President of Mandalay Pictures, Peter Guber’s Self-financed production company that she ran since 2007. Schulman has produced over 20 films including CRASH, for which she won best picture Academy Award in 2006, The Illusionist, Thumbsucker, Darfur Now and Bernie. She is the President of Women in Film Los Angeles, and co leads an incredible Female Filmmakers Initiative in partnership with Keri Putnam of the Sundance Institute to foster gender parity for women behind the camera. Twitter: @WIF_LosAngeles

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