THE BLOG
09/29/2015 08:01 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

7 Ways to Find Your Pearl of Great Price

Are you 100% satisfied with your life, your career, and your business? If so, skip this blog. If not, I'll outline seven great ways to get there.

My thoughts were prompted by re-reading a great little piece by the maverick monk Harry Williams, who specialized in marrying psychology and theology, usually outraging conventional Christians. (Incidentally, Prince Harry of the UK is named after Williams, but that is another story.) This is pure gold - his interpretation of the parable about a merchant who searched for years and then found an absolutely perfect pearl. The merchant then sold everything he had and bought the pearl - presumably ending his trading business and "doing a Warren Buffett" by holding the pearl forever. According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven was like this!

Williams asks how then are we to enter the kingdom of heaven? How are we to find the one priceless pearl?

"Only thus," says the monk, "By refusing to be satisfied with anything less than what is totally satisfying." Williams insists that he doesn't mean what should satisfy us, but what actually does: "We can never be content with less than total satisfaction."

This strikes me as both axiomatic and also incredibly profound. How many of us settle for something that is fairly satisfying, or, far worse, what we are conditioned to think should satisfy us. Yes, a forest of hands go up, at least from readers who are honest with themselves. Very, very few people I know and respect are 100 percent satisfied with their lives, their careers, or their businesses.

There is nothing wrong with this. In the equally profound words of M Scott Peck, "life is difficult". If you expect to find total satisfaction easily, you are bound to be disappointed and frustrated. The kingdom of heaven - your personal and unique version of it, not anything which comes with the approval of the Church, society, your parents, or your friends - is elusive. It can be a lifetime's quest to find that kind of satisfaction. And yet, it is absolutely essential to do so if you are be fulfilled, to escape a void at the center of our spirit and our lives, and if we are to give what we are capable of giving to the world and the people and causes that we love. If we don't aspire to total satisfaction - and if we don't get there before we die - that is a tragedy, because we never fully live. And if we never really live, we will surely die forever.

Our ability to think, feel, and love to the extent that only we can do - in the way we uniquely can, because of our DNA, experiences, and emotional charge - would be stunted, and that we should never, ever accept. It is one thing to still be searching for the pearl of great price - the way we should live, what we should do, and what we should create - that is absolutely fine. But to settle for less than that is a sell-out, a totally unnecessary and terrible failure to find ourselves and plumb the depths of our minds, our spirits, and our determination to live.

Williams says this eloquently - "there is nothing in this world or the next, absolutely nothing, which cannot, and will not, be turned into the valid currency we need to buy the one pearl of great price. That is what is meant when we say we are redeemed." Sadly, though, Williams says nothing about how to find what we need completely to satisfy ourselves and our spirits. So this is where I add my two-pennies-worth:

7 Ways to Find Your Pearl of Great Price

1. Experiment

We need to look in different places and in different ways. Life is an experiment, but many people stick to the same routines, backgrounds, family, friends, and employers. The less change in our lives, the less likely we are to discover what we are ideally and uniquely able to do. Change is uncomfortable, but there is nothing like being unsettled and a bit at sea for discovering our true potential. The great thing is that in the quest for our priceless pearl, we know pretty quickly if we are cold or warm or getting hot. If we are not getting hot, we need to shake up what we do and our surroundings - and the most important of the latter is people, different people, and different ideas and ways of doing things.

I'm reading a great biography of the Beatles, and the thing that did it for them was going to Hamburg - to learn to play and play and play for hours and hours and hours in front of discriminating and lively audiences that did not exist at that time in the UK. If they had stayed in Liverpool, we'd never have heard of them.

2. Take Your Time

As Harry Williams pointed out, the merchant couldn't have found the pearl of great price early in his career. He wouldn't have had the experience to know what was really priceless, or the capital to buy it. Speaking for myself, patience is the hardest thing. When we are young, there is the temptation to want to be the youngest person to go to college, the youngest vice-president of the company, the youngest to do this, that, and the other. That is not the way to find our pearl of great price.

Patience is related to two opposite things - to focus, and to experimentation. The right order is the other way round. Experiment to find the general area in which you can create something unique. Then learn enough about it to recognize the pearl of great price when it comes along. Don't skip or skimp on either stages - we are typically talking about decades here, not months.

Be willing to spend a lifetime working out what you, and only you, can create.

3. Don't Settle for Second-Best

I've always thought the maxim that "the good is the enemy of the great" is trite. How do you get to the great without getting to the good first? The good is the friend of the great. But not if you stop there. And the great majority of people do, for one simple and compelling reason.

Life is hard enough, and there are all kinds of niches that are not very fulfilling, that as soon as we get to one that ticks most of the boxes, the temptation to stay is enormous. I was a failure in one consulting firm - the Boston Consulting Group - and then was so relieved and happy to make it in another - Bain & Company - that I was strongly tempted to stay there. But I knew I wanted more. I wanted to be part of a small team of two or three people who would start a new and different consulting firm, one that was not primarily American in culture and orientation, and which only hired and retained people who were highly creative and able to work out how to make clients more money. And then once I'd done that, I wanted to write about how to be successful and have a decent life too. And so on. Life cannot be an adventure if you stay close to home.

4. Go to Distant Lands

Foreign countries are distant lands, but so too are areas that are foreign to our background. In our book Superconnect, Greg Lockwood and I explored the theory of weak links. Our family, friends, and "PLU" (people like us) have pretty much the same information and insights that we have, but not much more. To gain fresh inspiration, therefore, we need to go to what sociologists call "the distant parts of the social system" - in other words we need to meet "PNLU", people not like us. Individuals from a different social, cultural, religious, or educational background, or whose interests are totally different from ours, are likely to have information, attitudes, and ideas that are foreign to ours. Such ideas may appeal to us and give us a new sense of personal mission.

5. Adapt Successful Ideas

Quite often, ideas from distant lands can be imported and adapted to give us an edge in our own world.

For example, Dietrich Mateschitz was a travelling salesman who went to Thailand and noticed that tut-tut taxi drivers drank a highly caffeinated concoction called Krating Daeng to keep their strength up. That roughly translates into "Red Bison". Mateschitz adapted the drink for Western tastes, invented the category of "energy drink", and designed a beautiful tall, slim silver-blue can to put it in. Result - Red Bull dominates its category world-wide and sells around five and a half billion cans a year, making the travelling salesman the richest man in Austria.

A similar phenomenon operates in other areas, such as philosophy and religion. The most successful ideas often result from combining ideas from different regions - for example, Christianity is a potent compound of Jewish, Egyptian, and Greek concepts and influences. Marxism is a brew of Hegelian (German) philosophy and classical Victorian (British) economic concepts. Social democracy is a mixture of self-help working class movements in Northern Europe and upper-middle class Keynesian economics (and much else besides). My own professional field of business strategy was a combo of marketing theory and financial theory, realms which were only brought together by Bruce Henderson in 1963. Without the different strands, all these concepts would never have caught on so much.

6. Look Inside Yourself

You will never be truly satisfied with a role, a mission, or a philosophy if you do not discover who you really are. This can only be done by introspection, helped by widespread reading and thinking. We are each unique not only physically but also in mind and spirit. If you deny any vital part of your personality, you risk destroying or stunting the "real you".

7. Discover What You Are Here For

It doesn't matter what your faith is, whether you are a "believer", an agnostic or an atheist, to have purpose and value in life you have to believe that you have a unique role to play. This may be as simple as being a mother or father or teacher, or some other more exotic role such as an artist or singer. There is no point in us being unique and - for the first time in history - being allowed and sometimes encouraged to truly be ourselves, unless we take it upon ourselves to discover and exploit that freedom and mission. It may take you a long time - many decades is not unusual - but it is never too late to come fully alive by discovering what you are here for.

For example, I believe that I am here to invent and refine new ideas that help make life richer in every way. Whether the ideas are any good or not, I believe that only I could stamp them in quite the way I do. This makes me happy.

I want you to be as happy as I am. Maybe you are already (or more so). But if not, you know what to do.

H A Williams wrote The True Wilderness in 1965 and it is still available from Amazon. I commend it highly. I bought my battered Pelican edition in 1968 for four shillings and six pence in old British money and still read it at least once a year - excellent value!