Why Knowing Yourself Brings Freedom

Warwick Fairfax

November 23, 2021

With the release of my book Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance on Oct. 19, I have been speaking a fair amount these last couple of months.  I get a lot of great questions, and one I am always  asked is what is the biggest lesson of my failed $2.25B takeover of my family’s 150-year-old media business in Australia.  My answer is always the same.  The biggest lesson I learned is that you have to live in light of your design.

Growing up, I felt it was my duty to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors.  The company had been in my family for five generations and had grown into a large media company including newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations and newsprint mills.  I did my undergraduate degree at Oxford, worked on Wall Street and received my MBA from Harvard Business School.  This was all about fulfilling my destiny as the heir apparent, as my parents saw me.  It was all about duty and family legacy.  It had little to do with what I wanted or with my

In my speech, there is an opening scene where in December 1987, I walk into the John Fairfax Ltd. building for the first time since the takeover had been launched a few months earlier.  I was now in control of the company.  I walk into the elevator with journalists and other staff members.   I remained silent as did they.   I was so uncomfortable.  I couldn’t wait until the elevator reached the top floor.  But it did not get any better.  I entered the wood paneled board room, with the old board, including members of my family about to hand over the reins to my new board.  Staring down at me from the walls of that board room were paintings of my ancestors going back five generations, including the founder of the family company, my great-great grandfather John Fairfax.

The pressure was intense.  In that moment, at some deep level I knew I did not want to be there.  I knew subconsciously  I was in the wrong place.  But I pushed those feelings aside, remembering that I felt it was my duty to do the takeover to restore the company to the ideals of the founder and to see it was well managed.

You probably have not launched a $2.25B takeover at age 26 as I did in 1987, but you might feel that you are living someone else’s life. That you are living a lie.  That you are not being truly you.  We may get to such a place for different reasons.  Our parents or family members may urge us to go into a family business; it could be a law firm, or a family farm, a local hardware store.  Perhaps you have friends and family urging you to be practical.  You write well, so you should be a lawyer.  Or you are mathematical, so you should be an engineer.

But maybe you hate law.  You just want to write poetry or a work of fiction.  You might be good at math, but you love music (mathematical brains often have the same wiring as those who are good at music do).  But you say “yes” to friends and family — and in the words of Henry David Thoreau, you lead a life of “quiet desperation.”  Each day going to work is drudgery, going up a steep hill, just waiting for the day to end and for a glimpse of temporary freedom, until your journey back to prison, your place of work, begins the next day.

But life does not have to be like this.  You can enjoy, even love what you do.  You can feel off-the-charts passionate about what you do.  It starts with living in light of your design.  I believe we are all divinely designed — from my perspective designed by God.  We are created for a purpose.  Ignoring your design prevents the universe from being blessed by your true self.  Ignoring your design puts your soul in prison.  It subjugates you to a life of misery.

Here are some tips to finding your design.

1. Take an Assessment.

There are some good assessments out there.  These include Myers Briggs, the DiSC, StrengthsFinder and the Enneagram.  At Crucible Leadership we have our own assessment, the Life of Significance Assessment.

2. Talk to Family and Friends.

Taking an assessment is helpful, but so is asking family and friends, who have known you your whole life, who are you.  What are you good at?  What do you enjoy?  What do you love?  Even asking them what do you hate can be helpful.  The opposite of what you hate may well indicate aspects of a job or a career that you will love.

3. Take Small Steps.

You don’t have to quit your job all at once.  Try some things on the side.  So if you are a lawyer, but are really a frustrated writer, try writing for some local smaller publications or writing some articles online.  Perhaps some small jobs will begin to start coming, and that will lead to something bigger.

4. Trust The Process.

It is almost impossible to see the grand plan of how individual steps will lead to your life calling.  That is where faith in yourself and in the process helps so much.  To people of faith, trusting that there is a divine hand guiding you along the way is also helpful.  Just focus on what one next step you feel called to take.  Trust your gut.  Trust yourself.

For me, I discovered after the family company went bankrupt and left family control on my watch, that I was not some hard-charging corporate executive.  I am a reflective adviser who prefers to write and speak about issues I care deeply about; namely how to live an authentic life that leads to a life of significance, a life on purpose dedicated to serving others.

Before I dreaded going to work, as the elevator scene illustrates so well.  Now I love what I do.  I have written a book, write blogs, host a podcast (Beyond The Crucible), and am now giving speeches about my book.  Being a reserved person by nature, speaking does not come naturally.  But now I am able to do it, actually pretty well.  Yes, I have had help crafting a great speech and in how to deliver it.  But the core reason I am able to speak effectively is that I am giving speeches about something I care deeply about and utilizing my core strength of being a reflective adviser.

Living in light of your design for a purpose beyond yourself leads to pure joy and deep fulfillment.  Commit today to begin taking off the chains of bondage to a life that is not yours, and to living an authentic life in light of your design.  That is the path to freedom.

Reflection

  • How are you wired? Take an assessment, and ask friends and family to tell you who you really are.
  • What are you off-the-charts passionate about that will lead to a life of significance?
  • What next step will you take to living an authentic life for something bigger than yourself that is truly in line with how you are designed?

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