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How purpose can help redefine success: An interview with MeaningSphere co-founder Jory Tremblay

MeaningSphere co-founder Jory Tremblay had a highly "successful" career in the corporate sector: he held senior positions and was winning awards. But much of this "success" left him feeling hollow. In an interview with MeaningSphere's Ali Boston, Jory describes how he left the corporate sector to pursue projects that felt more meaningful to him – ultimately transforming his understanding of success.


Jory Tremblay speaking at a meeting.

Ali Boston: How would you define the word success and what does it mean to you?


Jory Tremblay: Well, there's 1,000 ways to define success. But for me, after a long and “successful” career in the corporate world, I left. People around me told me I was crazy. Because I was leaving behind “success:” stock options, money, recognition, and all that kind of stuff. But after reflecting, I realized that I was investing most of my time trying to make money and be successful, and spending very little time on what mattered to me. I understood that if I could line up the investment in my time, against things that mattered – do good, and find a way to still do well or well enough – that would be better for me. The notion of leaving the world a better place always resonated with me.


So I started looking for opportunities to do that, which is what led me on this wonderful journey. Today success for me is about working out how to spend my time in a way that has an impact on people for the better. It’s about doing something that I can feel good about succeeding in doing. We are so conditioned to define success in terms of financial gain and that is not the case for me. For example, if you can win by cheating, does that feel as good as making the choice not to cheat and having success anyway? I don't think so.


Ali: What have been some moments in your career that were especially meaningful to you?


Jory: One of the reasons why I left the corporate world was I was in Aruba to receive an award. I was on stage because I’d won a global award for success and I felt hollow, really hollow, in my chest and in my gut. I looked out at 3,000 people and I had been there before, standing on that stage in different places over the years at these events and I was just hollow. And I thought: I need to do something else. Afterwards, everybody wanted to go out and celebrate their successes and mine. But I went back to my hotel room because I was thinking this is not what I want to do. That was a really meaningful moment for me. The reflection caused an awareness in me I had not seen or noticed before.


Another example is that I do work for a charity where we deliver wheelchairs and do custom fittings for the people that receive them around the world. And I was working on my own business in telemedicine in the Congo. One weekend, my translator and I visited an organization for people with disabilities about 90 minutes out of town. When we arrived, people were confused: they don’t tend to get visitors there, especially a pair like us. We asked to see the head of the organization because we wanted to see if there was an opportunity to partner with them to help the local community of disabled people who, without mobility, are often left as burdens on their families or to beg on the street. In the meeting, I was so focused initially on talking about the wheelchairs we had for kids that I didn’t notice he was on a stretcher with wheels, lying on his stomach – and that that was his wheelchair. The man leant over his stretcher, looked at the wheelchairs, and he pointed and spoke in French. And I realised he’d seen the adult chairs we had and was asking if there was a possibility for him to have a chair. And that was a really meaningful moment for me. I thought: here is a man that is serving others and there’s a chance to make his life richer, and to better equip him to help others.


Image of a drone in a desert landscape.


Ali: How have experiences like that changed your perspective on success and how you define it?


Jory: They are my definition of success in business: doing good, making a difference, looking for the impact first. So, while I like doing strategy and innovating and working in startups, as I have done since leaving the corporate world, I always look for places where I can make an impact.


For example, I was working in Abu Dhabi on a complicated project about using drones to take pictures during the daytime, which could be used for commercial purposes: agriculture, infrastructure, inspection, real estate, etc. The project then used revenue from those activities to subsidize the delivery of drones at night, and to tell the rangers in the Game Reserves where the poachers were coming from, so they could protect the wildlife – elephants and rhinos that were quickly disappearing. This was a complicated thing, it was going to take a good bit of capital, and we were looking for someone to invest alongside. After a long meeting with a lot of questions from the analysts at the Private Equity firm, I asked the Managing Partner, Rick: “So what's your perspective?”


And he said, “You know, I'm struggling with whether this is going to work.”


And I said, “Why?”


He said, “because my limited partners (LPs) want a maximum return on their investment. And you want to make a dent.”


He saw that as a problem from a financial point of view with his LPs and saw the value on the other side. But it was one of the biggest compliments somebody could pay me.


In response, I said, “You're right, I want to make a dent, that's the way to protect your investment.” And he stopped in his tracks. If we took care of the people, agriculture, and communities with the project, then it would be less likely that a criminal syndicate would be able to bribe someone to poach.


A close-up of a man in a suit sitting in an empty room.


I don't think financial success and impact are mutually exclusive. They are intertwined – you just have to look for them. One of the challenges we have today is that many people think it's either-or: I have to make as much money at the cost of other things, or I can have an impact. This is the discussion of primacy, shareholder or stakeholder, but that is a longer topic. The answer is you can do both. It takes more effort, but it’s worth it. Most business have a positive impact that is often overlooked. Even something as seemingly simple as getting peoples’ pay right and paying taxes has an important positive impact on society. Yet, many people overlook these processes until someone makes a mistake, or people don’t get their pay on time. At least this was my experience in my corporate work. I firmly believe that having financial success and impact is way more sustainable than financial success alone.


Ali: What advice would you give to people earlier in their careers about success?


Jory: So, the question is, how do you decide what's meaningful to you? And where do you go invest your time and efforts? How do you go connect with people who are focused on the things that are meaningful to you? I think you have to start by “reflecting.” That’s why at MeaningSphere, we’re trying to provide a set of tools that can help enable an existing movement, because we're not the first people to try and work on this issue. We are building a community and tools for people to discover for themselves the type of work that they find meaningful, to create a vocabulary to express it and to share their experience with others. Lots of people came before us have done that, just not at the scale we seek. We hope to be an enabler of that.


So, I’d say to anyone early on in their career: reflect and find your own journey and start it earlier than I did. Start today.


 

Jory Tremblay's experience spans both the corporate and the start-up space. He's worked in corporate leadership positions, as an investor, an entrepreneur and an advisor to management and boards. He's a founding member of Congo-based NGO The Reel Project and Rock the Elephant, which raises awareness and funding to support anti-poaching. And he's one of our MeaningSphere co-founders. Outside of work, he enjoys cooking, travelling, modern art, squash, and tennis.


Ali Boston writes about the worlds of work and technology (fictional and non-fictional). She began her career in communications, before going back to university to study for a Master’s in Politics and Technology. Since then, she’s been working on projects that help realize an inclusive and sustainable future of work. She lives in the Italian mountains with her fiancé, and loves cross-country skiing and stand-up paddling (neither of which she is proficient in).


Image credit: MeaningSphere (first image), Unsplash (second and third image).

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