This is a repost of my first blog post on Huffington Post.
You can’t praise water to one who has never experienced thirst. But you can be ready for the moment when they will get thirsty. Then hand them water. They’ll understand, but in their own way.
This is my experience of what the Third Metric is and how I came upon that realization long before I had heard of the idea. The Third Metric can indeed be a measure of success and meaning above and beyond money and power, but we will need to make room for personal experience and realization.
By now the beginning of my story has a familiar refrain: I had a great job, made leaps and bounds in my career at the most illustrious Web company of the mid-noughties and rented a riverside flat in London. I was living the dream promised to eager young business grads everywhere.
The guy sitting next to me left for a Harvard MBA. The girl next to me went to Stanford. And half-way through my GMAT mathematics revision, I turned to the last page of my exercise book and calculated how long I could travel the world for the same money I would pay for the MBA. I did that instead.
I visited 37 countries over 18 months. I didn’t even spend all of the money I’d saved on the trip alone: Some were spent on garments for a start-up company whose inventory now matures in my dad’s garage in the east of Finland.
But I sure wasn’t happy. Indeed, I remember the tipping point: I was 60 feet underwater in one of the most spectacular reef diving locations in Indonesia, looking at luminously-colored nudibranches (like sea snails, injected with neon colors), and the question struck me like never before: “Why am I not having a good time?”
On one level that was just me, a privileged kid whining, like I’d done aplenty before. But on a different, experiential level, really realizing that if I’m subjectively not enjoying this, there objectively must be a problem.
Months later, a neighbor in Melbourne, Australia, locked himself out of the house and I invited him over to the house whose garden shed I was occupying. We compared notes on life over a few hours, and he managed to convince me to enroll on a 10-day meditation retreat. I have always been vehemently anti-religion, so it was by no means a small feat of him. I do not remember his name, but I owe him my thanks.
I will not evangelize meditation or a particular path, but I will share this personal belief based on experience and observation: The tipping point must be experienced and addressed through personal experience. A personal, subjective experience does not diminish the importance of a phenomenon, especially when the results are as tangible and universally valued as increased happiness, health and well-being.
The personal crisis I described was an easy one. There are many much worse experiences that people have gone through that have forced them to stop and re-evaluate their priorities in life. But even a small crisis can send a clear signal if we are willing to listen.
The unit of measurement for the Third Metric will not be the same to all. Since your mileage will vary, there may not be a way or a need to measure at all. Often it is about family, or about the contrast and conflict between Work and Life. While it is about well-being, balance and happiness, it is not an end goal. It is an ongoing process. You can’t collect and deposit it, and then make withdrawals when you need it.
This is what I think will make the Third Metric special and enduring. We need to be conscious of allowing people their own units of measuring it, and especially allowing them the experiential discovery of whatever it means for them, at the time that is right for them. If we keep this in mind, we can build a society where we are tolerant and indeed supportive of this personal discovery. And that will be real progress.