Montecito Journal Nov. 15-22, 2018: "Discovering What Matters--Finding Purpose, Passion & Meaning" by Dr. Peter Brill

QUESTION:  Okay, so per your last column, people, as they age, want more passion, purpose and joy in their lives and a few are finding it. I’d like that, too. You can make mine with a cherry on top. But it’s hard to imagine “how”. I’m retired and supposedly living “the good life”, but it feels emptier and more boring than I thought it would feel.  Can you give me an example of how someone else has found it locally?


Sure. Let me tell you about Jonathan Gartner.


Jonathan is a wiry, fast-talking, smart, highly competent man with the human desire to do good. After growing up on the East Coast, he started his career working for a US Congressman as his chief legislative aide in Washington, DC.  He realized from this work that business and government need to work with each other to make a healthy economy and society. So, he found his way into business school and then into the world of finance.


His career took him to Chicago where he first worked in municipal finance, providing financing for cities, schools, toll-roads, hospitals and universities. Then he was offered a job with a Dutch firm in international banking. He spent the next 12 years working in wholesale banking and living with his family in Prague, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. He then took a job with a private equity firm based in Malaysia. He loved the investment side of the business. The people were smart; the environment was intense, fast-paced and the work was very interesting.  Every day presented exciting business school-type cases, but the grades were measured in profits instead of letters.


Then, after 18 years abroad, he and his wife decided to return to the US.


What happens to a man like this when his primary goal is no longer earning money for his family?


What does he do with himself?


He loves the stimulation of business. How does he find it without a ‘job’?


His heart says it’s time to give back, but how should he best do that?


In Jonathan’s case, he first took a job with a non-profit in his former home town of Chicago, but soon realized that the job didn’t satisfy his inner needs.  He says that he and his wife, Pam, take forever to make a small decision, like which cellular provider to use, but they make big decisions pretty quickly.  So, one snowy March morning three years ago, they decided in the span of a couple of minutes to quit their jobs, become teenagers again, and travel around America to look for their next life step.


While traveling, they also looked for a more permanent place to live. They discovered Santa Barbara and went no further. “It was physically beautiful, culturally rich, and we liked the feeling that people had for other people in town.”


One of the things that Jonathan discovered in his travels and in Santa Barbara is that “the transition out of the working world can be challenging not only from a financial perspective but also from a personal relationships and satisfaction perspective.  It is important to find connections and activities that fulfill you.” 


This need to find fulfillment is true at all stages of life.  For Jonathan, one of the ways he has ultimately built that sense of fulfillment is through impact investing. 


Impact investing is the idea that you can address important social and environmental needs not only through philanthropy and governmental aid, but also by investing in companies that are seeking to provide a positive social outcome as well as a financial return.  It is the ultimate example of doing well and doing good.


Earlier this year, Jonathan took over leadership of the Sustainable Change Alliance ( SCA was formed in 2015 by a team of professionals bringing together their financial, educational, leadership and business skills to promote local impact investment opportunities.


“As far as Sustainable Change Alliance goes, I love it,” Jonathan said. “Impact investing and Sustainable Change Alliance scratches all of my itches.  I love to meet entrepreneurs and learn about their businesses, help them to grow, and consider making an investment in their success.  I get to learn from world-class subject matter experts about topics like health, housing, and the environment.  Also, I wanted to leave the world a better place, to give back. However, I’ve learned that, personally, I’m not suited for working in a non-profit. The work our non-profit community does is amazing but as a business model, they face the incredible challenge of having to seek financial support each year.  I still support the philanthropic causes I believe in, but through impact investing, by coupling the genius of the entrepreneur with my and other’s investment dollars, one can make an impact and a profit.  Everybody wins! I also find that the people involved with Sustainable Change Alliance and impact investing, in general, are using their heads and their hearts. They want to do good.  They want to make money.  They want to engage with others.  What’s not to like about that?


I enjoy building an organization, doing good work, and collaborating with people with common desires. What I really find interesting about Sustainable Change Alliance is that everyone comes from different backgrounds. Some become involved because of a religious or spiritual perspective; there’s also a psychiatrist, people out of traditional investing, lawyers, and former CEOs.  From my point of view, it doesn’t matter why you’re at the table; all that matters is that you are there.


I also wanted to do something where I could see and touch the results of my efforts. By working at the community level, I’m able to do that. I get to meet with the people that I invest in on a regular basis and I can see the fruits of their labor. Their success is my success and we can celebrate that together.


Think about how you traditionally meet people: it’s either at work or at school. When you retire, you don’t have either of those supports. Sustainable Change Alliance, and other groups I’m involved with, have allowed me to have a whole array of new relationships. I spent 18 years of my life abroad, and while I loved the experience, I am aware that I was a ‘stranger in a strange land’.  Now, I finally feel at home.”

Is it any wonder Jonathan is satisfied?  He’s found ‘work’ that he loves.  He’s using his knowledge and abilities for good purpose.  He feels effective making a difference as part of a group that is built on trust and shared values and is focused on benefitting its members and its community.


Next question? Please write to me about specific situations where you personally feel challenged and I will attempt to respond. We will keep your name anonymous. Maybe together we can help you identify the next chapter of your own life.  I can be reached at 


Montecito Journal Oct. 18-25, 2018: "Discovering What Matters--Changing The System" by Dr. Peter Brill

Throughout my life, I have worked with people and organizations, studying and trying to help them produce change and then measure its impact validly. After 75 years of life, I feel like I have put my time to good use and learned a lot, not only about systems – how they work at the cellular, mid-level and big-picture levels, and what best promotes change within them – but also about the importance of meaning… what makes people feel like what they’re doing is meaningful.

I have learned that people in retirement want good health, passion, purpose, and joy or contentment. I discovered that people at younger ages want passion, purpose, and joy, too. More than a paycheck.

I started interviewing people in their early 50s. They had started out wanting money, power, and status, but their values changed as they faced their limited time on Earth. Now, they wanted passion and meaning as well. Even millennials, I learned, wanted meaning in addition to money from their work.

Sadly, as I began to ask countless people in a multitude of workshops how many of them had achieved these things, the percentages were astoundingly low. About 15% believed they had passion in their lives; 20-25% had found a sense of purpose; and only around 30% had achieved contentment.

So, I decided to write an ongoing column structured for your questions and designed to bring together three primary concepts: How to have an impact or create positive change, find personal meaning, and sometimes even make money doing it. In the column, we will spotlight new and existing opportunities for community impact – what’s out there and what can be done to achieve these goals. We will introduce and discuss innovative processes and new tools to balance individual fulfillment and capital needs in the world of “causes,” plus impact investing avenues and other ways to influence/create change.

Why start with our own community? Because with our society’s financial and political problems change now has to happen from the bottom up. Real change is deeply personal. Built on clarity and trust, it depends on strong relationships.

To begin the column, I recently had a conversation where this question arose:


Question: I feel powerless to change the system I’m in. I can manage my schedule, desk, board meetings, responsibilities, and leisure time. But it has stopped feeling (or maybe it never did feel) like enough. One day blends into the next, and eventually they all start to feel the same. Similarly, I donate time and money to a good cause, thinking I’m helping, but the world’s or community’s problems remain the same. The ironic paradox is that life continues to move faster, we have access to tools that have never existed before, and yet the core of humanity’s problems never seem to change in any permanent way. Any suggestions?

Answer: Here’s an allegory about the nature of “powerlessness.” Three men and one woman are tasked to get a heavy cart up a hill.

• Sam wants to pull the cart up the hill. He’s convinced that that’s the only way to accomplish the assignment.

• Sarah wants everyone to push the cart. She’s convinced that success lies in everyone pushing together.

• Stephen is focused on the issue of who’s going to get the most credit for completing the challenge. Unless he can find a way to get nearly all the credit, he won’t help push or pull.

• Mike is angry because the others treat him like a second-class citizen. Consequently, he has decided to only give the “appearance” of effort.

Sadly, they all feel powerless and the cart remains at the bottom of the hill. No change. Four intelligent people trapped in an emotional bog. What’s the underlying problem? They lack trust in one another, and thus the ability to communicate and cooperate. They are not truly a team. When the basic essentials of a relationship break down or are missing, everyone feels powerless.

Notice what has changed in our society over time:

• In 1980, all measures of trust and organizational identification dropped from a stable 60-70% to 20%. Why? Organizations adopted a “commodity model” for themselves. Everything from the organization itself to its parts and pensions can now be “bought and sold” like commodities. Loyalty to employees has disappeared. No longer able to count on anything from their employers, employees’ careers have become a hop-scotch of stress and job insecurity as they move through multiple organizations. Trust in organizations overall has declined significantly. One lie made under such a weakened system and trust is lost forever.

• Similarly, if the organization exists solely for the bottom line, if people are exploiting the system or the customer, if the work isn’t for some social good or higher purpose, there is little or no meaning in the job. Under such circumstances, why should employees cooperate with one another? Why should they feel motivated? Why shouldn’t they get frustrated and mad? No matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise, feelings matter.

Now consider how few employees meet face to face anymore. They only relate electronically. Locked in an unending dance with their phones and computers, one has to wonder if they might just as well be standing in front of a mirror seeing, hearing, and sensing only their own words, feelings, and point of view. What does that do to relationships?

• Further, there has been a huge loss of trust in society.

• The book Bowling Alone was a study of trust. Published in 2000, it showed a large deterioration of trust and societal participation, using as a major example the fact that people used to bowl in leagues and increasingly now bowl alone.

• Since then, almost every institution of society has seen both a large drop in participation and more human isolation.

• One of my own organization’s studies showed that almost 50% of employees are significantly anxious, depressed, abusing or addicted to a substance. A lot of people around you are in significant distress.

What can be done?

1. Work on yourself… Are you trustworthy? Are you empowering others? Where are you adding to the problem needlessly? We have become a society of blamers.

2. Try to remember that the other person is trying to find happiness, too, in their own uncertain, powerless way.

3. Remember that trust and relationships have to be built. No one owes it to you to be concerned about what you want. You must earn their trust as much as they must earn yours.

4. Don’t jump quickly, either personally or in organizations, from distrust to trust. Trust is a big issue. It needs to evolve:

• Stage 1 – “Safety trust”: Can I trust that I am safe with you and this organization physically, emotionally, psychologically, and financially? Similarly, are others safe with you? Are you willing to tell the truth (and fact-check) or will you spread unverified rumors? Remember, you’re just as responsible for establishing “safety trust” as everyone else.

• Stage 2 – “Inclusion trust”: Can I trust that I will be included and treated respectfully in your or this organization’s inner circle?

• Stage 3 – “Acceptance trust”: Can I trust that I will be accepted and valued by you or this organization despite my differences, strengths, and weaknesses?

• Stage 4 – “Inspiration trust”: Can I trust that if I put a lot of creative energy and effort into what we’re doing together, you will “have my back” and I won’t end up feeling used or disappointed?

5. Learn to rise above fear and greed in all of their subtle manifestations. They blind us from clarity and keep us from seeing how to create change. We are all prisoners of our own perceptions and beliefs. We developed those through our families and life experiences, where we felt like a victim or a privileged person. Our experiences shape us. Our fear creates rigid beliefs. Our own personality problems create difficulties for others.

In the end, you have to stop blaming or you’ll never get your power back. You have to find compassion for yourself and others, so you can understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. When you blame others, you become blind to how people, relationships and systems actually work. Understanding people and situations better gives you more power.


Please write to me about specific situations where you personally feel powerless and I will attempt to respond. We will keep your name anonymous. Maybe together we can get that cart up the hill.  I can be reached at

The Santa Barbara Independent: The Virtues of Impact Investing

“The Virtues of Impact Investing,” The Independent (May 12, 2016): 39.

"After becoming disillusioned with the financial model and ineffectiveness of so many of the nonprofits around him, Peter Brill stumbled upon an investment alternative that is now beginning to make its way into the mainstream. Brill, a retired psychiatrist, UPenn professor, and business owner, is bringing impact investing out into the Santa Barbara sunshine."