When it comes to the idea of ‘purpose’ I’ve always found myself with more questions than answers. What exactly is purpose? Why is it so important to so many people? Where do you look for it? How do you know if you’ve found it, or what do you do if you never find it? What drives people to look for it in the first place? The list goes on.
Using a combination of my own personal experiences and a mixture of academic and primary research, this new book aims to unpick some of these questions to help us better understand something which is becoming increasingly important to people the world over – what they should do with their lives.
In particular, the book focuses on one area which tends to get least attention – the role our family histories or ancestors play in determining our level of ‘purpose awareness’. Is our sense of purpose something we’re born with, or is something we learn? Or a bit of both? In my case, what has been the impact of having ancestors who became accomplished authors, mayors, inventors, builders, explorers and innovators? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out.
I spent the best part of two decades searching for purpose, beating myself up regularly in the process. There was something out there I had to do, and I was desperate to find it. It was only during lockdown that I began to get a sense of the roots of my obsession. My research led me to a relative, Roger Fenner, who had long been digging into a quite extraordinary family history. Stories of those who came before me, and their own achievements in life, helps explain in large part my own drive and ambition. How could having so many recent family members and their considerable achievements not in some way have an impact on me?
Before I share an outline of the book, here are four members of my new-found family I’d like you to meet.
HENRY MARTIN: MAYOR, AUTHOR, PUBLIC SERVANT
This is Alderman Henry Martin. Born in Steyning, Sussex in 1813 he was to become Mayor of Brighton in what turned out to be a life of incredible achievement. In his capacity as Mayor he officially opened the West Pier in 1865, and during his lifetime was a Chief Magistrate, a published author, saddler and harness maker to the Queen and Royal Family, a Member of the Board of Guardians for the Poor, a town commissioner and Vice President of the Brighton Volunteer Fire Brigade.
WILLIAM FREDERICK MARTIN: BUILDER, MUSICIAN, INVENTOR
William Frederick Martin quickly became one of my favourite relatives. Described by Roger as a ‘builder, musician and inventor’ he lead something of a charmed life. Born in 1849 in Ringmer, he built a successful construction business after the death of his father. He was also a gifted musician, poet and composer and at aged six played piano to Russian prisoners (from the Crimean War) being held in his community. He later composed a military march which was published and publicly performed. Perhaps most incredibly, when he was nineteen he constructed what is believed to be the first bicycle in England. He also built battery technologies and communications equipment in his workshop, and made money selling working models of windmills. Despite all of his achievements and inventions, he never benefited from a higher education in science or engineering. You can only wonder what he may have achieved if he had.
RONALD GRAY: CODEBREAKER, HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER
The Brighton connection with the Martin family (and the fact I lived in Brighton during my time at Sussex University) was a pleasant one, and learning of another relative who lived and worked in Cambridge (close to where I now live) was another. Dr. Ronald Gray was a Life Fellow at Emmanuel College when he died in 2015, spending over thirty years there as a lecturer on German literature, history and philosophy. He spent three months in Germany as a student in 1938 during the rise of the Third Reich, and saw and saluted Adolf Hitler (something he later regretted). Described by the Times as ‘a brilliant Germanist’ he was later called up to work alongside the code breakers at Bletchley Park, where he was the first person to translate the intercepted message from German High Command announcing “Our shield and Fuhrer Adolf Hitler is dead.” Ron Gray’s time at Bletchley Park is celebrated in their official Roll of Honour.
WILLIAM MARTIN: ARCHAEOLOGIST, EXPLORER, NATURALIST
If having a Mayor of Brighton as a relative wasn’t enough, it turns out one of his sons may have discovered the location of the original stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. At the time, William Martin (another one) was Vice President of the Shakespeare Reading Society (which seems to be still going strong) and, just for good measure, Vice President of the British Archaeological Association. Like his namesake, William Martin appears to be a man of many talents. His name appears on the plaque laid at the location. According to this newspaper article dated 27th October, 1910:
“Dr. William Martin has just published a further article upon the subject in the Surrey Archaeological Society. It sums up the evidence and ends with the announcement which may be fairly described as sensational. Dr. Martin believes he has actually discovered evidence of the existence of the Globe Theatre so recently as 1891.”
ABOUT THIS BOOK
The ‘Pursuit of Purpose’ is part memoir, part study about finding meaning, passion and purpose despite everything life throws at you. It’s about living a life I never felt I deserved, and the imposter syndrome that can sometimes go with exceeding all of yours – and everyone else’s – expectations. It’s about going nowhere for so long but ending up in places I’d only previously seen on the covers of National Geographic Magazine.
It’s about the people I met in these places, befriended there, and worked with there. It’s a book about activists, conservationists and humanitarians fighting for justice and a better world for everyone, and what drives their selfless acts. It’s about serendipity and chance, and random acts such as travelling to Africa with the UK Prime Minister, or managing to convince the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu or musician Peter Gabriel to write forewords for the two books I’d end up publishing. And it’s a book about those incredibly rare moments of insight which lead to the development of simple solutions to big problems, solutions which end up helping tens of millions of people around the world, and the awards I could never have dreamed of winning for being fortunate enough to do so. And it’s a story of others I met along the way – the living, and the dead.
It’s also a book about spirituality, and family, and delving into the past in the hope of finding answers to the present. It’s about discovering family members who found their own passion and purpose, driving them to become mayors, successful authors, magistrates, journalists, saddlers to the Royal Family, and even codebreakers at Bletchley Park. It’s about living up to the expectations of those who came before me.
In short, it’s a book about starting with nothing in search of everything – and all the little surprises life has a habit of throwing up along the way.
Feel free to read a sample chapter in the embedded PDF below.
Pursuit of Purpose Sample Chapter
Can you help?
I’m interested in speaking with publishers, agents, funders, the media or anyone who might be able to help me tighten up the focus of the book, and then help deliver it. I realise as a concept it needs work. But I sense my own personal story and achievements, combined with a more academic deep-dive into purpose – combined with a study into the role of spirituality and ancestry – would provide a new and exciting take on what is becoming an increasingly important and popular subject among young people the world over.
I have a full book outline, and comprehensive research on purpose and the role of ancestry in determining who and what you might become. If you’d like to talk or think you can help, please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you can’t help there but would like to support some of the research, design, editing and other book costs, any contributions would be gratefully received. You can contribute via PayPal here. Please do remember to send me a message if you do – I’d love to keep you up to date on how things progress, and to say thank you.