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Peter Treseder is CEO of several prominent hospital fund-raising charities, an avid adventurer and proud father.

Peter Treseder knows a thing or two about persistence. He trudged on foot through freezing ice and biting winds to the South Pole.

Then he did it again.

He’s crossed vast deserts, kayaked treacherous waters and negotiated perhaps equally challenging waters as the CEO of several prominent hospital fundraising charities, currently the Royal Brisbane’s Women’s Hospital Foundation. The charities he leads make millions to train medical staff and buy life saving hospital equipment.

You might expect Peter to be a barrel-chested, intimidating athlete but you’d be surprised to find he’s warm, wiry and friendly. A gentle man who speaks much more proudly of his daughters than of any of his adventures. He has a tendency to downplay what he has accomplished. He believes that anyone could do what he has done.

I think I absolutely couldn’t do what he has done. Peter stoically trekked across a seemingly endless tundra – with an injured ankle no less. Step by step he persisted. I picture this and I feel sure that I, like most of us, would have quite quickly given up and headed home.

Unless the undertaking was so meaningful that it was worth the pain and numbing boredom. That seems to be where people like Peter differ from others.

These treks had deep meaning to Peter. His daughters speak about how he clearly believed that he was doing the walk for them, If he didn’t persist he would be letting them down, sending them a message that goals don’t get achieved. Peter said he didn’t want to let the sick kids down at the hospital who were inspired by his trips. He didn’t want to let down his team members on the walk or the organisations who were supporting the trip.

For Peter letting people down isn’t an option.

Doing something difficult, like walking to the South Pole, or leading a team well, or starting your own business requires a staunch hopefulness. A belief that if you put in the right sort of effort then you have a shot at success, and that can be hard to develop. How did Peter develop this determined hopefulness? He says:

“‘First thing, have a belief in something. … have a belief in something and then build your life around that. The goals and the motivation to do what is needed will then sort of fall out of that belief.”

This is important. Most people try to directly work on increasing their self-confidence, telling themselves over and over again, ‘I can do this!’  but research suggests that this is a risky approach and can actually lower self-esteem. Peter’s suggestion is wiser. Find something that you care about enough that you are willing to work hard, risk rejection and persist in the face of difficulty – then you might be surprised by what you can achieve.

Do you know what do you want to build your life around? If you are lucky, then you have an answer to that question but many of us don’t. For Peter it is his desire to support others, to help people who are struggling with serious illness, to inspire the people close to him:

‘If this old bloke can sort of chug himself along, there’s lots of scope for my daughters to do the same thing and then this life’s a pretty exciting place.’

If you aren’t as clear as Peter as to the purpose of your life then it might be worth investing time into exploring this.

There are a number of ways to do this. ‘The Photojournalist’ is a good activity described by Michael Steger in the book, Mindfulness, Acceptance and Positive Psychology. The first step is simple. Over the course of a week, take 10-12 photos of what makes life meaningful to you (if you are going through a tough time at the moment and it feels hard to find meaning in your current situation then you can also include photos of what you hope will make life meaningful for you in the future). The photos can be symbolic (e.g. a rock to represent the Earth) or can even be screenshots or photos of photos! Put the photos in a document, a page per photo, and underneath each photo write what the photo is of and how it contributes to life’s meaning for you. Then look for the themes in what you have written. See if you can come up with a statement about what makes life meaningful to you. Try that statement on for size. If you were to live your life in line with that sense of purpose, how would it feel? Would you be doing anything different? And how would that feel?

Play around with it for a few weeks or months. Try to have a sense of curiosity and lightness about it. Remember you are not searching for meaning – people who are focussed on searching for meaning in their life are often unhappy. Instead you are consciously choosing what you want your life to be about.

‘Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning’.

Joseph Campbell

 

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