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Purpose has become an important part of our lives today. Oscarlyn Elder, co-chief investment officer of Truist Wealth, and guests Alex Wagner and Erica Shalhoup talk about why you should explore your purpose—and how you can use it in financial planning.
Oscarlyn Elder (00:05):
Hello and welcome to “I've Been Meaning To Do That,” a podcast from Truist Wealth. I'm Oscarlyn Elder, co-chief investment officer, and I'm honored to be with you on this journey.
So why are we launching “I've Been Meaning To Do That,” and what does that title mean? We live in a very complex world. There's a lot happening, and life can be overwhelming at times. It's really easy to get lost in our regular routines and the noise of life and avoid the financial planning conversations and actions that can have long-lasting impact on you and your loved ones. We want this podcast to help you take the next steps on your financial journey and inspire you to tackle the “I've been meaning to do that” items in your life, and introduce you to some to-dos that perhaps you haven't considered. We will both zoom in and zoom out on this podcast.
So what does that mean? It means that some of our topics will be highly tactical and focus on key information that you need to make informed financial decisions. And other topics, like today's, we hope to create a moment, the space for you to zoom out and to contemplate concepts and new ways of thinking about financial planning. In this episode, we are going to be talking about purpose. Purpose is an important place to start. Here at Truist, we are a purpose-driven company. Our purpose is to inspire and build better lives and communities. And it is part of our DNA. It guides our culture as well as our decision-making. We believe strongly that the understanding of personal purpose is one of the keys to living a fulfilled life on many dimensions, including your finances. So today, we're going to deep-dive into personal purpose, what it is, why it is important, and how you can start to define yours. Today I am joined by two of our Truist purpose champions, Alex Wagner and Erica Shalhoup. Erica, it's great to have you with us.
Erica Shalhoup (02:11):
Hey, Oscarlyn, it's great to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Oscarlyn Elder (02:14):
Alex Wagner (02:15):
Hi, Oscarlyn. Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.
Oscarlyn Elder (02:18):
Erica, can you share with me and our listeners what you do for Truist?
Erica Shalhoup (02:24):
Well, first of all, I think I have one of the greatest jobs in the world. I am our director of purpose alignment and activation. And while that's a mouthful, what that practically means is I get the opportunity to help our teammates bring their purpose, mission, and values to life every day. Really finding that connection between your personal purpose, Truist's purpose, and the work you do.
Oscarlyn Elder (02:44):
Great, thank you so much. Hello, Alex Wagner. Give our listeners insight into what you do for Truist.
Alex Wagner (02:52):
I am basically lead brand purpose marketing, which is really the external expression of our purpose in action. And to help the world know about what our purpose is as an organization and to match it up with the messaging and the proof points in our products and services. So clearly that starts from the inside through our own teammates, which is why Erica and I work closely together because you need both inside and outside to bring this whole thing to life. Very exciting work.
Oscarlyn Elder (03:20):
I feel really lucky to be able to talk to you both today. You're both purpose experts. So with that, let's get started. Erica, why are we and so many other people talking about purpose these days?
Erica Shalhoup (03:36):
That's really a great question, Oscarlyn. I think there are so many reasons why now, more than ever, it's such an important and critical topic. If you think about the turbulent and divisive times we live in, the stressors we have in our lives, purpose is really a way to find that center. It's a way to cut through the noise and help you find the intrinsic benefit of what matters most to you. It's also a great way to put yourself in a position where you're thinking about something greater than yourself. And that community, that connection we have, we can think about how we're acting on something greater than ourselves together. And when we understand each other a little better as we share it with one another. So when I think about purpose, the greatest opportunity now, more than ever, is to find connection, to find our center, and to alleviate stress. All of those things can help us overcome obstacles of our day-to-day.
Oscarlyn Elder (04:27):
Erica, thank you so much. Before we get deeper into the conversation, let's take a step back and really define for our listeners, what do you mean by purpose?
Erica Shalhoup (04:40):
In the most simply put, purpose is your why. That's probably the most common definition, your here, your why, your North Star. But really we like to think about it in this context of it's the unique and authentic statement of your intention in the world. Essentially how you want to show up for yourself and others. It's what you want to contribute, the legacy you want to leave or be known for your family and friends and others you interact with. And it's really important to think about it as your own unique and authentic statement that's true to you and only you. That's the imprint you want to have, your why.
Oscarlyn Elder (05:13):
And so what impacts our why, if you will? What impacts how people define and develop their purpose.
Erica Shalhoup (05:22):
There are so many things. I think about those moments in your life that have created joy or the way you grew up and the things you knew you valued and were so important. Also the things that cause more difficult emotions like sadness or anxiety or the things you want to see changed. All of these things as you think about these important moments in your life, it enables you to really think about what's most important to you and how that then can help you describe your purpose.
Oscarlyn Elder (05:53):
And are there moments for you that stand out in your journey that have influenced your purpose?
Erica Shalhoup (06:00):
That's a tougher one because this is sometimes hard to talk about publicly, but I'm happy to. For me, it started when I was young. So I grew up in a large immigrant-based ethnic family, and we knew that work ethic was important. We knew that giving back to our community was important. Those were just values I was raised with. And so for me, the imprints of what was important and my purpose started at that point. And then it evolved as I thought about how do I want to leave my own imprint that's bigger than myself? And I started to think about not only the generation in which I live, but once I became a mom and had kids, I wanted to think about how do I leave this world better for them than they have it today?
And so you see my purpose really shaped by these fundamental life events that are both core to who I am, but also evolve over time. And the person I continue to become because finding your purpose is not a one and done. It truly is a journey, and it's an ever-evolving one that I think we all aspire to.
Oscarlyn Elder (07:02):
Alex, how about you? Tell us about your purpose journey.
Alex Wagner (07:06):
Well, mine was, I'm honestly going to say I became more conscious of even asking this question even though as everyone, when you're young you're like, why am I here? Why am I here? And that question has persisted for me since I was little, but I never really spent that much time on trying to really answer it until about eight or nine years ago when I was working still in the banking industry. I've been here about 27 years almost. And at some point eight or nine years ago, I just thought, "Wow, this can't be all there is." And I really made myself stop and just step back and ask, why am I still here? Why am I here in general in the world? And that really prompted my personal purpose journey. And it was off the grid, it was nobody had trained me; I hadn't really talked to anybody who would say here are the steps, so I just went at it on my own.
And the way I did was really gave myself the gift of time of about saying I'm going to take about one to two months and just notice, notice when I feel great, when I love what I'm doing, when my height and my heart and soul just light up and get excited about something and make me want to just keep going. You know, the Zen mode. And so I had to carry this little journal notebook with me. And I stopped every time I felt this and started writing and just quick notes and nuggets like, oh, I love the smell of food. I love cooking, or I love gardening or being in nature or listening to classical music or helping someone. Even at work, so it was all across my life and I wanted it to be with that intention that it needed to be across everything I do every day.
And so after that little journey, I stopped and I really analyzed and sort of started highlighting and finding there were themes in here. And helping others was a big theme and just appreciation of beauty and kindness, things like that really came up. And then I thought, "Well, if that's what this is, how can I apply that to what I'm doing every day?" And that suddenly made me realize, "Wow, banking is a really important part of that journey in life. There are things I can do within the organization." And luckily during that time was right when our heritage bank actually became purpose-driven. And so that is why I stayed on ultimately, that that has become the alignment of my personal purpose and my alignment to the work I do every day.
And so today, I can honestly say that my personal purpose statement, and as Erica said, it's a journey and it evolves over time. But as of today, I articulate it as to amplify and accelerate good so that more people can live fulfilled and joyful lives. And every day it becomes my anchor and also my guidepost of if what I'm doing aligns with that. And I can quickly course-correct when it doesn't.
Oscarlyn Elder (09:58):
Will you repeat that? I think that it was very powerful. So will you say that again?
Alex Wagner (10:02):
Yeah. It's to amplify and accelerate good so that more people can live fulfilled and joyful lives.
Oscarlyn Elder (10:13):
Yeah, that's very powerful. Both of you are, I'll say, I think further along the purpose journey than I am. Or at least the ability to articulate it fully or articulate it to that level. Alex, I mean that's really quite beautifully stated. I share some similarities with Erica in that I think I've always lived a purpose-filled life, but grew up in a family that was probably more focused on values. And so our values were, we work really hard, our faith is important to us, taking care of others, being kind was integral to our daily lives. And then you kind of progress through life. And as a young adult, I think my purpose was ultimately to launch my career, to make sure I could care for my family, some of those basic things. And then as I've aged, gave birth to my daughter, experienced moving from my thirties into my forties now into my fifties, what I have found is that my perspective has changed.
And so I know I've been working on trying to articulate my purpose, kind of work on where I am today, and what's my personal purpose. And throughout I'd say especially my thirties and forties, a key value for me was really to try to live peacefully and joyfully. And so as I've worked on this really over the last couple of months, I've really come up with that my purpose is to live in peace and joy and to create better futures. So for me, being able to create that better future, it captures what I want for my family, it captures what I want for my community, it gives me an aspirational sense of creating and moving towards something. So again, it's not fully formed, it's a work in progress, and I think it always will be. But I'm certainly inspired to hear your stories and how you articulate that. And I think we get a lot of value when frankly we do listen to others and hear how they're thinking about the world and how they interact with the world and what they want to accomplish within it.
Alex Wagner (12:30):
Erica Shalhoup (12:31):
Oscarlyn, I'll just say what you just said I think is so important. Two pieces, one, that it is a journey and that you've got to find when the words feel right and the words feel true to you. It's not about how does yours sound compared to mine, compared to Alex's. It's not about any of those things. It's truly about what feels right to you in your gut. And then the more we can share with one another, the more we understand one another. And that's really the beauty in this process, is that we get that unique opportunity to understand a little more where we each come from. And then we know a little more about where we're trying to go and we can help hold each other accountable to that end goal.
Oscarlyn Elder (13:12):
Able to drive that deeper connection with people when you understand why do they think they exist.
Erica Shalhoup (13:19):
A hundred percent.
Oscarlyn Elder (13:21):
What's important to them and their existence. And to how they define success. It just makes it easier.
Alex Wagner (13:28):
Erica Shalhoup (13:29):
And I realized as I was talking, I got so caught up in talking about the process of how I got there, I didn’t share mine. So if you bear with me, let me go back and do that because I do think it is the culmination of time and thoughtfulness, but mine’s much more simple and much more just how I hold myself accountable, truly, at the end of the day. But it's to make a meaningful impact by living intentionally, giving back at every opportunity, and instilling those beliefs in future generations. Because what I find is that it's first about me and how I want to show up. But going back to that mom moment I had, how do I also instill that sense of things bigger than yourself? And seeing beyond the myopic view so many of us can have in a given day to what's outside yourself and my children and how we can continue to plant those seeds for future generations to come.
Alex Wagner (14:25):
That's so beautiful.
Erica Shalhoup (14:26):
Thank you, Alex.
Alex Wagner (14:28):
I was going to say what I love about that is that it's paying it forward. It's inspiring others. And I think purpose statements, purpose actions, especially purposeful actions, they really can inspire a lot of other people. And we'll never know who are we inspired by what we put forth and how we inspired ourselves and held ourselves accountable. That's a great tool for that.
Erica Shalhoup (14:51):
A hundred percent. I'm inspired by both of you just in hearing that, just hearing that it helps me think about have I done enough. Every time I hear others share, that's my first question. Have I done enough? And then the second thing I find as we've had so many teammates share with one another now, it's that bond and that connection. And sometimes it's joyful, sometimes it's with tears, sometimes it's really hard to put things out there that are so personal about yourself. But once you do, that bond and connection that's created becomes quite unbreakable because then you know someone's walking beside you in that path.
Oscarlyn Elder (15:27):
All right, well look, thank you both for being vulnerable and sharing to that level. I just really appreciate it. And I'm pretty confident our listeners are going to appreciate it as well.
I'd like to turn our conversation now in a slightly different direction. And so with that, what I'd like to do is take a moment and let's talk about what can listeners do to understand their purpose. What are some actions that they can take to begin to put together what their purpose may be?
Alex Wagner (16:11):
Yeah, I can take that. For me, it starts with actions big and small. So I know the statement and the ask of what is your purpose seems so daunting. So I would like to invite our listeners just to put that thought to the side. They're the little things, the little steps that make many steps. It's all the big little and everything in between that makes the difference. And how you can take steps toward articulating your own purpose, but also how do you then bring it to life once you have identified and got a sense of it? And so the way I look at purpose is that it is a statement on a piece of paper or on the wall; I like to put mine up to remind myself every day as I work. So it's just a statement on the wall until you bring it to life through the things you do.
And one of the ways I think about it is, how do I use it as a tool is the one way is deciding on key decisions in my life. It's a great gauge for am I living on track? Are these decisions aligned with what I truly believe in what my purpose is? And they really make it easy. If you have your purpose clearly defined, these decisions won't become that hard. They actually become easier by having that articulated. And for an example, if you're deciding on your career path, like I told my story earlier, well it made my decision pretty clear that this was a place where I could actually bring my purpose to life pretty easily because this aligned so well. I didn't know that right before I thought about walking out the door. And I would say the other place is where I spend my time and money.
I think about this all the time. Some things you're like, "God, that seems really frivolous spending," or, "Gosh, I can't spend time on that." But the moment I force myself to take that purpose lens, what is my purpose, it suddenly makes me either I'm straight on target or I just need to tweak a little bit of something to make it then okay, it will then be aligned with my purpose or not. Or I can tweak it just a little in order for it to be aligned. So I use it as a decision tool with big and little things. And they include trips of a lifetime, they include where I donate money, I spend my time, charity work, all of these things. And it's so much more rewarding when you feel like, okay, I feel good about what I just did, time, money, any of those because they felt so aligned.
Even to the point where I've shared this with our investment advisor even more, just very recently, and she held me accountable. And she said, "Hey, that doesn't really seem like that's right on track." And she called me out, and it was great. And she actually pushed me to work on some of the things, funny enough, that I'd been putting off. And we just took this huge once-in-a-lifetime trip, and she said, "You haven't really finished updating that will you really need to work on," and so we did. And these are the things, I gave her this tool to help hold us accountable. And she used it, and it was amazing. And it felt really good.
Oscarlyn Elder (19:16):
Alex, a good bit of what you said resonated with me. And it also connected back to something that Erica said earlier. When we think about our purpose statements, in all of them, there was an element of future impact. So it's future impact, which our audience, often they're going to have wealth that they are thinking about. What is the impact of that wealth? What do I want the future impact of my wealth to be? How do I want to shape the future? And with a well-defined purpose or a defined purpose, I don't know that it has to be well defined, but a defined purpose, a defined road map to how you view success, what I've seen with clients is that those that do have that north star defined, they're able to prioritize to be less distracted, to stay on course over a longer period of time.
So if in your purpose there is this sense of giving back to future generations, there may also be a sense of how you're giving back. It might be through education. Or no judgment here around how people view it, and that for some it may be education; for others, it may actually be recreation. So it might be that trip for others, that it might be creating those memories and having the memories go through the family and be a thread that kind of connects the life of the family going forward. It might be part of a future story around the family that someone wants to be passed down from generation to generation even. So that purpose, when I think about it, the purpose really is that guiding north star that enables that. And I love that you talked about sharing purpose with your advisor because I think that's a key question too, is who should be in the discussion around purpose?
I mean, we just kind of opened up and very vulnerably gave our personal purposes, but who do we expect to be in the conversation? I think that's also really important. And we would encourage dialogue with your advisor because what your advisor allows you to do is the advisor will hear your purpose, help you define the road, and then be able to hold you to task on that, which is really what you need. You need a partner in the journey. Again, you get to define the purpose, the values, the path forward, but your advisor can be a better party to that journey if you let them in on what's going on within your heart and soul, if you will.
Alex Wagner (22:06):
That is so true, Oscarlyn. And I have to share with you, it was something very unexpected that happened because of the part of my purpose statement that is about, so that more people can live fulfilled and joyful lives. And she said to me, "Well, doesn’t that include you and your own family?" And I said, "Yes, why?" And she said, "Well, I'm going to encourage you to spend a little bit more resources, i.e., money on that." It was opposite to what I expected. I expected her to say, "Save more, put more away, invest more." And she was like, "You've covered a lot of this, but I think you need to allow yourself a bit more so that you can in fact live fulfilled and joyful lives." And it was completely contrary to what I expected her to say. So that opened my eyes to actually saying, "Oh, even more important that she is such a partner in understanding fully and holding me accountable because I would just save, save, save or invest, invest until I keel over or something." But this was about to say, "Look, this is what you value. Go live it."
Oscarlyn Elder (23:04):
Yeah, that's great.
Erica Shalhoup (23:05):
Yeah, and I think that's so important, Alex, because when you think about the core of what we're talking about and, Oscarlyn, to your question, who do you share it with, is a very personal choice. I understand that there are folks on a variety of different ends of the continuum on “I share it with everyone” or “I share it to a close-knit set of trusted friends, family members, advisors.” But what I would push us all to think about a little differently is for the unexpected benefit you just talked about, Alex, is that the more you get comfortable sharing, and I'll be the first to say, you heard me say it at the beginning, sharing isn't always easy. But once you can get to that point, then you know you are doing exactly what you intended to do and you can make better decisions around it, to Alex's earlier point.
When I think about specifically that advisor relationship, the other piece I would add, this world we live in has so many options. There are so many choices to make. We have decision fatigue in so many ways. And when you think about how do I distill down what's most important to me so that those decisions that were seemingly difficult now become simpler and more discrete, your partner, your financial partner, your advisor, is in the best position to help guide you down that path once they know the things that are most important to you. And then you know that centering and that benefit that comes from the moment you do good and share with others, you also know that you're setting your financial plan in a way that you can also feel really proud around, because you're doing it in a way that's intentional and aligns with your broader purpose in life.
Oscarlyn Elder (24:43):
Hey, thank you both so much. What I'd like to do now is pivot us in a slightly different conversation. Help me understand the difference between goals, values, and purpose, and how they work together.
Alex Wagner (24:58):
Erica, you want to start with that?
Erica Shalhoup (24:59):
I'm happy to. So I think they all go together. But if you think about purpose is your why, like we've said, that's kind of the highest echelon of thinking, if you will. And I like to think about your values as that how. So how do I want to live, how do I want to be? What are those things that are helping kind of shape the way I act, frankly? The day-to-day intrinsic actions if building trusting relationships is important to me, or being honest as a value is important to me. Those are ways that just inform the way I'm going to interact in all the relationships, the way I live out my purpose, those pieces. And then goals get a little more discrete from that. So the goals are more specific. Things like, Alex, you wanted to create greater joy in your example, and create greater joy in your own life. That's the purposeful lens of that. This specific goal may be a very targeted vacation or a very targeted experience. So it's extracting from the biggest picture to the discrete actions you can take to help you bit by bit achieve your greater why.
Alex Wagner (26:01):
I did want to share at this point a story, just a brief comment around how I often share with people the difference between purpose and mission and goals, I've shared it before with you guys, is the honeybee story is just for people to really understand how different by levels of magnitude a purpose is versus a goal. And the honeybee goes out every day and goes out and finds its nectar to come home and make it back to the beehive to make its honey. And it's doing that every day, it's the thing it does every day, but it has no sense of what its bigger purpose actually is, which is to pollinate the world.
So when you think about this activity every day of getting the nectar to make the honey, hugely important, feeds the whole hive and all that stuff. So it doesn't devalue the thing itself, your goal or your mission, but when you zoom out and actually can put that everyday work into context of purpose, it just adds a whole different layer of meaning and excitement to the work you do every day. And often, we're not conscious of what that is, but so this is an invitation, I think, to help everyone step up to consciously looking at what you might already be doing that is on the level of purpose, but it might add more meaning to your life if you actually see it through that lens.
Oscarlyn Elder (27:27):
Yeah, I take away a few things. So more meaning can be a tool to help you prioritize in a world where time is a constraint, energy is a constraint, and wealth is a constraint. And so it's just really that tool that can help you with the prioritization and the focus around your actions every day. All right, one more question that I'd like to ask is I think a number of our audience members are going to want to contemplate really thinking about and developing their purpose. I mean, certainly that's what we're encouraging folks to do today. So for our listeners who may be early in the journey, kind of like I am, what sorts of questions, Erica, should they ask themselves? How can they start to begin to collect the information? Because you talked about this in your own journey, how can they start to collect that information to begin to work to define their purpose? What do you recommend?
Erica Shalhoup (28:37):
Well, I think to me it's that first step of self-awareness. And just paying attention and paying attention to those moments in your life when you experience great joy and that big smile on your face that you know you can't wipe off. And then moments of sadness and moments of angst where you realize you wish you could do more. All of those moments of emotion that hit you in a real raw way, that's one thing to think about. And then I also like to think about it in terms of passion. So what are the things that you love most to do? What are the things that when you're doing them, you feel that intrinsic reward or motivation to do more? And then the things that you see around you that are inspiring to you. So it can be your own actions, your own experience, whether it's recently or in your past, and then those around you that are inspiring.
And I think that combination, to Alex's point earlier, helps you start distilling these themes or this what I call common thread between all those things. And that starts helping you understand what's just a little more uniquely important to you than you may have realized before.
Oscarlyn Elder (29:46):
All right, Alex, what questions would you add to that? So as our audience members are working on the self-awareness step, what would you add to what Erica recommended?
Alex Wagner (29:59):
Yeah, I think when you're getting close to thinking you're in that area of your purpose statement and as you keep refining it, to ask yourself the question, is this action or thought helping me do X, Y, or Z that I've defined as my purpose statement? So it's almost a litmus test to does this feel congruent? And I invite everyone to really make use of what we typically don't associate with banking, but to actually go through your heart first, to really center and look inward. I know people probably roll their eyes in some cases and go like, oh, here she goes, the mushy stuff. But no, I actually mean that what you feel is your most honest feedback guide for this level of work, and then allow yourself to think about it. So actually follow the sequence of how do I feel is one key question with this, and does it resonate? How does it feel in my body? And then what do I think about that? Those two will actually guide you in ultimately honing it to really making it yours.
Oscarlyn Elder (31:04):
Thank you so much. What I'm going to encourage our listeners to do is over the course of this podcast and the next podcast, we're going to encourage you to walk around with either your phone, which you probably do anyway, so that's not a unique ask, or a notepad, either one and really ask yourself questions like what experiences have had a big impact in my life? Erica, I believe, talked about that. What did I love doing as a child and why? What do I love doing now and why? How do I want to be remembered? Ask yourself a number of these self-reflecting questions, questions that should raise your awareness, and write down those answers. We'd like you just to start cataloging this information.
Now on our next episode, we're actually going to share an exercise with you that you can download and print and fill out to kind of take it beyond. Take those observations, take that self-awareness information, and begin to channel it into a process to develop your own purpose. So stick with us. We're going to walk you through that on our next episode. Until then, though, use your phone and the notes section on your phone or the voice memo section, either one, whatever works for you or the notepad, and contemplate the answers to those questions.
All right, well, that's all the time that we've got for today's episode. Many thanks to Alex Wagner and Erica Shalhoup for joining me today for this important conversation about purpose and aligning it to your financial life. Alex and Erica will be back with me on our next episode to continue our purpose discussion. Then we're going to pivot “I've Been Meaning To Do That” and tackle more of those tactical items that I talked about earlier. Thank you for joining me today. If you like this episode, please be sure to subscribe and tell a friend or a family member about it. And if you have a question for me or the team here at “I've Been Meaning To Do That,” email me at DoThat@Truist.com. I hope you have a great day. Talk to you soon.