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Purpose gets a bad rap in the entrepreneurial space. Purpose-driven entrepreneurs are often labeled as woo or misguided even. But purpose, in its bigger context, is simply about meaning, and right now, purpose is having a moment.
For almost two years, entrepreneurs have adjusted, shifted, pivoted, repositioned and even abandoned offerings in the wake of a constantly changing health crisis. It is a time where business, work and family life have taken on new forms and in some cases merged into one continuum. The after-effects caused us to evaluate everything in this new existence and look for more meaning in our work — asking ourselves, what does it all mean? Everything in our lives had to earn its place as our conversations expanded beyond work-life balance, and into something more primal around our livelihood and literally, life and death.
Enter purpose, where entrepreneurs and the people we employ long to be fulfilled beyond monetary gain. The New York Times dubbed this the YOLO (You only live once) Economy, where people are quitting jobs in record numbers in search of adventure. And while this article was specifically focused on the job market, entrepreneurs are not immune to this feeling of needing our work to have a greater objective not only for ourselves but also for the people we employ.
Purpose in its grandest form evokes discussion around the meaning of life and what we are on this planet to do, but in its simplest form, purpose is about intent. Intent and paychecks are not mutually exclusive. When intent is met with action, there is gain. This means business has always been holistic. Score one for the woo crowd.
If you have lost sight of what you’re doing and why it matters or simply find you need to give greater context to your work, here are three questions to ask yourself to align your purpose and your paycheck.
What is an experience you don’t want anyone else to have?
The answer to this sets up the problem/solution dynamic needed in business.
Purpose resides in the halls of your pain — whether a little uncomfortable or a full-blown wound. Problems by their nature are irritations. If business solves problems, look to what is unpleasant and address it.
What is something you have gone through you don’t want anyone else to endure? I call this your Harriet Tubman moment. It’s the moment when you realize something isn’t working for you and you chart a course to a better future. You perfect or create a system or develop a product to fix what’s ailing you. You go back into your community to teach this system or offer your product in order to show your audience a better way — to bring them to freedom — driven by this unpleasant experience.
When you connect this experience to a business offering, you have the makings of a mission. The product/service you offer the world is to solve this one particular problem. Missions drive momentum.
Your intent is to make a difference.
What do you want to be known for?
This answer to this drives strategy, content and media appearances.
The point of your work is not to fill your calendars and to-do lists with unnecessary business or to become overextended with appointments that don’t move your business or internal barometer forward. What do you want your name to be synonymous with? How do you want people to think of you? Opportunities not rooted in what you want to be known for can be dismissed.
Build narratives around the problem you solve and how you want to show up in the marketplace. These narratives become assets you use when you want to increase sales, build confidence and make an impression.
Telling your story is the fastest way to build trust and camaraderie. Telling a story with direction around an experience grounded in the problem you solve and why — this is fulfillment.
Your intent is to have a greater impact.
What does the world lose if you don’t share your story?
This answer speaks to legacy.
Whether you believe in purpose in its grandest form or not, you are here to do important work — work only you can do. You are a unique collection of experiences, expertise and point of view and your Harriet Tubman moment is yours alone. There are people who need the solution your experience provides.
Imagine the perfect world, one where you have solved the problem based on the experience you don’t want anyone else to have. What does that world look like? Is there less pain? More freedom? More love? Less hate? Are we all wearing tiaras?
Telling the story of who you are and why you are here moves us all one step closer to your perfect world. You are uniquely credentialed to lead us to your vision.
What does the world lose if we don’t hear from you? This is the illustration of purpose.
Your intent is to make your mark on the world.
Finding meaning in your work is about connection and operating with specificity. When you show up authentically and on purpose, money follows. Aligning your purpose and your paycheck allows you to build an audience that resonates with your message and core beliefs, and leads to work that is asset-driven, rather than deficit-driven.
This has a huge effect on how you show up and provide for the people who count on you and more importantly, for yourself. Because in fact, you indeed only live once.
Related: 9 Tips for Finding Your Life Purpose