Purpose is a funny thing. It’s an intangible asset that everybody understands yet nobody can touch, and when we reflect upon why an event occurred we sometimes come to the conclusion that “it was meant to happen.”
Looking through the entrepreneurial lens, it takes a certain level of passion, meaning and fulfillment to lead with purpose, to run a business where cash is not king.
John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods and author of Conscious Capitalism, said he believes that “businesses are at their best when reaching for a higher purpose that ranges far beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest claims.” Additionally, he claims to know “hundreds of entrepreneurs and, with very few exceptions, most of them did not start their businesses primarily to make money."
Related: 7 Steps to Find Meaning in Your Work
Of course, financial parity is certainly a valid reason for starting any new endeavor, but so is filling an emotional void, realizing a personal goal or providing an unmet social need. It could be that you saw parallels in one world that were replicable in another, such as Brian Martelli, co-founder and co-chairman of the SEAL Future Fund, who was motivated by the similarities of “preparation, problem solving and dedication to purpose” between his former Wall Street career and special operations. Or, take Zach Iscol, founder and CEO of Task & Purpose whose former career of service in the Marines led him into the world of non-profits and improving other peoples’ lives.
Leading with purpose is at the center of social entrepreneurship, as it is purpose that pulls you and passion that ignites you. To help find yours, start with these four areas:
1. Character is who you are and what you stand for when nobody’s watching. To pinpoint exactly what your values are -- or what you espouse them to be -- try the legacy test: Imagine attending your funeral (I know, not exactly inspiring). What do people say about you? How do you want others to remember you? What memories do you want to pass on?
2. Competence is what you can do -- the skills that make you, you. What are you good at? What should you probably never do again? To identify your strengths and weaknesses and find your entrepreneurial purpose, try creating a Ben Franklin close: Get out a piece of paper and write the area of interest you’re solving for at the top (in this case, it’s competence). Next, draw a vertical line down the center, labeling the left side “strengths” and the right side “challenges.” Write out as many of each that you can think of on both sides of the line and when you’re finished, go back through and rate the significance of each one.
For instance, if you identified 13 strengths, then your strongest skill would be number one and your weakest would be number 13. Repeat for “challenges.” Finally, weigh the magnitude of each strength against each challenge. The key here is to “push away” the obstacles comprising your challenges by pulling from your strengths.
3. Commitment is measured by how frequently you engage an interest. Do you get up at 5 a.m. to read because your 2 year old makes you build train tracks with him when you get home from work? If you do, then that’s commitment. If you’re unsure, try tracking your daily routine for a week to see where you spend the majority of the time. Does it match what you think you’re committed to?
4. Compassion is a deep-rooted concern that propels you forward and ignites a call for action. A compassionate entrepreneur, for example, is one who starts a business to solve social problems that the greater public will benefit from rather than just a few individuals.
There’s no secret formula for getting “there” other than consistent trial and error. One's knowledge, network and circumstance can be used to find purpose and passion but, realistically, you can use anything. The key is to find what works for you and just go with it. The beauty of leading with purpose is that you erase the connotation of “work” from your vocabulary, and instead just live (while also paying the bills).
Related: The 4 Elements of a Legacy Brand