Want to Be An Entrepreneur? Focus on What Gives Your Life Meaning

That's what we learned when we surveyed 1,200 Americans about their entrepreneurial goals.

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Are you trying to find the inner drive and inspiration to be become an entrepreneur? We surveyed over 1,200 American adults from diverse backgrounds all over the country, seeking to understand the factors that lead people to pursue their entrepreneurial goals.

Our big takeaway? It isn't all about money, or success, or even business.

It's this: If someone feels that their life has meaning, they're more likely to become an entrepreneur.

And it goes even deeper than that. When we looked at the people who said they want to start a business, we saw a pattern: The most energized, confident, and goal-focused of them all also believe they have the ability to live meaningful lives. In fact, regardless of whether or not they have plans to start a business, survey respondents who believe strongly in their ability to live meaningful lives also had the most positive views about entrepreneurs.

In short, meaning in life inspires the entrepreneurial spirit—as well as the public opinions needed to make our society supportive of entrepreneurship.

So, what exactly is meaning in life?

When we say "meaning in life," we mean that you feel that you play a significant role in the world. It's a sense that you have a purpose. To feel meaningful is to believe that you matter, that you can make important contributions to your family, friends, communities, and broader society.

It has powerful implications for physical and mental wellbeing, for confidence and motivation, and for optimism about the future. Decades of research in psychology has shown the importance of this feeling of meaning in making people resilient and focused in difficult times.

And here's why this is so important to understand now: If we can take advantage of the power of meaning, then aspiring entrepreneurs can rise up, and provide the resiliency and focus necessary to help us all navigate these difficult times.

How entrepreneurs can harness this power

No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, start by taking the time to focus on what currently gives your life meaning. Then, think about how your entrepreneurial ambitions build on that. For most of us, meaning is found in close relationships, by connecting with and serving the ones we love. Therefore, it may be helpful when developing a business plan to think about how it will not only help you pursue your own ambitions, but can also benefit those you care about most.

For example, are you building a business that can provide opportunities for family and friends? Will your business give you the ability to spend more time with loved ones? Or might it offer new ways for you to be better able to be there for them?

More broadly, think about how your future business can help make significant contributions to your community, and perhaps even the broader world. Focusing on the meaningful role you can play may not only help give you inspiration, it may also help you generate novel ideas and innovation solutions to challenges you and your community face. You may be the one that helps make important breakthroughs, the one who finds a way to help vulnerable populations in the community, or the one who finds a new way to deliver goods to meet people's needs during social distancing.

Eventually, when our global challenges have passed, an economic recovery will depend on the entrepreneurial spirit and business innovations to help our society flourish. As people continue, at least in the short term, to reduce their travel, limit their retail shopping and dining out, avoid attending large events and meetings, and continue other social distancing behaviors, businesses will need to continue to explore new ways of delivering and producing goods and services. New opportunities will arise for those that are able to innovate in this environment. In addition, individuals will need to support entrepreneurs and their businesses in order for them to rebuild and thrive.

Believing that your life is meaningful, that you have a significant role to play in the world, can help you cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit and innovate in ways that not only help you fulfill your need for meaning but also help shape a flourishing world where others can do the same.

Our study was conducted at the The Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.

Clay Routledge and John Bitzan

Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth

Clay Routledge is a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University and a faculty fellow for the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.

John Bitzan is the director of the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.

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