Purpose Is Created Through Hard Work

Persistence can change your circumstances, but it also changes you.

learn more about Jurgen Appelo

By Jurgen Appelo


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone talks about purpose, but few people (and companies) know how to define it. I believe that purpose is created through hard work, not just something to be discovered.

Last year, an interesting meme on the Internet, called the Venn diagram of purpose, suggested that purpose can be found in the intersection of four things:

  • What you love doing (activities that make you happy)
  • What you can be paid for (sustaining your needs in life)
  • What the world needs (your contribution to society)
  • What you are good at (how you are different from others)

(There's an animated video of the diagram here.)

But it works in the other direction, too.

The diagram is cute and it might indeed help some of you to discover a purpose in your work life. You could make lists of everything you love doing, the challenges the world is facing, the things people are willing to pay money for, and anything you happen to be good at. They would be long lists, I'm sure. But after a few iterations, you could find some overlap and discover your purpose.

However, usually, it works the other way around.

By exploring something intensively, and figuring out how to do it differently compared to others, it is possible to start loving something that you usually hated. For example, I hated management for years before I figured out that many managers were doing it wrong. Only after I changed my approach, I started loving it.

Related: 4 Steps to a Better Management Technique

By imagining and delivering a product or service that nobody asked for, it is possible to create a market (and high demand) where there was none until you started. Looking at my own career: nobody was paying for licensed agile management workshops, before I started. In a Lean Startup way, I invented something that people were willing to pay for.

By changing yourself and the world around you, you also change people's needs. The problems that need solving tomorrow are determined by the problems being solved today. For example, by creating a company for my growing business, I discovered the world's need for scaling businesses, which is now the next problem I'm trying to solve.

Finally, through ongoing deliberate practice, it is possible that you can become great at something you were never really good at. From my personal experience, as a frequently booked public speaker, I notice that people are often amazed to find out that I'm actually an introvert who has always preferred writing over talking. I was never good at speaking. But I practiced, a lot.

Related: 7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers

The Venn diagram of purpose is both right and wrong.

It is right because purpose is the result of a lot of work that you need to do in four different areas. However, it is wrong in making people believe that purpose is something for you to discover, as if it is already there, hiding somewhere in those four overlapping areas. For some of you, that might even be true. But for most of us, purpose is something that we create.

We explore things until we love them;
We invent things until we get paid;
We change until the world needs us;
And we practice until we're good at it.

Purpose is something to be created, with a lot of hard work.

Related: Want to Find Your Purpose? Stop Looking for It. Start Living With It.

Jurgen Appelo

Writer, Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO of Happy Melly

Jurgen Appelo is CEO of the business network Happy Melly. He is an entrepreneur, speaker, illustrator and blogger and the author of Managing for Happiness.

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