Why purpose matters and how to find yours?

1 March 2021|Purpose, Resilience, Self-Awareness, Success

As we embark on our journeys through life to build businesses, careers and create the lives we dream of, our plates are much fuller than we can possibly manage. 

Amidst everything that goes on, there is a fair chance that we may lose our direction. Not unlike the traveler who enters a forest and cannot see the stars, it is easy to lose sight of what we were aiming for when we started. Without a guiding purpose – our personal Polaris – our lives and work begin to lack meaning. As a consequence, we may fall by the wayside and lose motivation or the will to continue along the chosen path.

Our Purpose propels us through life and drives businesses/ career to greater heights. A Harvard Business Review study found that businesses with clearly defined and articulated purposes report stronger growth year on year than those who don’t. In fact, 58% of truly purpose-driven companies report a minimum of 10% growth over a three-year period. As individuals, a sense of purpose is imperative for good physical and mental health. Yet, purpose – be it professional or personal – can be difficult to define and even more difficult to maintain sight of.

Sometimes, challenges and unexpected hurdles that crop up can distract us. Other people’s opinions may sway us from our course or we can become caught up in the pursuit of new and exciting ideas that take our eyes from the prize.

What’s more, our purpose can change as we grow and develop. What was once a worthy goal can lose meaning or may need to be replaced once achieved.

A Crisis of Purpose

One of my clients, let’s call her Diana, leads a successful startup in the fashion industry. Always interested in fashion and with a natural flair for business, Diana worked hard to build her company and support her small family. Consumed with the day-to-day running of the business, she had little time to reflect on the meaning of her work, the direction of the business, or how its purpose underpins her own life goals.

Diana and her team are successful. Her family is comfortable and healthy. There are no big or obvious problems, either personally or professionally. Those around Diana admire her achievements – she appears to have it all. But Diana feels dissatisfied with her achievements and wonders why she started her business five years ago.

Upon reflection and with some support, she reconnected with her initial aim, which was to ‘Empower women through fashion’. As the business grew, Diana’s purpose was buried beneath the work needed to build market share, support her employees with well-paid jobs and be a good mother. Without a clear purpose guiding her efforts, Diana’s successes now felt hollow and meaningless to her.

As experienced by Diana, a crisis of purpose is not uncommon. Even larger organizations suffer when they lack a purpose (a vision). Microsoft found itself in a sticky situation in the early 2000s. The organization’s purpose from inception was ‘a computer on every desk, in every home’. Once this ambitious goal was fulfilled, there was no bigger purpose guiding the company’s growth. Without a meaningful purpose, the company languished with lackluster sales and poorly received developments.

In 2015, their new CEO,  Satya Nadella, redefined the company’s purpose. ‘To empower every person and organization to achieve more.’ Since doing so, Microsoft has grown its market share to become second of the world’s top companies ranked by market capitalization.

Finding your Polaris

The goals we strive for play a big role in determining the choices we make and the paths we take in life. If we don’t actively pursue our own purpose, our energy can feel sapped or be directed to activities we don’t wholeheartedly support. When our goals have been achieved or no longer hold value for us, we need to assess what we want and where we want to focus our energy next. This is critical for our well-being.

Finding your Polaris – one that is truly meaningful and motivates you through life – can be done with the right questions, reflection, and a little imagination. 

Diana hit the reset button by defining what success meant to her. In doing so, she realized that she only had only focused on one side of the coin of success – a successful business, time to create, and a happy healthy family. The side that was missing – empowering others and bringing opportunity to less fortunate communities – was sapping the joy from her achievements.

After realizing the missing piece, Diana took time to reflect. She thought back to the beginning of her business. In the early days, she and her co-founder had often engaged in brainstorming sessions, and their conversations revolved around how they could use their business to lift women from poverty. Somehow along the way to chasing success, this vision had been lost.

Diana began to imagine a new future for her company, one in which a percentage of profits could be used to invest in developing social enterprises. 

Purpose, profit, and meaningful success

Armed with new knowledge and insights, Diana was able to develop a plan with her co-founder that corrected their course and added meaning back to her life and their business. A new Small Enterprise Developer role was created and a team was put together to identify and support small, women-led ventures in developing countries. 

The enterprise development team found upcoming designers in developing communities and initiated a mentorship program to support the growth of their talent. Employee engagement grew and a process for giving back came to fruition.

As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock stated in his open letter to CEO’s ‘purpose is a company’s fundamental reason for being…it is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose – in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.

As expected, Diana’s rediscovered purpose re-energized her professional and personal life. It gave meaning to her achievements and provided a worthy goal for her company to rally around and work toward. New opportunities within her business for employees to work alongside developing enterprises opened up.

Diana’s crisis of purpose, and willingness to explore what was missing, exposed new opportunities for her business and allowed her to move in a direction that put more meaning in her life and that of her team. Taking the time to discover our true purpose and follow our Polaris improves our physical and mental health. Our Polaris is imperative for our personal and professional wellbeing, no matter what industry or profession we are part of.

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