Welcome back to Experimenting on Purpose
6. When your purpose changes
How to know if your purpose in life and work has changed, and what to do about it
Well hello again and welcome back to our little chat: Experimenting on Purpose!
I began this series back in 2015 with an introduction of what purpose is and what it means to me, a look at how it can both affect and help solve many of the problems we face as a society in terms of the economy, how it affects our decision making abilities and works as our best motivator, how it can be used to help companies navigate a better future, and why it’s at the very heart of every design problem we’ve ever faced. And then I left you. Hanging. For 3.5 years with nothing to say. My only words now are that I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry. I’m human. I got sidetracked by other priorities…which brings me to today…
Change is a constant in life, even purpose changes
…Let’s talk about what happens when your purpose changes. Change is one of the few constants in our world. It’s inevitable. No one can stop it. Technology changes, politics change, culture changes, the planet changes, animals evolve, people change. And because of that, you’ll find that purpose will change as well.
It’s not usually something drastic: from ‘to end poverty’ to ‘run the most profitably junk food store in the world.’ It’s usually more of an evolution of where you started. The change is subtle, or with an alternative perspective, a different focus.
Some large corporations have had the same purpose for generations. Johnson & Johnson for example, has its credo, written by Robert Wood Johnson, former Chairman and part of the original founding family in 1943. And it is still very much in use today.
But most modern companies, and almost all small business owners, will find it necessary to review and adjust their purpose at least every 10 years if not sooner.
When organizational purpose changes
Remember our example from Tesla, back in episode 1 of this little experiment? Well since then even Tesla’s had to adjust their purpose from ‘sustainable transport’ to ‘sustainable energy’ because of course they’ve expanded beyond cars…they’ve increased their scope.
When personal purpose changes
As far as a personal purpose goes, I think it’s safe to say that it changes with all of the major transitions in life: childhood, 20s, mid-30s, family, marriage, mid life crisis, retirement, health scares, someone close to you dying, etc.
As for me, I went from:
I pursue happiness. It is the profit I aim to maximize for myself, my family and my community.
I promote the wellbeing of my family, myself, and the entrepreneurs I’m lucky to support.
Wellbeing in this instance includes spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health as well as my overall sense of meaning and quality of life. I recently took a free online course on the Science of Happiness, which taught me that meaning + happiness = wellbeing and that’s really what I’m after. It doesn’t seem that different, but the subtleties are meaningful to me, and that’s what’s important.
“meaning + happiness = wellbeing”
I’ve also changed the order and description of the beneficiaries of my purpose. I had a kid (and I have another on the way!) and although I am still the most important person in my life, that is only so that I can best nurture, teach and support my children. My new family is my #1 priority in life. My purpose is to ensure that they can become the best, most true versions of themselves so that they are best suited to live out their own purpose, whatever that may be.
This little man know controls my heart. He’s reshaped my life in ways I could have never imagined, and made me rethink my entire life. He’s taught me the importance of taking care of myself, so that I can help others. He pushes me to loose my bad habits so that I don’t pass them along to him. He’s made me appreciate every mother who’s ever lived and rethink my entire perspective on our challenge of women’s equality in the workplace, or rather, world. When he entered this world, he ushered me into the next phase of my life and with that came a new purpose.
…but first, an offer…
Purpose changes with phases in life or business
I recommend every business and/or individual review their purpose at least annually…not with the explicit intention to change it, more so just as a check-in to make sure you’re still on the right path.
We go through so many important phases of life, often defined by 10–15 years or so, slower as we age, or as organizations mature. There’s the ‘doesn’t exist / founders struggle stage’ the ‘start up years’ the ‘shit we grew too fast, now what phase’ the ‘we’ve hit a plateau and that’s ok phase’ etc.
What’s important is to be mindful when you’re at the end of your current phase, and a new one is starting. Having an effective purpose can help test when that may be happening. Ask yourself these questions:
- Has your life or business gone through any major changes lately?
- Does my purpose still feel relevant?
- Is anything that is truly important in my life/business, missing from this purpose?
- Is there anything represented in your purpose that no longer feels important?
- What does your gut say?
Re-align your work to your new purpose
As a small business owner, I have the luxury of directly aligning my personal purpose with my professional purpose. I’m working on a whole process right now for how to show you guys how to do that, because it’s not exactly easy, but it also doesn’t have to be that complicated.
When you do suddenly become aware, as I did, that your day-to-day priorities have changed as a result of an overall shift in purpose, the first step is to consider the tradeoffs that this will cause and be comfortable with them or make adjustments if needed.
For me this meant my role as ‘wife’ dropped down a few marks. My husband is no longer at the top of the list and that has its repercussions. My career also took a pretty good hit…hence my radio silence on this blog. These were mostly conscious decisions, I suddenly found much less pleasure and interest doing anything that kept me away from my family. However, some of the side effects did throw me a bit off guard. I over-compensated a bit and the repercussions were real.
I felt less connected to my husband. I felt like I was contributing less to the world. My brain was feeling a bit mushy, a bit underutilized. I had an itch to get back in the game, create something new, but with new parameters to meet my new needs.
So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m working on building a new business that will allow me to continue working part-time, on my own schedule, from anywhere in the world. So that I can continue to raise my kids, be free to move if my husband’s work demands it or if we simply opt for a life with more travel (which seems imminent, but not anytime soon).
Most importantly, I need a business that doesn’t rely on me working with clients…because with a toddler at home most of the time (and another newborn on the way), I just can’t give them the focus they deserve. I constantly found my clients and my toddler fighting for my attention. And that’s just not fair to my clients, my kids or myself. Also, my toddler won :)
I’m working on a solution for most of my client’s problems that they can use to solve themselves — without me…so that I can go back doing what I love most: researching, finding and curating the best of what already exists, creating useful content to help others, and inspiring more entrepreneurs, particularly other women, to follow their dreams.
My purpose changed, and as a result, so did my actions.
So now I have a new purpose, and a new business, but I’ve also picked up some new habits and re-discovered some old ones I’d forgotten.
My priority was my son, but I found that my own poor mental health was impacting him ways I wasn’t comfortable with. So I got help. And as a result I FINALLY (after a decade or so of trying) picked up a daily meditation practice, which has led to healthier eating and exercise habits, a calmer mind, less yelling, less anxiety, more awareness of how I’m feeling and what I think about.
I’ve also started reading again. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time with a young child to read for myself. It’s that I was using that as an excuse to not MAKE time. I used to pick up my phone first thing every morning, now I pick up a book. I used to watch TV for the last hour of every night, now a couple of nights a week I read instead.
I made these changes, because my new purpose dictated I needed to. My wellbeing was at risk.
The path to purpose
I keep a google doc of ideas that I write in…sometimes every week…sometimes every month…sometimes once a year or so. And I recently read through the past 10 years (and 40+ pages!) of notes. What I learned is that I’ve really always been on the same path, but now it just makes more sense.
I’ve always wanted to own/run my own business, I’ve always loved entrepreneurship, but I had hard time reconciling what I grew up thinking about business (traditional, capitalistic, viewpoint that big business is best) vs what I learned in college/life (the connection between business, people and society and the belief that small business is better).
I still hate big, greedy companies, I still want big companies to be more human, but I also know, feel in the center of my soul, that it’s not where I belong (i.e. working in corporate social responsibility, etc.).
I belong with the entrepreneurs, the dreamers, the slightly neurotic. The people that just *get* that being good is better. That trying to live a better life is important. That it’s hard and that counting progress is what matters, not perfection, because the idea of being perfect is just dumb.
I always hear people saying that when you’re on your path ‘you just know.’ And they’re right.
Are you feeling lost or confused or not sure if you’re on your path? No worries, stick with us, we’ll get there.
Next time, let’s talk about designing a life with purpose
As you can tell, I’m starting to evolve this conversation. From talking about Type I organizational purpose, to talking more about type II personal purpose and how entrepreneurs specifically benefit from the privilege of aligning personal and work purposes.
Next up, let’s talk about how to design your own life with purpose. And first, that means finding your focus. Truly understanding not only your purpose in life, but your current intention and priorities. From there, we can move on to alignment, planning, and ultimately to designing your life with purpose, clarity and intent. I look forward to wrapping up this journey with you.In the meantime, join my newsletter which goes out every other week. It’s filled with highly curated content and resources to help you on your own journey. You can sign up here.