Perhaps the widest acclaimed piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is: Know Thy Purpose. Followed closely with some synonym for “Make an impact”.
Hundreds of seminars and bulging business books howl urgent encouragement: Set aside all other thoughts and ideas until Clarity-of-Purpose is yours. Make a difference. Motivation and success will flow.
The underlying presupposition is that by somehow divining the precise correct business plan – the one you were perhaps “sent here” to perform – you’ll immediately hop in the carpool lane to business success and skip the worst parts of the journey. Make your purpose about “helping people” and you’ll get an even quicker shortcut to easy-street.
This feel-good cult of purpose has spawned thousands of wannabe entrepreneurs who claim they’re here to help others – but what if this attitude is actually sabotaging their business success?
Read on, to discover why making “Help People” your ultimate mission is a commercial and psychological disaster of colossal proportions.
The grave dangers of being too obsessed with your Purpose
Before we get stuck into why helping people is a crock, we need to address the penultimate problem: The search for your ultimate purpose, as an entrepreneur, is a grave error you probably ought to forgo immediately.
Why? It’s not that purpose itself is a bad thing. It isn’t. It’s fantastic once you have it. The problem is that the pursuit of purpose usually happens for all the wrong reasons.
Whenever I meet entrepreneurs who are desperate to uncover the ultimate business plan (or brand), the desperation is always born out of a seriously uninformed belief: That entrepreneurs who find the right business to work on enjoy some kind of convenient motivational flow that others do not.
The biggest lie you’ve ever been told is that entrepreneurs who have “Purpose” are somehow blessed in their endeavors in a way that you are not.
Such philosophies are erroneously encouraged by some successful entrepreneurs who, in analyzing their past successes with the gift of perfect hindsight, point to “finding true purpose” as the ultimate differentiator between this and all their previous failed projects.
Of course, the differentiating factor between any successful business owner’s home run and their other failed ideas is that one of them was a home run and the others weren’t. It’s too convenient to look back and polish the past, claiming that purpose fairies came down and sprinkled magic dust on everything in sight.
What we do know about business success is that those who develop a broad set of entrepreneurial capabilities though real world experience, will eventually hit a home run. If they dream big enough and don’t quit.
In some ways, spending years working (and learning) on projects where no sparkly purpose is present will force you to find success through sheer volition alone. The set of psychological muscles you’ll develop through this journey will be so mighty that, eventually, you’ll be able to transmute any old mission into a success.
Make increasing capabilities your primary objective. Higher Purpose will come. It tends to seek out those who can get things done.
“Helping People” is a crock because it’s not even a real purpose
There, I said it.
To understand why the mission of “Helping Others” is such BS, you have to understand the whole (misinformed) fashion of finding purpose: People, convinced that discovering Purpose is the one thing preventing them finally finding their mojo, look around for a convenient mission to adopt.
The thing they invariably alight on is “Helping People” because they look around and see the truth: It’s the main ingredient in every successful and enlightened entrepreneur’s mission.
This is the largest and most perfect example of the old saying “They took the shell but left the nut”.
It’s true, almost every major business tycoon built something that empowered vast numbers of people. Even the non-enlightened, like Donald Trump, provide gainful employment and livelihoods for thousands. Meanwhile, philosophical people like Steve Jobs changed the world, empowering vast numbers of people to do extraordinary things with technology.
In my own life and business, helping people is the modus operandi. It’s what I do.
Helping People is just the shell of what every successful entrepreneur does
The nut is the specificity of that purpose – the good part. If the shell is Why then the nut is How. Companies and entrepreneurs need both to really light a fire and start a movement, but having the big “Why” without any specific “How” isn’t a movement. It’s not even a business.
Most of the world’s millionaires got there by having a solid How. They weren’t focused on changing the planet. They had an awesome value proposition, like the guy who invented post it notes. He wasn’t thinking about how paper adhesives could change the planet for the better and improve lives. He had a nifty idea.
Of course, the truly huge business empires got there by having an incredible purpose too. The point is that they fueled that purpose with amazingly specific vision. They weren’t content (or even concerned) with simply helping people, but instead focused in on how it could be done.
Steve Jobs didn’t live to “Help People”. If he did, he probably would have become a life coach. Instead, he lived to make amazing technology which changed people’s lives for the better. His passion was in the details, quite literally.
All successful entrepreneurs who’re plugged into purpose and passion are the same. They make a difference, but the mission is about how. Their passion is for the thing itself – the tool or medium used to effect the helping of others.
I help people overcome the psychological obstacles – limiting beliefs, negative emotional baggage and internal conflict – between them and wealth, freedom and big impact. I don’t try and help people in ways much beyond that, because I know where my value proposition lies. I know what my purpose is. My passion is psychology.
The folks who tell themselves (and others) that they’re simply “here to make a difference” are stuck in mental mud. Procrastination and self sabotage will rain upon them until they develop specificity of purpose and a vehicle in which to make it happen.
Instead of saying “I’m here to make a huge difference”, why not answer this question: How best can I make a huge difference, add value and change lives?
The answer to this question may cause discomfort. At best, it’ll give you an idea – the genesis of a whole new business. At it’s most uncomfortable, it’ll give you a laundry list of your own shortcomings.
If you try to answer the above question but a little voice says “You can’t do that because…” then you need to listen to what comes next. That list of shortcomings isn’t negativity, nor self sabotage. It’s a hit list of the capabilities, skills and resources you need to develop to have a shot at real purpose, success and contribution.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”– Leo Tolstoy
It’s when you’re deep in action mode, hustling to learn and do things that build out your capabilities – “leveling up”, to use a video game metaphor – that you’ll strike purpose (and business) gold. Everything will click into place.
You’ll hit a moment where you realize that if you do this cool thing that you love, for this certain group of people you dig, then you’ll be creating a lot of value. Plus, you’ll be making life better for a whole bunch of folks in the process.
So, dear enlightened and impact obsessed readers, I know you want to make a difference in people’s lives. My question to you is how will you do so?