Created with Sketch.

Why Helping People is a Crock

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?


+ Add Comment
    1. Heh, if I’ve learned one thing blogging it is: You never know what’ll strike a chord with people.

      Hopefully this idea has legs though – it’s important, imo.

      Thanks Jeff!

  1. I’m so glad someone finally said this clearly and without dressing it up in so much frou-frou that you couldn’t distinguish the actual meaning. Of course you want to help people, you’re a decent human being. So, how do you best do that? That’s the hard question, the interesting question, the question that allows you to actually help.

    And — possibly most of all — I love that you used the Buddy Christ. The perfect sigil for this phenomenon.

    1. Haha Katie, glad this resonated. I took a risk with the pic I attached to this… hopefully people understand that it’s folks who hold messiah-esque helping people delusions that have a problem… not the man himself.

      “That’s the hard question, the interesting question, the question that allows you to actually help.” <-- more eloquently put that I managed.

  2. Somehow you’ve got it wrong and are leading people astray. With all due respect, I’m sure you are trying your best to be cocksure and force the issue. That will work very temporarily. It is certainly not a recipe for lasting success. I don’t know but it sounds like you might be spiritually bankrupt. If so, just examine your origin, your purpose and your part in the creative process. For lasting success, give. It does not matter that you give money, deeds or encouragement, just give. It comes back to you, seriously, it does and it multiplies.
    Many years ago this greenhorn country boy moved to Chicago seeking my fame and fortune. I was very sensitive and keen to the vibes (attitudes) of others and the first thing I picked up on was “Get over on the other guy before he gets over on you.) What beautiful gift I brought to the table came from my humble beginnings. It was the gift of genuine self-respect and respect for others. I gave of myself and taught that there is a wonderful person inside each physical shell. I taught “give and you shall receive” and I certainly found my fame and fortune. As life went on (and still does) I found that the opposite is true. Rather than live in paranoia, invest passion in loving others and you will help save people from despair. Consequently, when you find yourself in need this miracle comes back to you, multiplied in a profound way. Give until it hurts and then give some more. How do I make a difference in people’s lives? I teach them to learn, to teach and to earn. The basis of each of these is giving. You sure made me think. I think you are wrong.
    I’ll give you that much.

    1. Hey Mark! This is one of my favorite comments in a long while. I love it when someone comes right out and says “You’re wrong”.

      Of course, I could be. But here’s why I don’t think I am:

      You’re actually talking about a different issue altogether, so we’re not *really* disagreeing. This article isn’t about “To give or not to give”. I’m a big believer in the axiom “If you can just help enough people succeed, you too will succeed”. I’m a HUGE believer.

      This article (and my point here) is that you can have the MOST impact (and therefor: MOst success) when you actually figure out how best you can give. People who just give-give-give without thinking strategically about leveraging (and developing) their strengths to contribute in impactful ways… aren’t of much value. i.e. Steve Jobs was far more valuable to the planet as a computer genius than as a life coach, or a guy who worked in a soup kitchen 24/7.

      I don’t think you’re wrong, but I’m not sure you’re on topic. Either way, dialogue makes us all smarter, right? 🙂

      1. Peter, Not only do I give but I take as well. 🙂 After rereading your post and your reply, I take from it that you are sincere and genuinely compassionate.
        In retrospect, you are right and I was wrong. Now, I’m a HUGE believer in you. Thank you for giving us that valuable insight.

        1. Yep, Mark…Peter is one smart cookie! He states from his heart AND his brain which is why his insight holds so much value, IMO.

          My mother (I sometimes refer to her lovingly as “The Martyr”) gives and gives and gives and gives. After many tries to reach her I hear back and she says, “Oh, I was moving a blind man up to Montana with his dog…” “Oh, I’ve been busy getting this man who just got out of jail set up with a home, a job, etc…” “Oh, I’m babysitting 8 kids for a family who just got evicted and both of the parents had to work…” “Oh, I was at the church running a banquet for 80 people…” “Oh, I was at SCORE (she’s a SCORE volunteer) helping a single mother learn how to use the web to sell her Avon products…”

          She gives and gives some more and what she gets is increased fibromyalgia pain, exhaustion, and zero income. Perhaps what she gets back is gratitude and that’s enough for her, but personally I’d like gratitude AND the ability to pay my bills! (Don’t get me started on all the creditors who have hunted her down over the years…) She may be an extreme case, but she is an example of how JUST giving with purpose without the HOW doesn’t really cut it in this world if you’re also looking to thrive. 😉

  3. “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?”

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. I have said to my clients, “just do something, it doesn’t matter what it is” because I believe starting puts you on the path to figuring out what your actual passion is. But, at the same time I clam up and think ‘maybe they won’t like me’ if I ‘just do something’ that uses my natural talents to make a huge difference, add value, and change lives.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I’m glad you said it straight, Peter. About time someone did.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that everything you do has a ripple effect on the world – and that you absolutely cannot truly help others without helping yourself first.

    I believe you need to know exactly how you help people, and in which specific ways, so that you can truly be confident that your actions DO help them and create tangible change.

    I see so, SO many ‘gurus’ telling others they should just want to HELP people in vague, undefined ways. And I see so many people sadly buying into this, making huge financial and life decisions based on, “Oh, I just want to help people!”

    I’ve (even more sadly) seen several of those people being the ones on the ‘needing help’ end of things when their ‘passion’ didn’t have enough solid foundation to truly help them achieve their goals.

    Harsh? Perhaps. True? I think so.

    (And now that I’ve rambled and ranted, time for me to get back to work, eh?)

    1. Exactly Jimbo. Exactly.

      I think the worst crimes in this department happen when folks are encouraged to plunge into a “business” where the value proposition hasn’t been articulated (let alone tested) but “helping people” has been decided on as the mission. Yikes!

  5. This was a very entertaining and informative read!

    The biggest takeaway I get from this is that helping people is simply a natural by-product of doing something that you are passionate about so you should focus on doing that.

    Kind of like how happiness isn’t to be pursued but also comes as a natural by-product.

  6. I think you are half arsh right Peter. Helping people will always be the right thing to do. The real question is what is in it for you? Doctors, Psychiatrist, Counselors, Marketers and the plumber want to help people, however they want money in exchange for their services.

    You yourself are helping people “overcome the psychological obstacles” that restrains them from becoming successful. But are you not getting paid for that? Or are you doing it “gratis”?

    Do you feel good if you helped someone overcome obstacles? I thin so…and it does not matter whether you were paid or not.

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post.

    1. Hey Paul, I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at here… but getting paid for doing the work you’re good at doing is a good thing! You could say that the mission of an entrepreneur is to figure out how to monetize the giving of their greatest gifts so that it becomes sustainable to be able to do so!

  7. Peter,
    This is right on! Thanks again for the great post and for your unique approach to business and personal growth it is rare!


  8. Good article Peter – once again, i think that’s twice now, you have given us some external validation on what we are doing. Some of your words remind me of this: “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than
    it’s worth.” I stole that.
    I link it to : 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.

    One thing i am starting to see in over abundance is an avalanche of ‘wannabe successful entrepreneurs’ whose business mode is actually selling or facilitating the dream to other wannabee entrepreneurs (like me). Im never against someone developing a (ethical of course!) business model, there’s a market for everyone and everything somewhere, but they are conning people into thinking that the real hard yards are not required – “don’t worry, anyone can develop a successful start up!! Just Sign here!” we had another one this week offering to “help us break through to the $million dollar revenue figure”. It was more like an Amway ad…… i would say close to 80% fail before launching anything useful because of exactly what you have stated: ” 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.”

    We are just hoping the cool thing we are doing really does hit a cord with that big group of people!


    1. Hey Phil,

      You’ve made some fantastic points here. I think the big problem with any type of pitch offering wannabe entrepreneurs a shortcut is just that: There are no shortcuts.

      I try to frame the entrepreneurial journey as one of education. It’s about learning, learning and learning some more. Success happens along the way.

      In some ways, the people who really get excited about the “Make millions while you sleep with these 3 secrets” pitches are the same people who get excited about playing the slot machines at a casino. They’re looking for a shortcut, which is akin to looking for something-for-nothing. If they follow that desire, it’ll most likely be about as financially rewarding as playing slots at a casino.

  9. I so agree with this article Peter! I think we can spend so much time trying to figure out our purpose, instead of actually getting shit done. I’ve also found that once you’re taking action, you realize what you’re naturally good at and how you can add more value… whereas trying to figure it all out on paper can take forever and usually doesn’t work!

    One thing I do like to use the “I’m here to help people” idea with, is when myself or others get stuck in inaction… when they’re navel gazing and not sure if they should really put themselves out there. That’s when I say “it’s not about you, it’s about the people you’re trying to help” and that usually is enough to step over the paralysis.

    It was awesome meeting you briefly on Friday, BTW! 🙂

    1. Hey Nathalie! That’s an interesting point to add to the mix – I agree that it’s important to pull people out of themselves sometimes. But still, the immediate next step has to be about figuring out the HOW.

  10. Peter! Yikes! Jab, hook, uppercut — I feel you! Awesome article that really hit home. OUCH! How many times have I said, “I want to help people” or better yet, “I want to make a difference”… busted!
    Thanks for the reminder to keep it real and focus on the actual value. Keep up the good work!

  11. This is GREAT! What a wonderful clarification on the concept of Mission and Purpose. I’ve just discovered your stuff and will be sharing widely.

    All best,
    Heather Severson
    aka The Mercenary Writer

  12. What I find works best is clarifying the following in order:-

    1. What (Vision/Outcome/Result)
    2. Why (Purpose)
    3. How (Goals/Steps/Actions)

  13. Hi Peter!

    Very long I thought about How it will be that I live up to my purpose. To be honest it was a search that took me quite a while. I liked the structure you used and adopted it:

    Here is my HOW: I support people overcoming their fears and obstacles – limiting beliefs, lack of self worth and awareness and trust – between them and they life they dream about.

    Here is my WHY: to inspire people, to inflame their inner passion, so that they can blaze their barriers to become free.

Leave a Comment

Outsource your battle for Focus and Productivity

Commit Action’s Executive Aide service helps business owners become the highest leverage version of themselves possible.

Visit Peter’s other business