Walking the path

I recently had the chance to have dinner with a small group of amazing nonprofit leaders. Our host gave us all a gift by asking us to start the meal by going around the table and each sharing why we do this work.

Each member of the group was honest and open, and, in listening to story after story, I began to see that they were all essentially the same.

They were stories about role models, whether a mother or a grandfather, a teacher, a social worker, a friend.
Stories of seeing their own relative good fortune – because everybody is more fortunate than somebody.
Stories of the call to serve.
Stories of stubbornness in the face of the impossible.
Stories of discovering that their talents can be used for good.
Stories of getting hooked on the feeling of making meaningful change.
And stories of them fighting each day to keep walking the path and making a difference.

You may think, in hearing this, that these are other people’s stories, that you are still seeking out your purpose and your role, that others have arrived while you are still looking.

I ask that you consider two things:

  1. That you are on the path already. There is no moment of arrival. It is your job to keep walking, to keep listening, to push yourself to go closer to what is real so you can understand it, because understanding is the precursor to being useful. It’s also your job to invest in building the skills and the self-knowledge you will need to make a real difference – including confronting your fears and your self-imposed limitations.
  2. You don’t know it, but you are already inspiring others. The courage to look, to listen, to care, to dream – all of this already sets you apart. Each of the stories I heard started at a very young age, and the path from there to today was never straight.

Keep walking.

Which purpose?

Having started my professional life as a management consultant, I’m all too familiar with the snarky refrain of people exiting the sector, “I got tired of flying around the world to make the world safe for Fortune 500 companies.”

Clever enough.

What’s perplexing is that when you’re making a shift from something you did for some extrinsic reason (it appeared safer, more lucrative, was what everyone else was doing, was what you thought people around you wanted you to do) to an intrinsic reason, it can be hard to make out exactly what kind of “purpose” you’re looking for.

Put another way: “purpose” and “social purpose” are not the same thing.

Right now, in US at least, there is a supply/demand imbalance in the “social purpose” sector.  The number of positions in high-performing organizations in the social sector is a lot fewer than the number of people looking for those jobs.

But opening the aperture a little further to organizations with a purpose…I bet there’s a lot more out there.

Every entrepreneur worth her salt has a purpose, and most of the people who join their cause sign up for that purpose.  Every organization that sees the world one way and wants to look another way has a purpose. 

Purpose creates passion and zeal and focus and fun.  Purpose gets you out of bed in the morning.  Purpose is not apologizing for what you do when you explain it to others.  Purpose is knowing that, even if the thing you’re fighting for blows up tomorrow, you’ll walk away and say “that was worth fighting for.”

There’s a lot of purpose out there, if you look…with purpose.

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