By Chris Olsen
More than a decade ago, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was 10 years after I’d lost my mom to the disease and just a month after my dad unexpectedly died. I am cancer-free today and grateful for every day. But staring death in the face has a way of providing clarity about a lot of things. For me (and many others who’ve overcome big challenges in life), what became most clear was that I didn’t want to waste another minute on stuff that didn’t matter. That included no longer doing work that wasn’t aligned with my purpose.
I often wonder about the path I would have taken, had someone helped me fully realize my WHY as I was beginning my professional journey. But it was the early 2000s and corporate social responsibility wasn’t a prominent thing. My job in radio came with a lot of perks and it was supposed to be more like fun than work. If you wanted to “do good” back then, you took a nonprofit job for a fraction of the pay you deserved.
A conversation with my dad about not feeling fulfilled in my career remains clear in my mind today. I was lamenting over wanting to make a difference in the world. He had worked for the same company his entire career. Every time I broached the subject of leaving a job, he bristled. What impressed him most was the length of time someone held a particular position. For his generation, it was about doing your best, working hard, fulfilling responsibilities, sticking it out.
Our talk ended with him advising me to pursue my purpose “on the side,” while taking home a steady paycheck and enjoying the paid time off, medical coverage and other benefits my employer provided. I took his advice and started doing more volunteer work, which felt good, but didn’t change my feelings about the work I was getting paid to do.
It wasn’t until I left my radio career that Simon Sinek published his now well-known book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” The book really resonated with me. I’ve now read it several times and have influenced many of the organizations I’ve worked with to read it or watch the TED Talk as well. For me, it provided the clarity I had been longing for—it really was possible for purpose and profession to intersect.
Today, there’s a lot more data to back up what Sinek says. The bottom line is that humans do better when we do better. Pursuing your purpose actually leads to better sleep, better overall health and better quality of life. And research shows people who commit themselves to a cause greater than themselves actually live longer.
Simon Sinek described it best when he said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” But there’s more to it than that. More than ever, consumers are supporting brands that align with their values. Over 80 percent of consumers said they’d make a cause-related purchase every year. More than 90 percent say they’d support a company aligned with their values, and nearly three-quarters would boycott a brand that exhibits practices contrary to their beliefs.
In addition, employees of purpose-driven companies are more engaged, more satisfied and three times more likely to stick around.
All of this means there are significant benefits to business founders who lead with their WHY. For women business owners in particular, the ability to confidently communicate your purpose and impact sets us up for entrepreneurial success from the get-go.
Women are more than twice as likely to reach the top ranks in purpose-driven businesses as we are in mainstream businesses. Purpose-driven businesses yield 10 times greater return on investment and outperform the stock market by 120 percent, which means investors are more likely to fund them. This is critical since women receive only 16 percent of all small business loans and less than 10 percent of all venture capital, despite the fact that we contribute $1.8 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.
If you’ve thought about pursuing your purpose, what are you waiting for? My book, “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose,” serves as your guide. It provides dozens of tools, plus more than 30 inspirational stories of women business owners leading with their WHY.
About the Author
Chris Olsen is a broadcast media veteran turned communications consultant, educator and the author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” The founder of Publish Her and Publish Her Story, Chris has helped thousands of women tell their stories and publish their books.
About Publish Her
Publish Her is a female-founded and focused publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all. Publish Her specializes in print-on-demand books, workbooks, journals, magazines and more.