When I graduated from my East German high school, it seemed everyone knew their destiny – bank apprenticeship, tourism degree, communications. After over a decade of schooling, I had no idea why I was in this world and what I would do with my one wild and precious life. After traveling and volunteering far away from home, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to making a difference for those less fortunate than me (read the longer version or watch it). To this day, I’m grateful to have taken the time to go in search of my purpose and find it at an early age. 

As ecosystem builders for social change, purpose is at the core of what we do – our magic sauce, our juju, the ingredient that makes what we do and how we do it different from the person next to us. 

If you know your Why, congratulations! Your compass is calibrated and your purpose will help you navigate the stormy seas of social change!

In the day-to-day of making a difference in the world, however, even the most finely attuned compass tends to start spinning at times veering us off course. Not because our Why has changed; more likely it’s because the infrastructure of doing our work tends to interfere with our passion-led efforts. Over the course of my 60+ conversations with social impact professionals, I have picked up on a few issues that seem typical for our sector: 

“I’m so enthusiastic about the mission and content that – while I enjoy all the challenging but meaningful work – I’m also in charge of all the boring stuff: cash flow, grants, contracts, etc.”

“As co-founder and CEO, I juggle a lot of responsibilities. I’m trying to grow our impact and organization under extreme resource scarcity while keeping the team motivated and on the same page.”

“I wish I had someone who is client facing and can manage that so I can truly focus on the work I’m good at and love. I, literally, have been in about eight to ten hours of meeting by Tuesday two pm.”

“While I’m proud of always pushing through no matter what, I do believe I would have 2x-3x more output to contribute if I wasn’t constantly managing relationships, trust and respect among stakeholders in my ecosystem.” 

“I feel like I’m trading money vs. impact. I have to work with clients that do not align 100% with my values because the ones who do can’t afford or aren’t yet hiring me.”

Your purpose in the rearview mirror

In the thick of all our efforts of changing the world, it’s easy to lose focus. Suddenly, we are not only working in our zone of genius but we spend much of our time in client and team meetings, balancing budgets, onboarding clients and new team members, writing and editing reports, scrambling for just the right image to go with that new blogpost that’s been sitting in our drafts for a week now, and and and… 

Keeping the lights on and the wheels turning can become our single responsibility that one late night, you might find yourself looking up from your desk wondering what any of this has to do with the true purpose that used to get you out of bed every morning.

3 steps to more clarity & focus

In order to do world class work and deliver excellent results that drive our mission forward, we need to make time and space to refocus. We need to take a good hard look at where we spend our time, we must prioritize and put systems in place that allow us to execute on our priorities. Clarity is the key to calibrating our inner compass that guides us in making our mission a reality.

Here is a three-step approach to get you started:

  1. What are you trying to do this month, year, life? Be specific and break it down into milestones. (If you’re unsure of what your purpose is, check out Rooted in Purpose)
  2. Review your favorite and worst clients (if you work for yourself) or work assignments (if you’re employed).
    1. What did you love about your favorite clients/assignments? What type of work did you do with them and how did it make you feel? What kind of tasks did you excel at?
    2. What did you dislike about your least favorite clients/assignments? What tasks made your skin crawl? How did the work and people make you feel?
  3. Overlay 1. and 2. Which milestones are you able to and excited about executing on your own? Which ones will you need help with? What does that support look like? Think in terms of
    1. time and financial investment, 
    2. training (do it yourself) and professional services (hire it out), 
    3. support from your team, partner and loved ones.

Budget it. Schedule it. Execute. 

In one of our sessions for Solopreneurs for Impact, all 15 of us went through this exercise over the course of 90 minutes and found some surprising similarities:

  • We have a hard time saying no because we absolutely want to help. Everyone. 
  • It’s hard to stay focused, we could work on all things at all times.
  • It’s hard to stand up for yourself against the “always on, always available, just one more small request, we want you to generate something from nothing” culture.
  • We have so many good ideas of where to take our business next. Greater clarity helps us choose which ones to pursue and how to follow through on them long-term. 
  • Working on several projects for different clients in parallel is exhausting. With a sharper focus we are better equipped to choose work engagements that are a great fit and deliver high quality results.
  • We need to set our priorities and boundaries to allow us to do great work and enjoy life. We can’t pour from an empty cup.

If you want to enjoy what you do while delivering great results, zero in on your purpose and create limits to protect your time and energy.

I hope the three steps to more clarity and focus give you a starting point in your exploration! If you want to learn more about what truly matters to you and how you can put systems in place that allow you to create impact without losing sight of yourself, join me for a Compass session:

Alex Perez on Unsplash