The #1 Way to Answer the Big Questions -- What's My Purpose? Who Am I? What Am I Meant to Do?

Many entrepreneurs, wanting to create a meaningful and purpose-driven business, struggle with trying to figure out what the work is that they're meant to do in the world. Or, they know what they can do, but are less successful making sense of it all, and how to create a business around it.
09/15/2014 04:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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At some point in our lives--or even at multiple points along the way--we ask ourselves the big questions: "What's my purpose?" "Who am I?" And the big question for creative entrepreneurs is frequently: "What am I meant to do?"

Many entrepreneurs, wanting to create a meaningful and purpose-driven business, struggle with trying to figure out what the work is that they're meant to do in the world. Or, they know what they can do, but are less successful making sense of it all, and how to create a business around it.

They also know that finding answers to these three big questions is important-- not only for their own clarity and for doing fulfilling work, but it's also essential for creating an identifiable brand and a successful business.

Why is it such a struggle for so many? Simply put, they're going about it the wrong way, which causes a conflict, and they end up getting stuck. How to break this logjam on the entrepreneur's personal journey toward answering the three big questions? The solution lies in understanding the nature of the conflict, so let's examine the most common of these conflicts:

1. The Paradoxical Conflict: If you're in business and doing what feels like your purpose--something that you have talents for, or how you want to serve/change the world--be aware that paradoxically, it's going to be even more difficult for you than for others to figure out the answers to the big questions. Crazy, right? I call it "the soul's gatekeepers." There's something about this whole process that has this confounding effect: the closer we get to our core purpose, the more we are challenged by our fears, whether we are fully committed, and our truth.

This feeling seems to emerge from within, as a form of denial. I assure you, if you're not denying it consciously, the experiences you will face will challenge you as a form of denial. It's the reason why we often struggle to put words to the simplest of things when it has to do with ourselves. You know what I mean: when asked what we do, we may ramble on instead of delivering a clear, concise answer.

I coach many entrepreneurs who've transitioned from the corporate world to being an entrepreneur. They were highly capable in their corporate roles, but feel like bumbling fools trying to run their own, far smaller companies. They ask, "Why was I so able to do for someone else what I can't do for myself". It's because they're working from the inside now. 

2. The Niche Conflict develops as a result of trying to find your niche as it's been understood in the past. As the marketplace has changed, the definition of niche must also change. The old niche model was a market segment. It was thought of as defining the one thing you're good at, that you could DO, and the finite group of people who want whatever that happens to be.

By contrast, the new niche is about what you STAND FOR. Here's the cool thing: Understanding your new niche is the key to the whole puzzle, because when you have achieved this understanding, you have simultaneously provided the answer(s) to the big questions: your purpose, what you're meant to do and who you are. When your niche is based on who you are and your purpose in life, the answer to "What am I meant to do?" changes form. Instead of doing one thing, you can do many things and apply yourself in a variety of ways to create multiple streams of income.

Consider, for example, the numerous successful entrepreneurs and authors like Bob Burg, Michael Port and Chris Guillebeau that I've interviewed for my podcast, Creative Warriors: many have their hands in a multitude of things. In fact, most have said they don't think you can be successful in the future if you're doing only one thing--that instead, we must be diversified. No matter how diverse their creative endeavors may seem to the onlooker, when asked if there is a common thread amongst all the things they do, every one of them instantly says a resounding YES.

Each and every one of these exemplary individuals knows that they are their brand, they know what they stand for, and they communicate it clearly. For creative entrepreneurs, this is freedom. Freedom from thinking we must do only one thing when, as creative thinkers, we are so easily inspired by a whole world of possibilities. Shiny object syndrome isn't a bad thing. It's seeing inspiration in many things. Getting a creative thinker to hone in one thing is like the proverbial square peg in a round hole-in other words, conflict. But just encourage the creative process, and there's flow. No more conflict.

3. The Overdoing It Conflict. They're trying too hard and looking too deep. This brings us to our solution to the problem:

The #1 way to answer the big questions is to not look so far away. The story you are meant to tell is the story you know best. It's actually not far from you at all right now. On some level you already know the work you are meant to do-- which will explain your purpose and who you are.

From birth, we're always seeking balance. Whatever story was established for you early in life--the inner dialogue--you're seeking to balance it. Perhaps even heal from it.

It generally works like this: If you felt invisible then, as an adult you're driven to make sure other people never feel invisible. If you hated the way the things never changed in your childhood, you may want to help others reinvent their lives. Perhaps you struggled with being an introvert and now help other introverts live bigger lives. And so on. Take a look at some of today's greatest thought-leaders and speakers on TED.com, like Susan Cain who wrote "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking", and you will see many people doing work to support others who are trying to cope with the same exact thing they themselves most struggled with in the past.

So, how do you get clear on the story you want to counter-balance? At the end of each of my podcast interviews, I ask every guest the same question: "What drives you crazy?" I ask this because I want my listening audience of creative entrepreneurs to hear that most often what motivates these highly successful people is to correct exactly that one thing in the world that drives them crazy!

It's what can work for you, too. Ask yourself, "What drives me crazy?" See what story that brings up from your inner dialogue, and allow that to inform you as to what your purpose is, what you're meant to do and who you are. I assure you, once you've brought this irritant, the thing that drives you crazy, into light, you will see it everywhere! You will become keenly aware of just how much it bothers you and you will likely understand pretty quickly what the story behind it is.

Now you can consider how 'what drives you crazy' can be applied in a positive way. How can you turn it around to serve others so they never experience the same irritant? Or, perhaps what drives you crazy can be a strength and deepen your commitment to the journey you're on. Two sides of the coin if you will. Remember, we are always seeking balance. What drives you crazy will likely inspire you to do the opposite for others or can be turned around to be your greatest asset.

So what drives you crazy? What does it tell you about what you're meant to do?Share your story and have your voice heard! Please comment below. When on a personal journey, it's so valuable to learn from the experience of others.