Purpose-driven self-employment: A powerful antidote to the poison in your newsfeed

I was 20, and we were having one of those fidgety father-daughter conversations at the kitchen table. The Lions pregame was on in the next room. Between sentences, my dad’s face would swivel to the TV, then back to me. TV. Me.

I was between jobs and was trying to extract some support from him about doing something different with my life (first mistake). I said what I really wanted was to work for myself, rather than just work for big companies (second mistake…why broach that topic with a man who’s worked for the same big firm since the ’50s?) That I wanted to like my work and feel good about it.

That got him. His head snapped back around and we locked eyes. He then delivered a Great Truth that I’m sure he hoped would rip that frivolous thinking out of my head by the roots:

“Look, you’ve gotta cut that out. You don’t go into business to make friends. You go into it to make money. God, you’re so smart sometimes, but other times…” His voice trailed off as the kickoff whistle blew, and with a slow shake of his head, he retired to the sensible sanctuary of his recliner.

Cue the rapid-fire photo montage of time passing.

I’m 56 now. I’m in a local park, sitting at a picnic table, doing my morning journaling with a lukewarm to-go cup of coffee. I think back over the week I’ve just spent:

On Monday I counseled a guy who wants to start a special kind of community gathering place.
On Tuesday I worked on a new website with a woman who coaches nonprofit leaders.
On Wednesday I taught a group about growing an organic food garden for health and self-sufficiency.
On Thursday I mentored a woman who wants to get the word out about her energy work with people in hospice care.
On Friday, I helped a yoga studio owner plan a special day for her clients, teaching them about mindfulness and media.
Most of that I did while wearing my pajama bottoms with the little purple martini glasses all over them.

My father would be aghast. Perhaps less so if he knew that I also run a profitable business and that I turn away three times more clients than I can accept. (I’m guessing the word “mindfulness” would definitely set his teeth on edge though.) I like to think he’d be curious how I pulled this off.

You see, there was a fundamental flaw in his Great Truth. I’ve corrected that error in my own Great Truth:

Go into business to make friends. Your friends will make you money (and vice versa). You’ll also help one another stay sane.

Today I’m a coach, business mentor, and online marketing sherpa for good people who are self-employed. Solo entrepreneur, freelancer, small business owner, passionate side hustle…if it’s authentic, genuine, and meaningful in some way, I help people build it, promote it, and make it profitable.

It’s a good gig for so many reasons.

I love working with my clients, who are also my friends.
I love watching people get more self-sufficient.
I love how much time, fossil fuel, and stress they save by not commuting to jobs they don’t really like.
I love that they love getting out of bed every morning and going to “work” (a word they rarely use btw).
I love to help them take a passion, something that deeply matters to them, and turn it into a steady, reliable source of income.

And lately, I have a new love: I love that the work they do helps them not be drowned in the torrent of bad news that floods our lives every day.

Consider it your own personal antidote to all the heart-sinking craziness.

We live in a time in which many organisms—from plankton to people—face an uncertain future or no future at all. The human ones, in particular, are scared and angry and confused and taking it out on each other in horrible ways. It’s like a huge finger and thumb slowly turning up the volume dial of a giant speaker that’s blaring the Bad News Channel.

With every passing year, it gets louder, and louder, and louder, until we can barely hear ourselves think.

Many of the things we’ve taken for granted for a long time just can’t be relied on anymore. Untainted water coming out of our spigots? (the kind you can’t set on fire) Food and air that won’t make us sick?  Being able to afford to get sick or get old, with some sort of social safety net?  A modicum of sanity or decency in our public discourse?

There’s not a single person in my social circle who isn’t affected by the poison, regardless of their political leanings. (And yes, all the “sides” are scared, not just yours.)

Here’s a completely unscientific statement that I’m absolutely certain is true: Sitting around watching the talking heads bleat without feeling there’s any way to change things will make our time here on Earth miserable, stressed, and short.

What do you do, when everything around you is going to hell sans handbasket? And not just like in my father’s day, when people said it to whine about hippies with long hair? What do we do when it’s really, truly coming apart in ways that are making people die, in ways we may never be able to put back together?

Me?  I left the corporate world and started a business. I didn’t know what I could do to change things, but at least I could drive my own bus until I figured it out.

Over the years I found myself in the company of zillions of other people who did the same thing, and for the same reason. It’s a powerful tactic.

Sure, an individual can make a difference in what she consumes, how she votes, and what day-to-day choices she makes.  But a business—with its green tendrils reaching out into so many other lives— can increase that impact many times over.

One of the cooler books in my universe is Dan Buettner’s original Blue Zones book about the populations that live the longest. Remember that one? He identifies nine areas of life that can be statistically linked to health and longevity. One of them is Purpose. Whether you call it “Ikigai” or “plan de vida” or “a reason for waking up in the morning,” having a sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

Every and any attempt at doing meaningful work—using our so-called “working hours” as a force for good—inoculates us with purpose.

We are trying. We are doing something. That alone can get us through some long, dark-ass days.

Starting and building a business of our own lets us:

solve a problem that lots of people share
help someone be more self-sufficient in some way
ease someone’s pain or fear (in body, mind, or spirit) with our skills
create something beautiful that pleases the soul
teach people something new and useful
make someone feel loved, or beautiful, or stronger, or safer
show us how to live our lives in a crowded world in ways that don’t poison it
move the world forward somehow, even if it’s just one infinitesimal step in the direction of Better

Every day we wake up to another starving polar bear photo, another mass shooting, another strongman preaching hate. It’s a form of torture peculiar to our media-saturated generations.

When I’m doing my part, and seeing so many others starting to do theirs as well, it helps more than I could ever explain. We’re not single-handedly saving the world. We’re saving that part of it that’s within our reach, and becoming part of a vast mosaic of these postage-stamp-sized bits of salvation.

The bad will continue to happen, and we still have to resist it in any way open to us (social, political, financial).

But doing some kind of work that matters, using your whole day to hone the craft of “doing well by doing good?” With your heart, your head, and your feet all pointed in the same direction, rather than at odds with each other?

That will save your sanity.

Here’s to a life where we can make a profit AND make a difference, and grow a business that matters.


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