Last week was the official “launch” of my new strategy firm, Boulder Ideas. I announced the new company with a launch post that outlined my path to aligning this move with what I perceived to be my “purpose.” In short, I’d spent the months between ending a 25-year run of back-to-back (extremely rewarding) jobs and last week getting clear on how I could optimize my work life by getting in clean and clear alignment with what Gay Hendricks calls “Zone of Genius” in his book The Big Leap. Zone of Genius is distinguished from Zones of Incompetence, Competence and Excellence (an alluring zone given the comfort of it). Your areas of Genius are those things you do that you love, that are natural to you, that allow time to fall away; these are the things you cannot not do. I sometimes identify this zone as equivalent with “purpose,” and when I’m feeling particularly daring, I refer to this as “my gift” because when I’m on my game, it is the gift that I am giving without really trying.
I’ve grown pretty committed to staying aligned with my purpose. I’ve had a number of experiences over the years that have helped me see that when I get out of alignment – think wobbly wheel on fast-moving car – the universe tends to confer on me a less-than-pleasant reminder on this point (I could extend the metaphor, but you get it).
Today, in this moment (and in that launch post), I’m persuaded that my purpose or gift is something along the lines of the following:
To see the greatest possibility in high-potential people, ideas, products and companies. To spot what’s in the way of realizing that peak level of possibility, and to identify a clear path forward. I ask the right questions, provide authentic, outside feedback, and create space for much bigger things to happen.
So I intend to stay aligned both personally and professionally with this purpose until my purpose changes.
And then, something surprising crept in as I wondered about sharing what I do with the HUB community. Let’s call it “purpose guilt.” The rumblings of this syndrome go something like this:
- My company is for-profit – is that a bad thing?
- My company is primarily focused on working with early and mid-stage for-profit companies – is that even worse?
- I could be deploying my time and talent in ways that would address less fortunate populations or big meaty “social issues” – can I even live with myself?
- I work out of the HUB – where my associates are doing all sorts of amazing things for disempowered people – do I even deserve to be in this community?
- Am I making any difference whatsoever through my purpose in building community?
As I work through these misgivings, I think the answers are something like this: No, No, Yes, Yes, Yes.
Although I am largely going to be devoting my attention to for-profit companies, I’ve made some very clear decisions about the kinds of companies I’ll work with. I choose fast-moving, high-integrity entrepreneurs that are working on things I find really cool. Sure, my standards are completely subjective (anytime someone says “my standards” that’s true), but I intend to avoid vice and choose companies that are doing things that I think make the world better. I make the same decisions about companies in which I choose to invest as an angel. And, although reasonable minds could differ about the “good” created by adding a heap of functionality to online video or creating a crowd-sourced global translation platform – see, e.g., Rapt Media or VerbalizeIt, two of angel my investments – I am making decisions based on standards that go well beyond mere financial forecasts.
And, I suppose there’s a part of me that believes helping great people or great companies reach an even higher level of their potential is, in some thoroughly theoretical sense, “good.” In the end, I’m also making a determination for myself that being aligned with my own talent is “good” as well.
And still, as I look around the HUB and observe the generous commitment to “cause” among my fellow community members, I think the low-level concern about this will stay with me. The mildly unsettling rumble will live alongside my conviction that I’m doing exactly what I ought to be doing right now. The only judgment about this I can possibly credit is my own. As such, I notice that “purpose” has a host of different meanings in this context – ranging from the personal to the truly global – and I look forward to continually exploring this dichotomy. I intend to wake up most mornings surrounded by the extraordinary people in this community and to ask myself whether I am aligned. I can only expect that this judgment might be a constantly moving target, and I look forward to staying curious about it.
I also look forward to your thoughts. For a host of technical reasons, the best place to share these is probably on Boulder Ideas Facebook Page or the HUB Linked In group. Share as you wish or reach out to me if you’re interested in the one free Activation Day I’d love give away to a HUB Boulder-related organization at Sue at Boulder Ideas dot com.
About the Author: Sue Heilbronner began her career as an attorney, last as a federal civil rights prosecutor with the US Department of Justice. Trying civil rights cases was deeply meaningful, but she wanted a better channel for her creative energy, and she made the jump to business. Since the early days of the web, she has built disruptive technology companies in the travel, publishing, distance education and payments sectors. Her greatest satisfaction comes in serving as a mentor for the talented young people she’s connected with over career. She is a founding member of the Conscious Leadership Forum, and the Chief Catalyst of her marketing strategy agency, www.BoulderIdeas.com.