27 June 2017

How My Simple Purpose Statement Stays Fresh [Hint: It's Real]

My sons, Jasper & Walker, in Alaska, July 2008
“My goal is to catalyze innovation and investments that generate a new prosperity by improving our world, sustaining our environment, and generating profits.”

These words are posted at the very top of my LinkedIn profile and, come to think of it, these same words appear on the top of my resume as well. 

Yesterday, a new contact on the site noticed my words and commented on it, wanting to hear more. That got me thinking about its origins and relevance.

I remember writing this goal statement twenty years ago in a workshop led by one of my mentors, the consultant and philanthropy guru Simone Joyaux. I lived in Alaska, where I worked for The Nature Conservancy, and my first son had just been born. I sat on the board of a professional association there and we invited Simone to speak at our annual conference.

Envision the world you want to live in and the impact you want to have, Simone instructed us. Then think of your goal – in life, work or life and work – and how you might achieve that vision.

This is what I came up with, “to catalyze innovation and investments that generate a new prosperity by improving our world, sustaining our environment, and generating profits.”

I don’t remember editing it much after putting it to paper. Perhaps I tweaked it a little and smoothed out any rough edges, but it’s pretty much intact. And it stuck.

Every few years I revisit this goal statement, taking a fresh look. Should I rewrite it? Does it need updating? The goal is twenty years old. Does it still express who I want to be in the world?

Reviewing this purpose, however, I always end up recommitting to it. It’s still my goal, and has been on my journey since it was written -- from The Nature Conservancy to Ashoka to VerdeStrategy and, even at EY, where what I’ve done over the past five years touches several aspects of that goal.

Surprisingly, even at a big four accounting and advisory firm, I’ve been able to find work with purpose.

My work at EY over the past five years includes working with cleantech CEOs on their growth journey and developing a digital grid solution from a single smart metering engagement in South Africa to a partnership with Microsoft that will soon scale the solution around the globe and help utilities extend power to more people.

In the workshop Simone led, she also asked us to follow up our goal by stating how we get to the what; how we achieve our goal. Here’s how I put it:

“I do this by working with people committed to collaboration and breakthrough innovation, linking vision to action with people, and attracting and deploying capital to achieve results and lasting impact.”

Seems like a tall order, but when you break it down, it becomes clear:

1.) We’re better working together than at cross purposes, so finding others committed to collaboration and innovation is essential to move forward;

2.) Creating a vision is one thing, linking it to the action we will take ensures the vision has a chance to be realized; and finally,

3.) We can’t do anything without capital, so we better be able to attract it if we want to achieve results and lasting impact.

I’m proud of the fact that my goal statement – my purpose – hasn’t really changed in 20 years. It still represents the vision I have for the world and how I’ll show up in it. The vehicles I use and the people and organizations with whom I collaborate may change, but my purpose remains the same.

I’ll follow up this post with some real-world examples -- and thank my new contact for prompting me to think about my goal and purpose again all these years later.