Why Your WHY Matters

By Chris Olsen

More than a decade ago, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a decade after I’d lost my mom to the disease and just a month after my dad unexpectedly died. I am cancer-free today and grateful for every day. But staring death in the face has a way of providing clarity about a lot of things. For me (and many others who’ve overcome big challenges in life), what became most clear was that I didn’t want to waste another minute on stuff that didn’t matter. That included no longer doing work that wasn’t aligned with my purpose.

I often wonder about the path I would have taken, had someone helped me fully realize my WHY as I was beginning my professional journey. But it was the 1990s and corporate social responsibility wasn’t a prominent thing. My job in radio came with a lot of perks and it was supposed to be more like fun than work. If you wanted to “do good” back then, you took a nonprofit job for a fraction of the pay you deserved.

A conversation with my dad about not feeling fulfilled in my career 15 years ago remains clear in my mind today. I was lamenting over wanting to make a difference in the world. He had worked for the same company his entire career. Every time I broached the subject of leaving a job, he bristled. What impressed him most was the length of time someone held a particular position. For his generation, it was about doing your best, working hard, fulfilling responsibilities, sticking it out.

Our talk ended with him advising me to pursue my purpose “on the side,” while taking home a steady paycheck and enjoying the paid time off, medical coverage and other benefits my employer provided. I took his advice and started doing more volunteer work, which felt good, but didn’t change my feelings about the work I was getting paid to do.

It wasn’t until I left my radio career that Simon Sinek published his now well-known book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” The book really resonated with me. I’ve now read it at least a dozen times and have influenced several of the organizations I’ve worked with to read it or watch the TED Talk as well. For me, it provided the clarity I had been longing for—it really was possible for purpose and profession to intersect.

Today, there’s a lot more data to back up what Sinek says. The bottom line is that humans do better when we do better. Pursuing your purpose actually leads to better sleep, better overall health and better quality of life. And research shows people who commit themselves to a cause greater than themselves actually live longer.

Simon Sinek described it best when he said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” But there’s more to it than that. Now more than ever, consumers are supporting brands that align with their values. Over 80 percent of consumers said they’d make a cause-related purchase every year. More than 90 percent say they’d support a company aligned with their values, and nearly three-quarters would boycott a brand that exhibits practices contrary to their beliefs.

In addition, employees of purpose-driven companies are more engaged, more satisfied and three times more likely to stick around.

All of this means there are significant benefits to business founders who lead with their WHY. For female founders in particular, the ability to confidently articulate their purpose sets them up for entrepreneurial success from the get-go.

Women are more than twice as likely to reach the top ranks in purpose-driven businesses as they are in mainstream businesses. Purpose-driven businesses yield 10 times greater return on investment and outperform the stock market by 120 percent, which means investors are more likely to fund them. This is critical since women receive only 16 percent of all small business loans and less than 10 percent of all venture capital, despite the fact that they contribute $1.8 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.

If you’ve thought about pursuing your purpose, what are you waiting for? My book, “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose,” serves as your guide. My Founder Story also offers Whyography Workshops that take female founders like you through the process of fully discovering your WHY and developing your Whyography—a powerful short story designed to articulate and elevate your purpose.

About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.

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