Starting Your Authentic Business

Knowing and pursuing your purpose is what gives your working life meaning. Without our own purpose we are subject to the purposes of others, which may be fulfilling for them but are unlikely to be fulfilling for us. With no purpose at all we can end up distracting ourselves to oblivion.

For most of us our purpose is hidden from us in a cloud of conditioning. Our upbringing and education was designed more for conformity and to encourage the following of someone else’s purpose in “followership” than for individuality and self leadership. This kind of individuality is absolutely not the same as the cult of individual greed that became fashionable in the 1980s. This is about identifying our individual place in the eco-system and the role that enables us to make our unique contribution.

We all know our purpose, in spite of the layers of conditioning that seek to hide it. For some it takes ten years to articulate, for others it takes a week, for others it takes ten minutes. The opportunity is that if you can encapsulate it in a sentence or two it becomes useful, inspiring, motivating and engaging. This is the challenge of this chapter – to help you to articulate your purpose in no more than two short sentences (preferably one), which you can use to find collaborators, customers and friends.

Imagine if instead of the standard nauseating – “So what do you do?” we could ask “So – what is the purpose of your life?” Just imagine the improved quality of conversation we would have.

Your purpose is your dream that you hardly dare to admit. It is the love which lies at the centre of your authentic ambition. You will only find it by searching within yourself and that means taking the time and making the effort to look.

It is important that what you do is based on your authentic purpose, because that is the challenge in your life for which you will sacrifice the most, compromise the least, work the hardest and never ever, ever give up – no matter what. When you hear those stories of perseverance about athletes, artists and even business people persisting and persisting and persisting beyond all reason, it is not because they are particularly dogmatic or uncompromising people, it is because they care and are utterly committed to their purpose.

Michael Schumacher and Lance Armstrong are not successful in their sports just because they happen to be better. They are able to succeed because they are more committed than anyone else. The stories of their commitment are legion; how Schumacher will be in the pits discussing settings and strategy late into the night after all the other drivers have gone home; how Armstrong rides critical mountain stages again and again whatever the weather. It is no secret, so why don’t their rivals do the same?

The answer is that you simply cannot fake that kind of commitment. You cannot access that kind of commitment for just any old purpose, you can only access that kind of commitment when it is your authentic purpose. No matter how challenging you may find commitment generally, once you understand what your purpose is you will find that it is the only path for you to follow and it is an easy decision to take.

I run an exercise for clients called “Coming Out”. In the exercise we use physical spaces to stimulate the articulation of unconscious ambitions. In plain English, we choose a space that has a variety of different environments and is small enough to get to know quickly. A home is ideal – conventional offices and hotels don’t work.

We walk around discussing how different spaces represent the person’s past, present, future, and destiny. We use the objects and items that resonate with the client to represent elements of each of those life stages. Through this process we are able to uncover and articulate ambitions that, in most cases, people have always known but have NEVER articulated to anyone, not even to themselves!

In most cases this is their authentic purpose. The reasons for not having articulated it are connected with our conditioning: “Having bold dreams is unrealistic and unacceptable better to just knuckle down and do what you are told, do something safe, something uncontroversial.”

Your purpose has been with you a long time, perhaps as long as you can remember. It will be supported by your innate talent, your natural languages, these are the things that you are good at anyway, without instruction or education, the things which you have a passion for learning and find easy to absorb.

Your purpose will find you, if you let it.

Seek out inspiration. Read, watch and discuss things that inspire you, and avoid distraction. All the time be conscious of your choices and your reasons for making them. Study yourself and your actions, Notice when you are tense and when you are relaxed, notice when you flow and when you freeze. All of these will point towards your purpose.

When do you feel at your most motivated?

What are the times when you get lost in activity or thought and lose all track of time?

What are the times when you feel alive, focused and engaged?

What are you doing in those moments?

What is the common thread between smiling at the rain, enjoying the earth in your hands, preparing a sumptuous feast and playing with your child?

What is the focus of all of your flow activities, what is the pivot around which they turn, what is the outcome to which all drive?

What is your non-negotiable dream? So precious that, so far, you have told no-one for fear of it being compromised. What is the purpose to which you would commit body and soul if only you were allowed?

What is your purpose that is profound for you and positive for life on Earth?

Say it.

Write it down.

Discuss it with people. If your regular friends won’t discuss it with you, find other friends to discuss it with. When your idea is new and raw discuss with those you know will support you, you can afford to expose it to criticism until it is mature enough to take it. Keep talking about it until you craft it into a repeatable catch phrase, which you can use at parties when someone asks you the dread question – “So - what do you do?”.

This is your purpose. Tell people about it. The more people you tell, the more collaborators you will find. When I started Authentic Business I told 4,000 people in an e-mail. Now I have many, many collaborators, all of us inspired by visions similar enough that we can support each other.

Many people feel that they have no idea what their purpose is. Even if they have been searching for it for years and still don’t know what it is. They often have a belief that somehow they don’t have one.

And yet, very often, in the space of a conversation they are able to articulate it clearly. No-one can tell you what your purpose is, only you know. Others may be able to hold a mirror up and reassure you, but knowing your own purpose comes from within.

Neil is author of Authentic – how to make a living by being yourself and Authentic Business – how to create and run your perfect business. He is also the founder of Authentic Business and Authentic Guides and a founder of Authentic Partnership, Authentic Business Network and Authentic Life Magazine. He can be contacted at

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