meaningful work

Why wait until you can change the world to start something meaningful?

Do you know you want to leave your mark but haven’t started because you can’t see how you as one person can do something big enough to make an impact? Well, you don’t have to be ready to solve world hunger or end violence in the middle east to start something meaningful. Making a difference in one little corner of the universe can lead to a bigger movement or at least a greater awareness.

When I was in my early twenties, I had a BIG creative dream. It was the peace, love and groovy post-Viet Nam days when we were all idealistic and knew we wanted to create a better world. (note-some of us still believe we can.) I wanted to start a movement that made the arts the framework for learning beginning in preschool years.

A long detour took me out of the way of that dream but in the course of making a living, I realized I was able to make a difference. No, I wasn’t changing the way children are exposed to and inspired by the arts but my businesses did change lives and YOURS can too.

Typically a social enterprise is based on using business principals to achieve social goals and when someone comes to me for advise on how to create a meaningful livelihood,  we look at the cause or change they want to make and then create a business to drive that change.  Sometimes, though, an established business can be the vehicle to make a difference.

I didn’t get into advertising to change the world and I sure didn’t start a furniture business to create jobs or improve lives and at one point I felt like all I was doing was making money.  I was visiting my dad in Florida and mentioned that I was feeling greedy and unfulfilled that I’d drifted so far from my earlier vision of making an impact.  He pointed out all the ways that my partner and I were improving lives. I realized he was right. We weren’t just selling home furnishings. We had created something that fed over one hundred employees and their families and unlike charity, we had trained them to be self-sufficient. (We didn’t want sales people who had been poorly trained in other retail positions so we hired people who had never held sales or management experience and taught them our way. Many of these employees previously held minimum wage jobs and were now earning high five and some six figures.) We’d also found small cottage industry upholsterers working out of their garages or barns and helped them build up their businesses and create jobs in their communities.

When I was a massage therapist, I had mostly private clientele but after doing some volunteer bodywork at hospice, I realized how important it was to give patients and their families the gift of touch. I couldn’t afford to strictly volunteer but wrote an article about the benefits of massage for a local senior publication and people started hiring me to go into nursing homes and massage their aging parents.

While the above are examples of how an established business can develop a social mission, you can start a business with the intention of making a profit and make conscious efforts from the beginning to drive or support a cause.  The initial purpose of my gallery was to make a living and re-immerse myself in world of art but as I researched the work I would carry, another mission emerged. I became aware of how much of the merchandise available in most stores is imported knock-offs of artists’ designs. In some cases, the artist has a licensing agreement and gets a royalty but more commonly, the artist doesn’t know about it until it shows up on a shelf with a “made in china” label. Sadly, few of those artists can afford to fight a legal battle with the large companies manufacturing the knock-offs, so they do nothing about the theft of their designs. When I started noticing that even in little artist havens, the majority of shops sell these imported knock-offs, I made it a mission for my gallery to support American artists and educate the public so that they become more aware of their buying habits.

If you have an existing business, you can add a social component to it but even if you have a job, you can start something on the side that makes a difference and has more meaning.  If you’re drawn to making a difference with your existing business or on the side if you have a job, I’d love to help you design the vehicle the vehicle to make it happen. GO HERE for more info on Idea Generator Sessions 

Why consciously seeking your calling might keep you from succeeding at anything

Marilyn is a renaissance woman or what Barbara Sher terms a scanner. A multi-talented creative with as many certificates and degrees as she has interests, in the four years I’ve known her, she’s “almost” started twice that number of businesses. Just as something is beginning to take shape, she panics and asks, “What if this isn’t my life purpose? What if I put all my time and energy into this and then discover it’s not my true calling?”



Unlike “bright shiny object syndrome” this isn’t about being sidetracked by each new opportunity. It’s actually based in unreasonable fear that “if I do this and then realize there’s something bigger calling me, I’ll have wasted all that time doing the wrong thing.”


No life purpose or calling is going to disappear just because you’ve put your all into something else. In fact, you’ll never “waste time” working towards something you’re passionate about.


You might not want to hear this but maybe you aren’t meant to do one thing for the rest of your life. Maybe the project or career you are pursuing now is what will guide you to a path that will call even louder. Changing course doesn’t mean you’re a dilettante. It means you’re growing and you can’t grow if you live in fear of doing the “wrong” thing and do nothing.


What if the purpose that’s calling you now isn’t meant to be your life’s work? What if  your callings are numerous? Maybe you are meant to do several possibly even unrelated good works? Even Mother Teresa followed several callings.


Consider this: most people find their greatest work when they stumble on an obstacle while pursuing something else. I promise you that if you put your whole heart and self into whatever is calling you now, you will not miss out on your life purpose. What you’re feeling drawn to at this moment is likely to lead you to discover your next meaningful work.

Are you planning your next phase of work and life?

Recently, I’ve been contacted by a number of readers who are either newly retired, facing an early retirement buyout decision or nearing retirement in the the next few months. Some have an idea for a small business and need help with the “how”. Some know what they love but have no idea how it would make any money. Others know they want to do something they enjoy and that makes a difference but they don’t have any idea what that is. They all have one thing in common: they don’t want to retire. They want to stay involved and do something meaningful. They see this as “my time” but that doesn’t mean lazing on a beach. For most it means finding more meaning as they continue to earn. It’s what I call “Inspired UnRetirement”.

There seems to be a syndrome among those who don’t plan for retirement. By plan, I don’t mean IRAs and 401Ks. Many people decide to take the first few weeks or a month and do nothing but relax. They’re tired of having to be somewhere every day for years. It would seem they’d find that time rejuvenating and be ready to dive full-on into the next phase of life. Sadly, that’s seldom what happens.

If you’ve lived with structure your entire adult life and all of a sudden your days are wide open, things that you used to be able to accomplish evenings and weekends suddenly take a lot more time. The first month passes quickly and then another and suddenly, you look back at the end of each day and ask, “What did I do all day?”

There’s a way to avoid this by spending time now, ideally at least a year and a half prior to retirement, actively planning the steps to make the next thirty years rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful. If you’re suddenly laid off or faced with an early retirement option, you may not have time to plan ahead but it’s important to know that you won’t suddenly just “know” your next step unless you do the work and have the support of others who are in a similar position.

Do you have a “someday” dream that you’ve been putting off until retirement? Do you know you want to find more meaning and purpose but not sure what that will look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts on “what’s next”. As always, you’re invited to share in the comments below.