In the last couple weeks, I have felt a lack of purpose and motivation that I usually do not. I’ve been feeling directionless. For the last three years, I have been focused on getting out of a primal survival state. I started my own company without a specific goal or vision in mind and made incremental changes along the way. My root was based on web development, design, and marketing, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with that or how I wanted to run my company.
That left me open to a lot of mistakes. I made many. But, I learned as quickly as I could. I shifted proposal templates around, found different platforms to build on, and niches and projects to focus on. That lack of focus often led to some unstable times. Sometimes, large sums of money would come in. Other times, months would go by before a serviceable payment came my way. It was a hard way to survive.
I hired people to help. It didn’t make things better. I was taking on projects that I did not want to take on just to cover the overhead. It put me in a position of scarcity and stress that is not the best to operate under. I was burning out. My mood was erratic. I was getting frustrated with my team. It made me into a person I didn’t want to be.
As always, it takes a little bit to understand this. A couple problems, some comments from close people around you, and internal reflection made it clear to me that I had built myself into a box that I did not like. I started to look for a way out. Not immediately. I had projects to honour and contracts to fulfill. But, I knew I had to get there.
I enjoyed my time developing websites. But a trend emerged quite quickly in the few years I built them. A website is just a facade. People don’t care about their website. They believe a new website is a path to more clients and customers. Sometimes, this assumption is right. Often, it is not.
I’ve talked to a lot of different developers, marketers, and agencies over the years and we’ve had this discussion. Companies and people often build a website in a black box for months, spending serious amounts of time nitpicking components of design and development before releasing it to an audience of… well, not many. Too many people still believe that they can build a website and people will come. I hear it over and over again.
There are almost 2 billion websites live right at this moment. As the ability to build websites is democratized and younger, tech-savvy generations grow up and start their own online presences, this will only continue to increase. We are in a complex web of information. Often, someone else’s information is better, their reach is bigger, their authority is higher, and your chances of being found dwindle.
And, just because you are getting found doesn’t mean you are winning. It is great if you are being found for free, but often websites aren’t. They are paying to be seen, through Google AdWords, social media advertising, or paying/investing the time to create and distribute content. Most companies and people don’t have their site set up right and don’t have the framework to test and improve their presence to convert more users into paying customers or clients. The average conversion rate is around 1%, meaning 1 out of every 100 people becomes a customer. If we say the average CPC is $1.00, that means we are looking at $100.00 for customer acquisition. This is often an imperfect science, taking months of work and optimization to build a repeatable customer acquisition channel.
Companies, especially ones starting out, don’t have the budget or the expertise to carry this out. My experience in advertising has made me aware of how much of a process, and often just sheer luck, it takes to get this correct. People are fickle and time-starved, and if you can’t perfectly coordinate your offering with their needs, you have lost your opportunity. Yes, you may hear, hit them with remarketing and they’ll come back. But, do you know how to set this up properly? Do you know the actual results people are seeing with this?
All of this has left me a bit disillusioned. I continue to work. I continue to serve my clients. My focus is on Google Grants, which provides nonprofits $10,000 USD a month in free Google Advertising. It is a great program that allows me to work with fantastic nonprofits. But, after a sudden update from Google at the end of 2017, I question their priorities with the program. And frankly, I don’t want to build a business around a grant from Google that could disappear suddenly.
So, that leaves me in quite the spot. My business is profitable. I enjoy it. It has taken me a long time to get here. But, what now? I had my head down in primal survival mode for so long. When I finally got out and raised my head to look around, I realized and continue to realize that there are no plateaus. There are no places you get and you are happy. Yes, I’m able to work on my own, without many restrictions in a sustainable way I cannot take for granted. But, that is not all I am looking for in life.
I don’t want to repeat this process. Work hard to serve clients, hire employees, do a good job, only to have that client take all the wonderful knowledge they’ve learned from you and move the work internally or find another company who can do the same work for cheaper. It happens with the smallest agencies to the biggest ones.
I’ve felt directionless before. More times than I would like to admit. I’m looking for a process to get out of it when a sense of no purpose creeps in. I re-prioritize. I look at what truly matters to me. I look at what is going well and that I like and want to continue. I look at the bottlenecks, the things that are harming me, and the things I need to stop. It helps me get closer but it isn’t enough. Identity plays such a big role in finding your purpose, yet I often struggle with my own identity.
Who am I? An entrepreneur? A marketer? A speaker? A hip-hop artist (I still hold on to this identity and possible future – sometimes embarrassingly)? Sometimes, I just think I am a guy trying to make it through life. I’ve found a couple things I am good at and, at least mostly enjoy, and have maneuvered my way into a situation I can manage and at least for now is sustainable. People don’t question me that much. I’m not embarrassed by the way I make a living.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
But, again. This is not good enough. In times like this, I often like to look at models, formulas, and processes that others, often much smarter than I, have built before me. One of those I like a lot is Maslow’s Motivation Model or Hierarchy of Needs.
Not everything is perfect in the bottom half of these needs, but largely, my physiological and safety needs are covered. It is the next three, and often there is an added “transcendence level” that I am struggling with. It always makes me scared to admit this. I’m a business owner. I look to have things figured out. I need to be confident to ensure my clients are confident in working with me. But, I am not. And, from the observance of the world, the chaos we are in right now, and from talking to others, many feel the same way.
So, I am ignoring the need that everyone seems to have, that others should appear confident and sure of what they are doing. I’m trying to put my own thoughts and process out in the world to see what will come from it. As always, I go in with low expectations. I am seeking more belongingness. I am seeking esteem needs. I am seeking self-actualization. I am seeking transcendence.
A couple other processes that guide me in understanding where I want to go.
Define Goals Broadly (for example):
- A life that allows me flexibility in schedule
- Make a comfortable financial living
- Get close friends who support my vision
- Opportunity for growth
- Start to invest and save
- Make an impact in the community
Plot these out in one year, two years, three years, five years, ten years, fifteen years, and twenty-five years. This is a lot of work. I have been pulling this together piece by piece for years. This process starts to inform your decisions and incrementally push you towards where you want to go. Although I complain a lot and I feel directionless at this moment, this process has allowed me to build a life that I most often do enjoy. The examples I gave are too vague and not measurable. This is an important part of the process. Here are the examples again with more concise, measurable goals that allow us to build them around a timeline and identify if they are successful:
Define Goals Specifically (for example):
- Only need to work 20 hours a week
- $120,000 a year after taxes
- Get 3 close friends who support my vision
- Learn python
- Invest 10% of income
- Donate 200 hours of in-kind services to the nonprofit sector
I will not accomplish all of these goals. Often, when you don’t accomplish them, you realize that you didn’t have enough of a motivation. I often find these goals are surface level. They may be ego-driven or societally-driven goals that don’t fully reflect what you truly desire. Even as I write those out, I know those are shallow goals that will not allow me to achieve the belongingness, self-esteem, self-actualization, and transcendence goals that we need to make us feel fulfilled.
But, it creates a start. Even from this start, you can pick apart the goals and why you selected them. Peel back the layers. For example, why do I want to learn python? Because it makes me feel smarter? Because it will give me the opportunity to build things? Because it will allow me to get the income I want? Because it makes my life easier? Because I can automate things?
Take it a level further. Why do I want to build things? Why do I want to automate things?
I want to build things because that is fulfilling. I think it takes me closer to self-actualization. Things I can build can transcend myself. I want to automate things because time is so important and automation can save time.
You can see how quickly it delves into a full psychological evaluation that teases insights out of you. That process above was done in real-time while writing this and it has already helped me.
I do not have the answers. I used to think I did. I was a bit too naive and over-confident when I did. I realize more and more none of us do. Sometimes I think it is arrogant of us to believe we have a purpose. Life could easily have no meaning. But, one thing I am sure of, is that whether it is real or not, people struggle when they don’t feel like they have a purpose. We suffer when we feel directionless.
Sometimes, that direction comes from others. Sometimes, it comes from an external event. Often, it comes from deep internal searching and reflection. I will continue this journey and report back when I feel a bit more confident in my direction.
Until then, help me and others if you can. What helps you figure out your purpose? What stops you from feeling directionless. I will experiment with your process and share it with others. We are in a time right now where we all need to have a sense of direction. Let’s support each other in getting there.
All the best,