Finding your purpose in a bull or bear market

Bob Armour August 31, 2022
Business team putting hands in to celebrate collaboration

This article originally appeared on Purpose First Entrepreneur.

Back in 1989, after spending two years post-college working virtually nonstop as an analyst in Merrill Lynch’s investment banking business, I decided to take a step back to volunteer and teach high school in American Samoa.

I taught math, social studies, and computers. The Commodore 64 computers—remember them? probably not; look them up—at the school weren’t very useful, but they were what I had to work with. I could have gotten bogged down in lamenting what I lacked, or I could use the resources and knowledge I had to create value for my students. I chose the latter.

So I scrounged up some copies of Lotus 1-2-3 software and some Tandy computers (two other blasts from the past) and created a course around spreadsheet skills.

Almost 20 years later, I got a message on Facebook from one of my former students:

Do you remember those Commodore 64s at Marist we used to work with in high school? Funny how really that was our initial exposure to computers at the time, which if I remember correctly, all we did was programing in basic language.

And then came senior year and you taught Lotus-123 spreadsheets.

Well, I have you to thank because when I left Samoa after HS, got hired with Sprint with no work experience but because I knew spreadsheet, it was the reason they let me in the door.

So all that stuff you taught us using those Tandy-2000s at Faasao paid off for me immediately at the time. See, I was paying attention in your class…LOL! Also, it got me interested in computers and have been around them since then.

I still perform technical support for Sprint working on their voice and data networks, also have done a little Cisco networking as well. So yeah, just wanted to say thanks for dedicating yourself to Marist and that your two years spent there did account to the base we needed when we left HS and Samoa for that matter.

When I was 24, trying to figure out how to use these clunky machines to teach my students something useful, could I have known that my work would have that level of impact on this person? No way.

For me, though, it’s such a clear example of how we scale impact, how—as Pete Wilkins describes in Purpose First Entrepreneur.

We scale our purpose by helping others and influencing outcomes over long periods of time.

My purpose is to be helpful and empower others, with no expectation of reciprocity. I am motivated by helping people with a focus on lifetime impact, leveraging my own knowledge and skills to help create value with, and for, others—whether that’s for my customers, my coworkers, my family or my community. And I know that I can have the greatest impact by taking the long view, planting seeds today with no expectations or guarantees of what they will grow to become—just the conviction that it’s the right thing to do.

At M1, our mission is to improve the financial well-being of our clients by encouraging a long-term perspective and a brick-by-brick approach to wealth building through ownership.

It’s a noble mission, as wealth creates options for people to pursue their self-actualization and their own motivating purpose. We don’t view wealth building as amassing money for money’s sake. It’s about what wealth provides: avenues to charitable work, generational impact, more time to do what’s most rewarding. In other words, space to find their own purpose.

As a marketer, especially in a digital environment where reputation and authenticity are the most valuable currencies, being genuinely helpful is good for business, and it feels right too. A truthful, helpful, and authentic message never has a bad outcome; people know when you’re being genuinely helpful, and this inspires loyalty, commitment, and camaraderie.

When you know your purpose and are grounded in your values, you think about your products and services in different, more expansive ways.

For example, my marketing teammates and I remind ourselves that what we really do is help people move toward their most important goals. Asking questions like “What is the audience trying to achieve? What’s important to them? Who are they trying to become?” helps us uncover people’s true motivations and enables us to better communicate with them.

We’re enabling people to build wealth at M1; but at a much higher level, what we’re really doing is empowering them to realize the future they want for themselves and the people they care about. We preach “be helpful,” so much so that if we’re not the right solution for a client, we’ll tell them that—because that’s most helpful to the client.

As a platform, M1’s long-term approach to wealth creation aligns with our belief that being helpful in and of itself pays off over time. If we’re not the right solution for someone today, that’s ok. We may be a good fit in the future, or maybe we’re right for their friend or family member now. Either way, we’re helpful by being honest, and that builds trust.

Additionally, I try to take this same approach with networking and mentoring. I’ve been fortunate to build a vibrant professional network during the course of my career, and I feel that its primary purpose should be in service of others. I get a lot of satisfaction connecting people with each other, and I love it when there’s a good match.

As I get older, I want things simpler and simpler. So here’s how I’d boil my purpose down: Serve and be helpful. I’m grateful that I have skills and resources to help people do what they want to do and become who they want to become. And that’s the whole of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m competitive, and I want to win. I want my company to win. I want my team to win. I want my friends to win. I realize these statements could sound at odds with my purpose.

But they’re not.

I feel that you win by helping. You win by enabling. You win by empowering. It’s not a zero-sum game, but an ever expanding one.

With this approach, I’m convinced you can spread positive impact endlessly wide and far into the future. Who knows, you may help someone today propel themselves to a better place decades from now.